Lauren Kulchinsky Levison is a fourth-generation award-winning jewellery retailer and curator for her family business Mayfair Rocks. She talks about the pros and cons of running a successful family jewellery business.
Leading family jewellery business Mayfair Rocks has three stores in the US: Mayfair Rocks East Hampton, Mayfair Prive, and Syosset NY which is its “by appointment” space. Kristen Farrell East Hampton is also run by a family member.
Lauren Kulchinsky Levison is Chief Style Officer and Vice President. She has been called “the real buyer” by Moda Operandi and helped introduce designer jewellery to TV through the HBO show The Sopranos and on to the red carpet. She is a winner of various jewellery awards and titles.
How did your family get into the business?
My great grandfather led my family into the jewellery business back in 1927 on the Lower East Side – NYC’s original jewellery district. My grandfather and grandmother moved our family to Long Island in the 1950s and began Mayfair. It was a small store around the corner from where they lived. My grandmother was able to be at the shop all day with my grandfather. She was the best salesperson. My dad, aunt and uncle would go by after school, which in those days for a woman was not the fashion.
How did your family business expand?
Long after my grandfather retired and my father had taken over the business and expanded into the communities that we lived and vacationed in, my grandmother continued to work. My brother Justin and I took over the buying in the late 1990s, and right up until the end of her life, my grandmother was making sales. She was happiest in the store. Always dressed perfectly. My grandmother was a trailblazer for women in business.
What are the benefits of working as a family?
Working with the family dynamics usually doesn’t allow for problems of sexism. You are usually working with mom, dad, your sister and brother, etc. So there is no room for that. The issues that do arise are that you can’t all go on vacation at once. Someone is always left to mind the store. Weddings, I mean we have to close. I remember my one brother who isn’t in the business (Station Head creator Ryan Star) married a teacher in the summer. It is our high season in the East Hampton store. We had to close. It was a big deal. We have had to do that a few times since for family celebrations. As for the family dynamics of a joint business, you can be having a huge disagreement on a topic at work and then all sit down to dinner. It’s the family biz. Or vice versa.
What are the highlights of your career?
My claims to fame include interviewing a president of the United States; I am also the youngest person to be inducted into and the second female to be introduced to the National Jeweler Hall of Fame.
My other career highlights include, “disrupting the jewellery industry by using designer jewellery on the HBO series The Sopranos and on the red carpet in the late 1990s and early 2000s which helped the self-purchasing female rise up.”
What is the current state of the US retail industry for jewellery?
It is excellent for collectibles of one-of-a-kind and commissioned goldsmith-oriented pieces. We are also seeing a lot of bridal resurgence. It is like in the 1960s, with parents helping out the younger set with the diamond.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
On the whole, our by appointment store has not been affected so much because our clients were used to working that way with us for a while. But with our East Hampton’s location, it took some getting used to. Retail in a resort area can be a social experience after the beach, before dinner, or meeting with friends before luncheon, etc.
A lot of sales in resort areas can be more spontaneous. Post-cycle pop-ins are now limited by people and time slots. Kerbside represents more of a commitment.
What is the price range of the pieces you sell?
$500 to ‘the sky’s the limit’.
Can you talk about Indian jewellery? Do you sell it?
There are extremely talented designers from India; for example, VAK Jewellery, Hanut Singh and Arunashi.
What should the Indian jewellery manufacturing industry do to strengthen its image abroad?
Be authentic to what you are about and designing. Be original. Have something to say. Make it well.
Are international brands hesitant to mention India as the ‘country of origin’ on the label?
If you are selling it you should be proud to say everything about the product. Otherwise don’t sell it.
Are there serious drawbacks, real or perceived, in India’s manufacturing quality?
In every industry there are different levels. Not just in India. And not just in jewellery.