Solitaire International continues its focus on independent jewellers in the US. We spoke with Chicago-based jeweller Brooke Garber Neidich, a third-generation jeweller and creative director, who donates her profits to charity.
The namesake of the company, her father, Sidney Garber, was the son of a watchmaker who opened his store in 1946. Brooke Garber Neidich watched the proceedings behind the counter as a little girl, witnessing the business turn into an elegant boutique on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. She also now has a store on Madison Avenue in New York.
In 2008, Brooke inherited Sidney Garber Fine Jewelry. Brooke donates all her profits to non-for-profits focused on children’s mental health, the arts, racial justice, and stopping gun violence.
In 2015, she was voted on to the CFDA, The Council of Fashion Designers of America.
What defines your company?
Sidney Garber just celebrated our 75th Anniversary. We combine a strong history in fine jewellery with a modern sense of style. You can see that in the quality of our gemstones, in our meticulous hand settings, and in the sensuousness of our pieces.
What was your route into jewellery?
My father, Sidney Garber, opened his first shop in 1946 in Chicago. He was born with an amazing eye and sense of style—so much so that he had his Air Force uniforms tailored at Saks. And he didn’t have a desk job; he was navigating combat missions. His family was so amused by his sense of style that they called him Sir Sidney.
On his return from the war, my father found work putting watches together. Because he worked out of a small cubby in the Jewelers building in Chicago people began asking him to help them find a strand of pearls or an engagement ring. Soon he decided to open a small shop. But how to fill it?
First, my father travelled to New York City to find the best jewellers. Some jewellers travelled to Chicago as well. I remember meeting Kurt Wayne, an immigrant from Austria who came from New York to Chicago with a small suitcase full of the most beautiful mountings.
I adored my father, so I’d visit his shop whenever I could, starting when I was five years old. I actually walked alone from home to the elevated train and took it by myself to downtown Chicago. I learned everything by standing at his side, watching, and listening. When I was allowed to Windex the cases or arrange the watches I was over the moon; I felt very included and grown-up.
In the early 1970s, my father realised that much of the creativity he gravitated towards originated in Europe: in the great ateliers of Paris and in the large and small workshops in Valenza and Vincenza. We travelled there and to Idar Oberstein, Germany for coloured stones. This was all highly unusual. We were the only single-family store in any of these situations.
With only one store in Chicago at the time, Sidney Garber established an international reputation for excellence.
When I noticed my father aging, I returned to the business in 2002 with the intention of temporarily helping out. I had held sporadic trunk shows in New York City, which made our accountant very happy because it offered an entirely new audience.
What is the specialty of your jewellery?
As a woman who has always worn jewellery, I understand how it should feel, how it needs to move, and how it absorbs the warmth of your skin. I make sure our earrings are comfortable because that’s crucial to me personally. I have no patience for clasps so many of our bracelets don’t have them. I am uneasy in a stiff cuff, so ours are flexible.
I want our pieces to be both relaxed and luxurious, to be an expression of my father’s legacy and my own point of view. I acquired the business in 2008 at the height of the recession. We now have a vibrant boutique on Madison Avenue in New York City in addition to the Chicago store.
My greatest joy is that I donate my profits from Sidney Garber to organisations dedicated to children’s mental health, the arts, racial justice, and ending gun violence.
How is business in the US?
Our two stores, in New York City and Chicago, along with our online business and our ten wholesale partners have had a very strong recovery.
Do you sell more online or in store?
We still sell more in our stores than online. That said, our online business grew close to 150% over the past two years and over 300% over the past three years.
How have you adapted to the pandemic?
We have worked very hard to keep our fantastic staff safe and protected. That was our priority.
If the pandemic has taught us anything it is that celebrations, birthdays, and anniversaries are even more likely to be marked with the permanent, lasting romantic gift of jewellery. Our wish lists and clientele outreach have been very productive
What smaller brands do you carry?
We only carry Sidney Garber designs.
Who is your clientele?
Our clients are stylish, sophisticated jewellery lovers from around the world. They understand and appreciate the finest quality. They are drawn to the modern sensibility we marry with a level of excellence. Many of our clients are women who buy jewellery for themselves. Our clients also care about the philanthropic component of our business.
How much do they spend?
Rather than naming an exact figure, I can say that they spend with confidence, knowing that their purchases are timeless and that our pieces will become beloved parts of their lives to be shared with future generations.
Do you do business with India? How is your experience?
When I was young, I watched as my father moved from sourcing diamonds cut in Russia to diamonds cut in India. He was so impressed by the precision he found.