Celebrity jeweler creates a loyal following through his jewels and his commitment to doing good.
By Archana Mehta, Founder and CEO, AM Strategies
Let’s take a trip back in time to 1992, to the premiere of the movie Basic Instinct. An actress named Sharon Stone walked down the red carpet wearing jewelry made by relatively unknown jeweler Martin Katz. At the time, only two brands dominated the red carpet: Giorgio Armani and Harry Winston.
Flash forward to the 74th Golden Globe Awards in 2017. Actress Felicity Huffman dazzled in her Martin Katz jewelry. And Huffman isn’t the only celebrity who embraces Katz’s work. Katz has a huge celebrity following—from media moguls like Oprah to actresses including Sandra Bullock, Emma Roberts, and Kate Winslet—who love his unique style of jewelry, which Katz describes as “contemporary pieces with an old soul.”
It’s not just his beautiful jewelry that has made Katz wildly successful since he started his business in 1988. His commitment to his craft and to his customers has created loyalty among those who could choose their baubles from any jeweler in the world.
Celebrities come to Katz to wear his jewelry rather than the other way around, as is common practice in his industry. Interestingly, Katz was one of the first to lend jewels to stars on the red carpet. The industry quickly followed suit.
“We see pay-to-play today; many of the biggest stars are paid to wear jewelry,” Katz said during a phone interview from his office in Beverly Hills, California. “I have never paid and will never pay to have a celebrity wear my jewelry. It’s not genuine to me.”
Katz’s story is an example of how doing good can create business success.
In 1978, Katz had just graduated from Indiana University. He borrowed $300 from his mother and moved to Los Angeles, looking for new adventures. Soon after, he landed a job at Laykin et Cie, a jewelry salon inside of high-end retailer I. Magnin & Co., where he worked as an assistant salesman. Katz said he learned a lot about contemporary and vintage jewelry by spending time behind the counter. He eventually moved up in the company and managed the Laykin et Cie operation in the San Francisco I. Magnin store.
When the stock market crashed in 1987, Katz, who had played the market, lost everything and quit his job. He decided he wanted a change of pace and considered leaving the jewelry business altogether. While considering what to do next, he realized he didn’t want to work for anyone but himself.
Soon after, Katz was approached by a major jewelry dealer, who asked, “Why don’t you open your own business?” The following year, Katz launched his company, Martin Katz Ltd., from a table in his one-bedroom apartment and quickly proved successful at selling jewelry. In his first year, he racked up $2 million in sales.
When Katz first started his company, he was only buying and selling pieces that aligned with his individual style. He said he started designing to fill a void he saw in the marketplace. “I endeavored to create young, chic, relatable looks in jewelry,” Katz said. “And when I couldn’t find what I wanted, I thought, ‘Why don’t I just design something and make it?’”
Katz said one of the keys to his success is knowing and defining his style. “I have a particular voice—it’s art deco, French work, and extraordinarily well-done pieces,” he said. Staying true to his style also helps Katz define what he wants his business to be: extraordinary. And that focus allows him to place an emphasis on doing good.
Katz describes himself as a “quality nut.” To create high-quality jewelry, you must begin with the stone, he said. Katz follows the Kimberley Process when choosing diamonds. The Kimberley Process is a joint government, industry, and civil society initiative that aims to stop trade in conflict diamonds and prevent diamond purchases from financing violence by rebel groups and their supporters.
Katz said he was very invested in learning about the Kimberley Process when the De Beers Group was developing it, and he even provided the group with his insights and feedback. “I feel very strongly about conflict-free stones,” Katz said. “I wanted to see firsthand how [the entire diamond supply chain] was executed, and I even went to South Africa to visit the mine.”
Customers can trace the diamonds Katz uses in their jewelry all the way back to where they were mined. Katz follows the same protocol with all gemstones—he knows exactly where his jewels come from.
Something else that Katz has developed over the nearly three decades he’s been in business is trust. “My relationships are critical,” he said. “I’ve developed long-term relationships and place my trust in a few businesses that stand up for their products.”
Trust also comes into play in the manufacturing of Katz’s jewelry. All of his jewelry is crafted in his own workshops in France, Switzerland, Belgium, and the United States. Katz is committed to only manufacturing in countries where work ethics are respected and governed, meaning work environments are controlled and employees are paid fair wages.
Aside from focusing on product quality and building quality relationships, Katz aims to distinguish his company by providing exceptional customer service. He believes his key differentiator is the way he stands behind his jewelry. “People tend to think that jewelry should last forever—like there’s a lifetime warranty on jewelry. But there isn’t,” Katz said. “I typically stand behind repairs for my jewels at my shop cost. We also replace our microset diamonds in perpetuity. I don’t like to get nickel-and-dimed, and I will not nickel-and-dime my clientele. I often replace things even if it is the client’s fault, sans obvious neglect.”
Katz said he wants his customers to feel that there is always someone there for them and that “Martin will stand behind his pieces.”
Does Katz feel the need to distinguish his company from other luxury brands such as Tiffany & Co. or Cartier? He said no.
“What differentiates me is that I’m choosing every stone, making every decision, working personally with my workshops, rejecting work that doesn’t meet my standards,” Katz said. “At the end of the day, my name is on the door. There are highly talented designers at other places, but with my name on the door and me doing everything personally, I’m offering that to my clients. Other international jewelry houses can’t offer that experience; I can.”
Creating exceptional customer experiences has worked well for Katz’s business. His commitment to quality—and to providing extraordinary products—is proof that doing good can make for better business. He also hopes his jewelry will one day speak for itself, both for the quality of the stones and the design. “I want somebody to look at my work and know it is Martin Katz,” he said.
Archana Mehta is the Founder and CEO of AM Strategies, a marketing and communications firm based in Washington, D.C. She has spent the last 15 years helping companies with everything from marketing strategies to content development to product launches. In her “spare” time, she enjoys taking her twins on adventures up and down the East Coast.