Rocks On

“HI HONEY!” says Craig Drake to socialite Barbara Spiro, who is standing near the staircase of developer Mark Nicoletti’s Gladwyne house, with a simply huge diamond (in the eight-carat range) on one elegant hand and an equally titanic sapphire on the other. Drake, the Rittenhouse Square-based private jeweler to many moneyed Philadelphians, a man who calls every woman he meets “Honey!,” is offering drinks and squiring Spiro into the dining room and telling Nicoletti how fabulous his house is.

Which it is: After you’ve found the way to this 1930s manse — past a confusing line of cars a quarter-mile away, because on a Thursday night in December in Gladwyne, there are valet-parked parties on pretty much every block — you walk into a glowing entry hallway hung with oil paintings, where the bar is conveniently set up. Near the dining room is young Main Line decorator Whitney Cutler; meanwhile, Matt Hamilton, the soup-heir philanthropist; Don Callahan, the Bryn Mawr investment banker; and Narberth venture capitalist Rick Rasansky and his wife Alison are mingling over by a $110,000 diamond necklace that sits on the sideboard. It’s Drake’s Main Line Christmas soiree, held each year at one of his clients’ homes — where all the jewelry is for sale, where there are no guards or glass cases, and where you can nibble duck quesadillas as you try on $90,000 emerald rings, $80,000 canary diamond earrings, and even a few very attractive $600 enamel-and-tortoiseshell bangles.

Where once you might have expected shopping for major jewelry to be a private affair in conservative Philadelphia, you can shelve that notion, along with your demure pearl stud earrings. Philly’s having a jewelry moment, and the buying, wearing and comparing of fabulous baubles seems very normal these days on the Main Line, in the northern ’burbs, and around Rittenhouse Square. Chatting about what you’ve recently bought at Jack Kellmer or Bernie Robbins or Stephen J. Wiseley is as common as hearing 40-something moms throw around the word “bling” at the bar at Bridget’s in Ambler. Never have so many otherwise normal women discussed (and worn!) colored stones and cocktail rings and diamond chandelier earrings. Of course, the whole world is having a jewelry moment, with Us Weekly’s continuous coverage of the ever-changing engagement rocks of Paris Hilton-Nicole Richie et al., and nonstop E! red-carpet coverage of Keira Knightley and Scarlett Johansson in borrowed Harry Winston ice. We spent, collectively, $57.4 billion on jewelry and watches in 2004 in the U.S., and this time, Philly wasn’t late on the trend. “People at my music class with my baby wear jewelry you wouldn’t believe — like emerald-cut earrings that are huge — with their sweatpants,” says Hope Haron, who is married to a banker and lives in Villanova.

Back at the Nicolettis’, Craig Drake is showing off a ruby as big as a ping-pong ball suspended from a diamond necklace; a strand of diamonds that seems quite reasonable at $23,000; and a monumental yellow-diamond ring, which is $80,000. “That price — every price,” he reminds a guest, employing the oldest trick in the high-end jewelers’ handbook, “is half what’s marked.” So it’s not really $80,000 — it’s only $40,000!

Drake, who is 69 and always wears blue blazers and Hermès ties, is what’s known in New York parlance as an upstairs jeweler: You have to know him to get an appointment at his showroom in a discreet office building near Rittenhouse Square. Once inside and spending, you get invited to the parties, the dinners Drake has in St. Bart’s every winter, and the summer “barbecues” on Craig’s landscaped deck at his penthouse at the Touraine. Clients dine with Drake and his glamorous, younger, Brazilian-born wife Tania, who is constantly seen in mega bracelets, rings and necklaces, which she wears with such infectious bravura that people want to buy the same pieces.

As the cocktails flow, Drake’s son Craig Jr., 40, who runs the business and is known as Craiger, is actually working, helping guests try on pieces, while Craig Sr. is doing what he does best, which is schmooze. You would think Drake would be exhausted, since he just spent a week in New York, staying at the Sherry-Netherland hotel, and two nights ago he had 60 clients at his annual Le Bec-Fin guys’ dinner, and last night he was at the Racquet Club for its Christmas cocktail party, and he’s in a tiff with his close friend Georges Perrier. But Drake is his buoyant self, ice cubes tinkling in his chardonnay. This bon-vivant quality helps him and Craiger gross nearly half a million in sales during the course of the evening.

NOT ONLY ARE ENGAGEMENT RINGS and anniversary rings so huge lately that it seems all of sub-Saharan Africa must be digging straight to the earth’s core in search of ever more substantial rocks, but other kinds of jewelry — Italian-made Roberto Coin necklaces, Penny Preville vintage-style diamond bracelets, ornate gold-and-coral earrings crafted in India and worn to dinner at Barclay Prime — are so important right now that it requires entire drawers-full for local fashionistas to define themselves.

There are the “fauxhemian” girls who wear intricate pieces that are often made in India’s thriving jewelry industry — which is not to say those pieces are inexpensive, since they can involve precious stones and cost tens of thousands of dollars. There’s the classic uniform of diamond stud earrings and snowy strings of Mikimoto pearls; another breed of well-turned-out woman loves the chunkier, sophisticated pieces by David Yurman and Lagos. All the major local jewelers, such as Kellmer, Bernie Robbins and Jay Roberts, sell wide spectrums of baubles and watches; they’ll track down stones, reset your current rocks, throw you a birthday party in the store, wash and wax your car while you shop. And the trend has been stoked lately in the deliciously vapid pages of People, Us Weekly and Star, where Katie Holmes’s five-carat diamond is deemed “age-appropriate,” and where Kimora Lee Simmons’s 30-carat ring is admired and abhorred.

Ironically, a fashion statement born when rap and sports stars emblazoned themselves with what they thought proclaimed wealth has filtered all the way back to the once-unshowy enclaves of the Main Line, Chestnut Hill and Rittenhouse Square. In areas where getting the good jewelry out of the vault for one or two parties a year was reality, rather than cliché, the good jewelry is now going to the drop-off line at school, to the office and to yoga class; there’s a lot more of it, and it probably wasn’t inherited. Bernie Robbins president Harvey Rovinsky traces the trend to the late 1990s and credits the current strength of the luxury market. “People are inheriting a lot of money, and they’re empty nesters, and they’re being good to themselves,” he says. As go the 18,000-square-foot houses up and down the Main Line, as furniture and topiaries and SUVs and Restylane-plumped lips get ever larger, so go the gems. While a few of the Waspiest Wasps cling to more conservatively sized jewelry, most have gone over to the bling side, too. “It’s funny,” reflects the owner of a seven-and-a-half-carat Asscher-cut diamond, who was raised in a traditional family but is now an unabashed jewelry diva. “The longer you wear it, the smaller it looks.”

We’re living in a microworld where Bryn Mawr husbands are required to bestow baubles on new moms as soon as the umbilical cord is severed. “When I had Jared, all my girlfriends said to me, ‘Where’s your push present?’” says Fox 29 morning show fashion commentator Michele Malin Seidman, who lives in Penn Valley and has a 15-month-old son. “So I ran over to Barbara Ellick [the Narberth jeweler] and borrowed this starburst pin, which my husband ended up buying for me.” Hope Haron’s push present was a vintage-style band of diamond leaves with a single yellow diamond, which she bought from Kellmer, where she usually buys major jewelry.

Jewelry has become as widely chatted about as real estate and Botox — and without any hint of the self-consciousness you might have heard in an earlier generation. Indeed, truly epic rocks, such as Caroline Kimmel’s famous 20-carat ring from her Jones New York mogul husband Sidney, evoke a retro, post-feminist joy, a sense of happy admiration that anyone could inspire the purchase of such a boulder.

There’s a certain basic attraction to bright and shiny stones, it seems, that is programmed into most women; couple that with a very 2006 addiction to status, and the jewelry phenomenon makes complete sense. One young owner of a massive diamond wardrobe admits privately that she’s completely, unapologetically materialistic. “Once you have one or two nice pieces, you want more and more,” she explains. “When I go to Palm Beach, everyone wants my yellow-and-white-diamond Graff earrings and my gorgeous diamond bracelet. People flip out. I love to have it on with jeans, even with my bikinis!

“People always comment on my jewelry,” continues the material girl. “Men and women.” Because men of a certain income level want to maintain this kind of happiness in their wives, there is pressure to mark every anniversary with appropriate trinkets. Or, to mark a transition to a new wife, there is the “second-wife ring,” which is often in a direct two-to-three-times-larger ratio to the first wife’s diamond.

Very likely, the husband who is trading up bought both rings at the same jeweler. In Philly, jewelers are like dry cleaners — you always go to the same one, as long as they haven’t ruined anything. “Bernie Robbins has been our jeweler ever since they moved into Ardmore, and still are, now that they’ve moved to St. Davids,” says Channel 10 personality Linda Swain. There are loyalists to Linde Meyer, the boutique Center City purveyor of ultramodern and exquisite vintage gems; to Barbara Ellick, who sells vintage and new in Narberth. “I shop at Govberg,” says Billy King, the Sixers general manager, who has a collection of watches bought from Jeff Govberg, from whom he also bought his new wife’s engagement ring. “A lot of NBA guys go to Jacob the Jeweler,” King adds, referring to the New York jeweler of choice for your basic diamond-encrusted, Iverson-esque ice. Asked whether he ever goes to Jacob, King laughs and repeats: “I shop at Govberg.”

“CRABCAKE?” asks a waiter who is trolling the ground floor of Boyds on a Thursday night. It’s the Bulgari watch cocktail party at the Govberg boutique inside Boyds, and the guests browsing the $2,700 watches are mostly male, under 40, and dressed in open-neck shirts and the $2,700 watches they already own. Thirty minutes later, the Baume & Mercier party starts at Jack Kellmer Co. on Walnut Street, with martinis and champagne and similarly young and dressed-for-a night-at-32Ëš-looking guests.

Every Philly jeweler covets super-rich customers like Linda Chodorow, whose restaurateur husband Jeffrey is said to have once bought a $50,000 bracelet for her from Craig Drake over dinner in St. Bart’s, but it’s actually normal people who earn normal amounts of money who bolster the jewelry business locally. These are the customers who spend hundreds or thousands at Christmas and around Valentine’s Day. After all, flat-screen TVs and Hummers are ho-hum items today, as a recent series on class in the New York Times pointed out, which is part of the reason Americans now owe $750 billion in revolving debt. “It’s conspicuous indulgence,” says Temple professor of marketing Michael Smith. “If you have a three-carat ring, people are going to notice that.”

The greatest luxury marketer of all — which every local jeweler agrees has helped business — is Tiffany & Co., which burst into the Philly market 15 years ago on Walnut Street with a miniature, mahogany-sheathed version of its Fifth Avenue flagship. No other company has so smartly retained high-end customers with classic diamond engagement rings and expensive gold-edged china while also offering $175 heart-tag bracelets owned by every 16-year-old girl in the Philly ’burbs. In 2004, Tiffany & Co., the country’s leading luxury brand in any category, had $2 billion in sales; its nearest jewelry competitor, Cartier, did some $400 million. Some people will only buy at Tiffany’s. “The typical customer is very loyal,” says Sandra Alton, the company’s local market vice president, who is also chairing the Flower Show preview dinner this year. “They want a company that has a history and extraordinary standards.” With its gorgeous advertising campaigns and robin’s-egg-blue boxes, Tiffany’s has beguiled shoppers to the extent that, naturally, the chain is opening a third area store, in Atlantic City, at the Pier at Caesars. Jeff Kellmer, the 30-year-old general manager of the Jack Kellmer stores, says that part of the reason his Walnut Street location does so well is that serious buyers will often walk down the street from Tiffany’s, whereupon Kellmer can sometimes undercut the iconic jeweler.

Local jewelers also hold regular trunk shows and parties that engender loyalty: Bernie Robbins client Joan Leff says, “I like designer Michael B., and they bring him in all the time at their store in Somers Point. That’s how I met Harvey and Maddy Rovinsky,” Leff, a Main Liner, adds. Now, Leff goes to dinner with the jewelers, her husband goes to football games with Harvey, and the Leffs are devoted customers.

Some jewelers employ attractive, well-connected publicists: The Govbergs — who publish their own glossy magalog in which clients such as Brook and Dawn Lenfest (the blond owner of an appropriately global engagement ring) and socialite Marla Green appear — hire Nicole Cashman, as does Bailey Banks & Biddle. Drake works with KB Consultants’ Kelly Boyd; Kellmer retains Becky Fawcett (who also consults for this magazine). The Rovinskys of Bernie Robbins have given millions away to charities such as the American Cancer Society and Terri Lynne Lokoff Child Care Foundation, and partner with Rolex and Cartier for charity events. Bailey Banks & Biddle recently reopened its King of Prussia store after a relocation with a cocktail party at which guests were ferried to attorney Nick Chimicles’s Devon home from the mall in a party van, whereupon Natalie Cole sang on a full-size stage under a tent erected on Chimicles’s lawn. The Drakes gallop with a society crowd. (Craiger belongs to the Philadelphia and Philly Cricket clubs; Craig Sr. is a fixture at the Racquet Club.) “I first met Craiger at Camp Tecumseh in New Hampshire 30 years ago,” says Jim Bradbeer, the president of Lilly Pulitzer, who lives in Rosemont and is a Drake client.

“I have bought some larger pieces at Craig Drake — more like stones,” says Ana Maria Lenfest, whose family is the Holy Grail to local jewelers, and whose husband Chase frequents Drake’s parties. “I am a watch person,” adds Ana Maria, “so I buy those at places like Bernie Robbins or Govberg; I’ve bought everyday jewelry from Neiman’s, Cartier, Govberg and Saks.” Jeff Kellmer also goes to dinner with clients and attends their kids’ bar mitzvahs. “He’s warm, sweet and personable. He has excellent taste,” says Ellyn Saft, a Bryn Mawr writer. “My daughter’s first string of pearls came from Kellmer; I just took my last paycheck and bought myself a beautiful pair of chandelier earrings there.”

Kellmer has one extra asset, too.

“He is Jeweler McDreamy!” shouts Saft. “Number one, Jeff is the heartthrob of the Main Line. Women talk about him — ‘Do you know if Jeff will be there on Friday?’ People go there just to look at Jeff!”

“UMM-HMMM, look at that coat coming in,” observes Harold, the uniformed security guard at Jack Kellmer Co. in Haverford, as he pushes his “door open” buzzer. A small, 50-something woman enveloped in an asymmetrical pale-brown mink with a huge collar and cuffs trimmed in mink pom-poms beetles into the tranquil store and toward a case of sapphire bracelets.

“Jeff!” shrieks the customer. Indeed, it is Jeweler McDreamy coming out to greet her, all six-feet-two of him: tan, muscular, in a dark suit, smiling, his brown hair slicked back and perfect features gleaming. After an embrace, there is chitchat about the woman’s daughter’s recent wedding; about her husband’s new Bentley; about Jeff’s wife of two years, the equally toothsome Marilyn. Then the shopper floats off to look at Kosta Boda dishes over in the gift department.

“Now they want to fix my brother up with their daughters,” Jeff says of his older, still-single brother Danny. Kellmer knows that being McDreamy helps with his sales, but that’s not enough, so he’s become an expert in stones and watches. He and his brother worked the stockroom at the Kellmer store in Cherry Hill while still in grade school; midway through his fifth year of college (with graduation not yet in sight, he laughs), he got injured in football and decided to enroll at the Gemological Institute in New York. “I became obsessed with watches — there’s a whole world of horology,” he says. Now he, like his competitors, buys at the annual jewelry shows in Vegas and New York and occasionally ventures to Europe.

Kellmer makes Ashton Kutcher and Jude Law look wan and homely as he whips out a three-inch-wide, $21,500 multicolored sapphire bracelet, the stones rare and vivid shades of pink, yellow, pale orange and lavender. There’s also a 31-carat Liz Taylor-ish aquamarine suspended from a vine-like strand of diamonds ($19,500), and a bracelet as wide as a sweatband made of 75 carats of really large diamonds that is $265,000.

“My wife’s ring? I think it’s two and a half,” Jeff says, which of course is a very sizable rock, but on the low-key side, one might say, considering the cases here. He looks around at his customers and smiles. “The Main Line is a whole other world to me,” says Kellmer. “I’m a Jersey guy.”