The turning point in the career of famous Brazilian jeweler, Hans Stern, came in 1951, when a famous Nicaraguan dictator, Anastasio Somoza, came into the struggling jeweler's shop in Rio de Janeiro and bought a distinctive aquamarine necklace for $20,000. Thus began Stern's reputation as an innovative seller of high quality gems and settings.
Things were not always so easy for Stern, who was a German Jew born in Essen in 1922. As a teenager, Stern was forced to flee Nazi Germany with his family. They were grateful to get a visa for Brazil, despite having no connections there. Thus in 1939, they arrived penniless with no idea of how they would support themselves in a new country and culture.
At the age of seventeen, Stern was able to gain employment as a typist in Cristab, a company cutting and exporting Brazilian gemstones. He quickly began to learn about the jewelry business, as well as the many languages he would need to pursue a career in the international gem trade.
As part of his job, Hans visited the mines in Minas Gerais, traveling by horseback. He became friendly with the local miners, who taught him about the precious stones found in the area. He began buying his own stones on consignment, pawning his accordion to finance his first purchases.
Just six years after his arrival in Brazil, Hans founded his own company, H. Stern, which was instrumental in opening up the under-exploited gem resources of Brazil. At that time, there was not much of a market for Brazilian semi-precious stones such as aquamarine, amethyst, citrine and tourmaline. Today, Brazil has a world-famous jewelry industry and is the source of almost half of the world's colored gems.
Stern attributed a great deal of his success to what he described as a combination of luck, opportunity and ethics. He believed that fair play is essential in a business where customers must trust the seller to give them good value for money. As his company grew, Stern trained his young jewelers, teaching them to maintain high ethical standards. He established a complaints system and personally read each one, helping to raise the Brazilian jewelry trade to international standards.
His philosophy proved highly successful. Stern's jewelry chain has over 170 outlets in 26 countries and is still providing jewels to the rich and famous. Some of Stern's most illustrious customers included Henry Kissinger, John F. Kennedy and the Shah of Iran. Moreover, almost all celebrities who visit Brazil make a purchase from Stern's, whose jewelry and gemstones have been made famous by Vogue, Marie Claire, Elle and other international fashion magazines.
Stern's favorite gemstone was tourmaline, which is found throughout Minas Gerais. Stern died in Rio de Janeiro on October 26, 2007, at the age of 85. His sons carry the H. Stern legacy.
- First Published: July-28-2008
- Last Updated: August-15-2017
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