Black, Starr & Frost
Black, Starr & Frost (Est. 1801 – ) This Company is one of America’s oldest jewelers. It was originally established as Marquand & Paulding in Savannah, Georgia in 1801. In 1810, Isaac Marquand moved to New-York.
When it began in New York City in 1810, it was operated by Marquand and his new partner, Erastus Barton. It was originally named Marquand and Barton and located near New York’s Maiden Lane.
The firm added and lost partners numerous times. It also frequently moved locations so it could remain close to its prestigious clientele. The merchandise the firm sold was eclectic and included lamps, jewelry, paintings, porcelain, and artistic objects.
Among many firsts for the company was coinage of the term “carriage trade” in the early 1800s. The term is associated with the world’s finest art objects and access to the inaccessible. The firm was the first commercial entity on New York’s Fifth Avenue – still a mecca for luxury brands – where it constructed the first modern-New York City apartment building.
In 1833, the founders were the first to use plate-glass windows that introduced the concept of window-shopping. It is this legacy that draws pedestrian traffic to New York’s popular Fifth Avenue so potential customers can admire the windows before shopping.
Also in 1833, Black, Starr & Frost was the first firm to use the American Eagle as a logo. Clients knew the firm was “at the sign of the golden eagle.” In 1837, the company created the first Class Ring for the United States Military Academy at West Point.
In 1851, the firm was one of the few American retailers who exhibited at the London Crystal Palace Exposition. During the mid-19th Century new partnerships developed and the company’s name changed to Ball, Black & Company and became one of the most famous jewelry stores in New York City. It designed for Royal families and dignitaries in both Europe and the United States.
In 1876 Black took in two new partners, Cortland Starr (1833-1888), a distinguished Civil War veteran turned jewelry maker, and Aaron Frost. The firm moved to 251 Fifth Avenue, changed its name to Black, Starr & Frost and concentrated its inventory on jewelry and silver objects, some produced in-house others imported from Europe.
Also in 1876, the firm was invited to exhibit at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia where fellow exhibitors included Tiffany & Co., Whiting, and Gorham.
In 1912, Black, Starr & Frost erected an impressive building at the corner of 48th Street and Fifth Avenue several decades before any other jeweler located in what is now known as the Diamond District.
In 1920, with the addition of a new partner, the company became Black, Starr & Gorham. By 1929, the firm had merged with the Gorham Company to become Black, Starr & Frost-Gorham Inc.
During the early years of the new century, the firm produced the first auto-racing trophy, known as The Astor Cup and in 1921 produced the silver platter for The Davis Cup that was kept in its vaults for many years.
In 1928, Peggy Hopkins-Joyce, the first Ziegfeld girl turned socialite, acquired the largest blue diamond in the world at the time (known today as The Portuguese Diamond) from Black, Starr & Frost. Now on display at The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the near-flawless 127.01-carat gemstone is the largest faceted diamond in The National Gem Collection. At the time, she paid $373,000 for it.
When, in 1929, the Frost family lost its fortune in the stock market crash, Gorham became the majority interest holder of the firm. That was the same year the firm acquired the jewels of America’s legendary financier and philanthropist “Diamond Jim” Brady.
Also in that tumultuous year of 1929, Robert Clifford Black, president of Black, Starr & Frost, acquired the Lucky Baldwin Ruby, named after the California gold mining pioneer E.J. “Lucky” Baldwin. Black bought the ruby from Harry Winston, one of the country’s most well-known gemstone brokers. It is believed that Winston used the proceeds of the sale to open the Harry Winston store in 1932.
Black announced the purchase of the ruby at $100,000 so he could begin to demonstrate his commitment and belief in the future appreciation of fine gems. In 2014, the ruby was offered for $60 million representing an annual return on the investment of 6,858 percent.
In 1939 the firm was one of only five American jewelers invited to exhibit at the New York World’s Fair where it displayed large sculptural jewelry based on bold Art Deco designs of the period. During these decades Black, Starr & Frost was considered one of the great American jewelry houses.
Broadway and Hollywood stars such as Carol Channing, Elizabeth Taylor, Zsa Gabor, and Marilyn Monroe; First Ladies including Mary Todd Lincoln and Grace Anna Goodhue Coolidge, and famous families from the Guggenheims to the Trumps were either notable Black, Starr & Frost clients or helped contribute to the firm’s fame.
Between 1962 and 2006, the company changed hands several more times. In 1962, Marcus and Company acquired Black, Starr, Frost-Gorham, and restored the name to Black, Starr & Frost. The same year Black, Starr & Frost purchased Cartier USA. This was the first of many steps to expand the reach and influence of Black, Starr & Frost.
By 1972, Kay Jewelers had acquired Black, Starr & Frost and expanded it to 33 locations. Another expansion of its ground game came in 1986 when New York’s famous Plaza Hotel became home to another Black, Starr & Frost jewelry salon.
Another change occurred in 1990 when Sterling Inc. acquired Kay Jewelers and Black, Starr & Frost. The recession of the early 1990’s saw Paul Lam of Costa Mesa, California acquire Black, Starr & Frost in 1991.
Fifteen years later in 2006, The Molina Group acquired Black, Starr & Frost.
In January 2016, The Wall Street Journal published an article about Black, Starr & Frost which began, “ONLY VIA A BLACK velvet jewelry tray could Mary Todd Lincoln and Marilyn Monroe find a common thread. Mrs. Lincoln once racked up a $64,000 bill for jewels from American jeweler Black, Starr & Frost. Many decades later, the actress [specifically names] the company while singing “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” in the 1953 film “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” Her character, Lorelei, was said to be inspired by one of the house’s clients, Ziegfeld Follies star Peggy Hopkins Joyce.
“Though you may not recognize the name Black, Starr & Frost, the jeweler has an undeniably rich and colorful past. It’s one that the current owner and chairman, Alfredo J. Molina, who bought the brand in 2006, wants to tap as he works toward his ambitious goal of restoring it to its glory days. “We’re America’s first jeweler,” Mr. Molina said. … Of possessing a Black, Starr & Frost gem, he added, “It’s owning a piece of history.”
During the Molina years Black, Starr & Frost sold the Archduke Joseph Diamond, – a 76-carat, D-color, internally flawless diamond and the largest D color internally flawless Golconda diamond in the world – for $21.5 million at Christie’s Geneva Magnificent Jewels auction. That set three world records for the sale of a colorless diamond.
In 2014, Chairman Molina achieved a dream that required at least eight years of research when Black, Starr & Frost published, “1810: Celebrating Two Centuries of American Luxury.” This coffee table book is a tribute to the company’s storied history.
The next year, Black, Starr & Frost designed and crafted The Empress, a $4.5 million necklace which featured thirty ultra-rare, untreated Burmese sapphires totaling 11.9 carats, thirty-four oval diamonds, weighing 10.56 carats, and 404 round diamonds totaling 82.61 carats, all masterfully hand-set in the finest pure platinum.
Also in 2015, Black, Starr & Frost, America’s oldest watchmaker, debuted a collection of luxury timepieces in new designs for the first time in three decades. The collection of men’s timepieces was designed by American veteran watchmaker Donald R. Loke and featured a pioneering dress chronograph case with hidden pushers that was made available in a limited edition series of 25 pieces.
The Wall Street Journal article concluded, “[This] quality is something that current owner Mr. Molina, an 11th-generation jeweler and certified gemologist, wants to maintain in everything from his $7,500 diamond tennis bracelets to a $1.2 million emerald-and-diamond necklace. He’s been collecting gems for new pieces for a decade and has partnered with mines to source rough stones. The new wares, many inspired by old designs that Mr. Molina has been buying at auction and from other secondary sources, can be found at the company’s two shops—in Newport Beach, Calif. and Phoenix.”
With the firm’s ground game now at only two locations, it was further reduced when, in April 2016, Jennifer Heebner reported that Black, Starr & Frost would close its California Store. This announcement was met with shock and sadness by attendees at the annual American Gemological Society Conclave.
In a statement. Molina explained the move. “We have made the difficult decision to close our Newport Beach salon following extensive negotiations with the landlord in which we were unable to come to a feasible agreement,” he said. “We are exploring retail options in Orange County, as well as future expansion into new markets.”
Despite these recent setbacks, Black, Starr & Frost’s 200+ year history still brings their signed jewelry substantial premiums at world- class auctions and confirms the brand’s ability to stand the test of time. Though never a true innovator, the firm nevertheless produced exquisite jewelry in the style of every era.
Black Starr & Frost represents the best of the independent jeweler world: a community filled with designers, jewelers, gemologists, and retailers who were inspired to bring their customers the best jewelry, gemstones, advice, and knowledge about the world of quality jewelry.