By 1990, Fortunoff had three divisions offering everything for the home, specialty jewelry and watches, and tabletop merchandise. The previous ten years were spent growing the business; hiring, training, and promoting staff and getting the service teams operating in a cohesive way. Now we focused on refining our merchandising and developing creative marketing. Once again, we broke the rules, with styles and campaigns not seen before in the jewelry industry.

Fortunoff had built its following through creative and consistent advertising and marketing. Starting with Max featuring great prices, to the Fortunoff sign painted in bold white lettering on the original Livonia Avenue store, to award-winning actress Lauren Bacall’s signature husky voice proclaiming, "I shop at Fortunoff," there was no shortage of marketing ideas.

Keeping Family Central Sterling Flatware Ad, 1969 Jewelry Core Values

My parents, Alan and Helene, gave free reign to ad agencies and their art directors. Other major retail brands always had a consistent look, color palette and font, but Fortunoff’s fine jewelry business had many looks. Catalog covers were each a surprise, unrelated to previous ones. "Other established jewelry brands were predictable—robin’s-egg blue or red—but we liked variety with a touch of humor."

Our jewelry branding or "institutional" campaigns ran in newspapers, magazines, and catalogs. We added a new tag line to the original, "The Source" and became "One of New York’s Jewels," as we used iconic NYC locations like Yankee Stadium’s baseball diamond, Central Park and the Guggenheim Museum to showcase our jewelry.

"One of New York's Jewels" Campaign

NY Jewels ad campaign - Hayden NY Jewels ad campaign - winter bridge Fortunoff Jewlery ad - baseball

Later campaigns used stunning photography driving home the point that we scoured the world to source our treasures. Some of my favorite: an African elephant with a large yellow diamond ring on its back and South Sea pearls photographed underwater with fish swimming by. They told stories that brought the jewelry to life.

Whole World Source Campaign Ads 2.0

Fortunoff Jewelry - South Sea Pearl ad Fortunoff ad campaign - carriage Fortunoff ad campaign - elephant

Among the most successful forms of advertising were our stunning four-color catalogs. The catalogs were timed to reach customers shortly before peak shopping seasons. It was not uncommon to see shoppers holding their catalogs opened to specific pages as they navigated the bustling stores. These catalogs went out to nearly 3 million people, mailed and inserted into newspapers around the Tri-State area. Our mission with the creative catalog covers was to spark curiosity and get it into the customers' hands.

Jewelry Catalog Covers, Incorporating Art and Humor

Fortunoff catalog cover - whimsical Fortunoff catalog cover - spring bee Fortunoff catalog - diamond rings on branch

The outdoor furniture campaigns launched each February, often while there was snow on the ground. One of these allowed customers to customize their outdoor furniture which would be delivered by Memorial Day. It turned out to be one of our most successful campaigns, featuring the tag line, "Love the chair, hate the fabric," pioneered by my cousin Elliot Mayrock.

Bringing Back Treasures

The second generation spent a lot of time exploring overseas markets, providing us with a first-hand education on global markets and how they operated. In 1984, I moved into the jewelry merchandising area to learn the business and focus on diamonds. I traveled to Antwerp, Bombay and Tel Aviv, the most important diamond cutting centers. We purchased loose diamonds and gemstones so we could cut out the middleman, control the quality, and keep prices down. We then designed and manufactured jewelry in New York City, where we had a manufacturing "shop."

My mother, my sister and I traveled worldwide with a growing team of women buyers and assistants all led by my mother. Together, we visited factories and trade fairs such as the Vicenza Fair and Basel, the largest watch and jewelry event in Europe.  These events were gatherings of manufacturers, designers, journalists, opinion leaders, and trendsetters to present and discover the collections and trends for the year. My sister, Ruth recalls it as being the time for discovering young designers and new products. 

We'd spend hours viewing jewelry lines, requesting quotes, placing our orders and then await shipment in NY. Our mission was to bring back new and exciting products.  We tailored our "buys" to our various locations, and tested the most avant-garde at Fifth Ave.

We constantly experimented with products on the salesfloors and reviewed and analyzed space allocation to keep the stores exciting and make the best use of our resources. Since outdoor furniture was a seasonal purchase, and its vast space was unused from October through January, Elliot proposed the outdoor furniture space become a decorative Christmas department. The "Christmas Store" would open in October, to get a jump on the holiday season with merchandise and store displays creating a kind of Disneyland for shoppers. There were trees for every taste, train sets, ornaments and miniature villages.

We hired the Radio City Rockettes to literally kick off the opening of Westbury’s first Christmas shop. Television and print advertising and promotional events featured celebrities like Betty White, Sarah Ferguson and Christopher Radko who signed ornaments for our customers. Families came for pictures with Santa, which became a tradition.

The Mall in Westbury

In the 1980’s my father, Alan, felt that malls were the way busy people preferred to shop. Our stores in Wayne, Woodbridge and Paramus, New Jersey, were in malls. Shoppers’ could spend the day: shop for a variety of things, eat a meal, and continue shopping. Alan envisioned an entire Fortunoff mall around the flagship store in Westbury. That plan was hatched in 1988, and finally in 1997 Alan’s vision became a reality with the opening of the Mall at the Source in Westbury. The Source Mall had to be unique: a specialty mall with great retailers not already in the area. Joining Fortunoff were 60 stores including chains such as Old Navy, Virgin Megastore, Saks Off Fifth, ABC Carpet & Home and Neiman Marcus Last Call. In addition, there were several notable family-friendly restaurants including The Cheesecake Factory, PF Chang’s, China Bistro, the Rainforest Café, and Dave and Buster’s.

Always visionary, Fortunoff next opened a "Baby Fortunoff" boutique, a separate retail space with a wide array of high-end gifts and furnishings for new parents. Also, a modern watch store opened outside the main Fortunoff mall entrance, featuring new brands with a hip street feel.

The Source mall construction, 1996 Mall at the Source

The Source Mall ribbon cutting The Source police precinct

Rise of Information Technology

During the 1990s the Fortunoff family established their technology footprint. My father knew that computers were going to play an important role in business and retail in particular and steered my brother David toward that area of the business. Our I.T. department developed proprietary software and a jewelry inventory picture system, which helped us manage the inventory between five locations. By the late ‘90s, there were also noticeable changes in the way people shopped with the rise of the internet and e-commerce.

Our bridal and gift registry started in the 1980's and became a big part of the business. We had great selections and excellent prices, and created a memorable experience for the bride and groom. We developed an internet app for our relaunched 2000 bridal registry which became the dominant registry in suburban New York and New Jersey. Just about every bride at the time would register at Fortunoff's, and for guests it was easier than going to the store. Through the website they could find the couple online, review their registry, buy a gift, and have it sent directly to the couple.

In the 1990's we also built our own website,, and had our own studio to photograph our jewelry as well as other products. Notably watch brands did not want to be sold "online" and until recently stayed away from e-commerce. The website was its own "store" and we learned that merchandising techniques for the web were different than traditional store layouts. There were new merchandise techniques to learn and a new area of digital marketing to master.

White Plains ground breaking White Plains store

Having spent decades in Brooklyn and expanding to Long Island, New Jersey and Manhattan, the last logical place for a new store was Westchester County. In 2003 after searching for the right location for decades we found the location and development partners. All our institutional knowledge gained from the previous stores, an expanded bridal registry with a large reception area, a private diamond jewelry salon, and a linen and bedding section with dozens of display beds made the White Plains store a shopper’s dream.

White Plains ribbon cutting White Plains press opening

White Plains store - crystal department White Plains Store - bedding department

The millennium brought generational changes, new social and political realities and increased retail challenges. Stay tuned for the final installment of the "100 Years of Fortunoff Business Story" coming soon... .

Fortunoff Jewelry catalog - holidays Fortunoff Jewelry catalog Fortunoff Jewelry Catalog - spring