Jewellers Carlo and Franklin Adler connect East and West
From the majestic buildings of Vienna to the warm curves of Istanbul and back, the Adlers, now world-renowned jewellers, have built bridges between East and West. They ultimately settled in Geneva to conceive creations born from this unusual fusion of cultures. Brothers Carlo and Franklin Adler have run their business from the city of Calvin and Rousseau for almost forty years, but their fame is definitely global. Swiss Style met the two brothers and came back with quite a special tale.
A gift horse
The fame and fortune of the Adlers begins in that unabashedly adventurous age of steam and sepia photographs. “Our great-grandfather was on his way to New York,” Franklin begins, leaning back comfortably. “He left his little hamlet in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and headed to Istanbul to board a ship to the United States.” But his ship came in a different way. On the Bosporus he found a job and stayed. The story does have a touch of Hollywood that the Adlers clearly relish, because as it turns out, their great-grandfather was in fact a horse-whisperer. One day, one of the Sultan’s favourite horses was unwell. Great-grandfather was invited to have a look at it, he found a cure and got a job in the stables of the Sultan. “Call it destiny, call it chance, call it whatever you want,” says Carlo with a shrug of wonder. “The fact that our family spent one hundred years in Istanbul was an accident,” he adds.
Once he settled down at the Sultan’s court, great grandfather sent his son Jacques to Vienna to become an apprentice in a big jewellery firm, where he stayed until he earned his spurs as master of the craft. The choice was a fortunate one, it was the 1880s and at the time, Vienna was enjoying a great boom on all fronts. “It was the place! Think about the city’s intellectual production in architecture, psychiatry, arts… Everything was in Vienna: it was the centre of Europe!” Carlo and Franklin are both enthusiastic. Returning back to the capital of the Ottoman Empire, Jacques opened an atelier in the heart of the goldsmiths’ quarter. “He had quite a baggage of skills, which amalgamated with a rich cultural experience,” Carlo proudly explains. “He had both the strict techniques learned in Vienna that were now tempered by the sensuality and warmth of the Orient.”
In the world of jewellery, however, scintillating pasts and long-standing traditions are the norm. To make the grade, you need not only the right story and the right business model, you also have to settle in the right location. So Carlo and Franklin began mulling over a return to Europe. “I started to think about moving in 1968,” Carlo recalls. “Turkey was far from what it is now, you could not establish a brand name by remaining in Turkey.” Geneva seemed the best choice as a runway of their global success. The city was in the heart of Europe and well connected to the traffic network. Plus, Carlo was already studying at the University of Geneva, and his brother would visit him for the holidays. “I found it exceptional, because it had the advantages of a small city and those of a large one as well,” says Franklin. “Furthermore,” Carlo points out, “Turkey still had currency controls and was internationally somewhat isolated, which made it difficult for a business with global ambitions”.
By 1972, Carlo and Franklin had opened their first store, “a corner shop with 15 metres of display space on the street with a lot of passage,” as Franklin describes it – meaning lots of foot traffic and window-shoppers. They were so eager to start that they didn’t bother waiting for a proper door to be installed: “We closed at 4 o’clock p.m., had to take everything out of the shop and run to the bank until we got the door a few days later,” Carlo recalls with a hearty laugh.
“We were lucky and we had some fabulous years!” Carlo admits, definitely the more understated. Franklin, on the other hand, prefers musing about the day an unnamed prince asked to look at a collection and ended up buying everything they had in the shop. Fortune does favour the bold, so in fact there is much more than mere luck behind the Adlers’ success. Planning, team-play, and trust are the key: “When deciding what to do with a stone, we get up to 40 proposals, which are then reduced to three and a collegial decision is taken,” Carlo explains. He and Franklin say that they are “both pretty interchangeable: when one is away, the other has to be able to make all the decisions. It has been 40 years now!” And the rest of the business is also in family hands: Franklin’s wife is in charge of the crucially important design department and their son deals with contractual matters. And those that are outside the family are often like family, since they have been with the business for 25 to 30 years. “This is important, because you can just lean on them.”
The East rising
As with everybody else in the industry, the past two or three years have been quite difficult for the Adlers. The slump in demand accompanying the global economic downturn confronted the jewellers with a great deal of volatility in the gold and precious stones markets. “It all started when the bankers started to sell paper instead of physical diamonds,” Carlo explains. “Raw materials are less than five percent of our costs. However, di amonds, rubies and all the other materials we use are no longer seen as a safe investment by our customers,” Franklin goes on. Things are improving, however, albeit slowly, so he is cautiously optimistic to use a somewhat overused phrase: “We are approaching the end of the tunnel.”
The source of his optimism is not the Adlers’ base in the heart of Europe. “The West is a difficult market: The inf luence of Protestantism is quite strong and so wealth, it is felt, is not something you show off!” Carlo says frankly. Arabs, Turks, the Chinese and Indians still love their jewellery and are eager to exhibit it. Nonetheless, Carlo and Franklin are totally at ease in this new globalised world of luxury. The jewellery market has always been marked by an extraordinary amount of mobility and fusion between East and West, and that seems to be the history of the Adler family.
Article by Andrea Bonzanni