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Jewelry Maker Hopes Old Look Stays In : 1928: Melvyn Bernie started the company in his garage and built it into one of the country's three largest costume jewelry firms.

May 01, 1990|PATRICE APODACA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It has also introduced lines of fancy hair clips and children's jewelry, men's pieces such as tie bars and cuff links, and a new line of polished jewelry--the smooth, geometric-shaped gold- and silver-plated pieces often worn by businesswomen--that competes with the sleek, contemporary looks favored by Monet and Trifari.

The company is also planning to start offering its own men's cologne as a giveaway with jewelry purchases. And it's hoping to expand its foreign sales from the current 5% to 40% of its total sales by increasingly marketing its products abroad.

Despite his success, Bernie remains a shy, soft-spoken man. He refused to have his picture taken for this article and preferred to let his top executives do most of the talking for him. His reticence, however, hasn't stopped him from earning a reputation for aggressiveness and innovativeness.

For one thing, 1928 is 3,000 miles from Providence, R.I.,which has been the center of the costume jewelry trade since European silversmiths began settling there in the 18th Century. And Bernie prefers to do everything in-house--instead of farming out certain work to specialized jewelry shops as many other manufacturers do--so that he can maintain control over every aspect of production.

Bernie also shook up the industry by taking a different approach to selling his jewelry. Rather than just filling orders and letting retailers do all the sales work, 1928 was the instigator of what is now an industrywide trend of in-store promotions, such as jewelry demonstrations and using video cameras to show customers what they look like with an ensemble of 1928 jewelry.

"The jewelry industry was asleep for some time," Bernie said. "I think we helped wake it up."

Others agree. "What they ended up doing was commanding real estate in the stores," said Jerry Madison, owner of Jerry Madison Jewelry in Los Angeles, a manufacturer of precious metal jewelry. "To me, that was brilliant," he said.

Litwak of Macy's said 1928's promotions have included dressing models in body stockings, loading them up with pins and sending them around to talk to customers. The company has also set up demonstrations showing how it makes the porcelain roses used in many of its pieces and gives clinics on what type of jewelry suits different facial shapes.

These promotions work well, Litwak said. "It stops people dead in their tracks."

Litwak said 1928 has "had explosive growth" during the past five years and, so far, the company has been able to modify its look to keep pace with changing fashions.

"Now the question is, can they keep doing it," Litwak said. "If I were to bet, I'd bet yes."

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