Henri David has two loves in his life – designing/creating jewelry, and Halloween. His jewelry store, simply named Halloween, allows him to pursue both devotions with unwavering and faithful passion. Based in Philadelphia’s Pine Street row house area, Henri has prospered for three decades solely by word-of-mouth. His loyal following even includes notable celebs such as singers Stevie Nicks and Sir Elton John and the late Dick Clark.
“I’ve never, ever spent a single dollar on advertising in 30 years,” says Henri.
Even with the advent of new media outlets, Henri is wholly and resolutely invested in old school business growth models, chiefly repeat business and referrals. He doesn’t have a website or an e-mail address. Staff members don’t connect to Henri through their digital or online outlets. He doesn’t even have a fax machine. In Henri’s world, it’s the phone or nothing.
Given Henri’s decades long experience as a bench jeweler turned jewelry designer, an unrivaled artistic flair, and an eye for unusual gemstones aching for a creative setting, it’s no wonder he receives so many referrals.
However, one way Henri does connect with the Philadelphia market is hosting a massive Halloween ball each fall. Since 1968, Henri has thrown Philadelphia’s, if not the country’s, largest Halloween ball.
“It’s a huge party,” says Henri. “It [The Henri David Halloween Ball] all started in 1968. This year marks the 50th anniversary of me being the master of ceremony of what many news outlets consider to be the country’s largest Halloween ball. It has nothing to do with the store. It’s just something I do for fun.”
In many ways, Henri is the antitheses of the modern-day jeweler. He rejects all forms of Digital Age technology. Instead of a store sign Henri has two gargoyles facing opposite directions outside his front door. That’s it. (Given the historical nature of the area, city codes don’t allow for a neon sign, not that Henri would want one.)
When it comes to visual merchandising, his three-story store has 156 hand-made showcases organized by “themes” such as The Zoo, Undersea World and Bird Cages. Many retail experts advise against confusing customers with too many choices in a display case. At Henri’s store, that’s not the case.
Given the many themes and mediums Henri uses to display his jewelry, it’s a veritable buffet of baubles. Rings, earrings, pins and brooches are crowded in cases (floor and wall varieties), while necklaces cascade from rods and hooks and pretty much any conceivable display surface or option he can create.
And, although Henri says “jewelry is for work, Halloween is for fun,” some elements of the macabre holiday find their way into his interior design and visual merchandising. His three-story row house store’s focal points are two large Egyptian obelisks. Welcome to Henri’s world.
His “fascination with shiny things,” as Henri likes to say, started when he was 12. In his pre-teen years, Henri worked as a costume boy for a theater company. One day he was asked to find rhinestones. He was hooked instantly.
Later in life, one of the theater company’s producers introduced Henri to a bench jeweler. He then worked as an apprentice for nine years before opening his first jewelry store in 1978. Twenty years later, he purchased the Pine Street row house he named Halloween. “Because it’s my favorite day,” Henri says.
For most of the 30 years Henri has been in his current location, he actively worked at the bench. Word spread. Then he became increasingly busy with designs to fill his cases and custom creations for his customers.
He also began travelling more internationally for gemstone buying trips. His favorite overseas destinations are South America and Bangkok, Thailand, for all things color, and Hong Kong for pearls. Henri makes three to four buying trips a year, which doesn’t leave much time for bench work.
Henri has a friendly rapport with his overseas sellers. “Of course they love me, I take all of the unusual things they can’t sell,” says Henri. “They, pearl dealers especially, save their unusual pieces for me.”
Unusual baroque pearls Henri has purchased over the years have been fashioned into fun and imaginative jewelry designs. Topping the whimsy list are jewelry items fashioned into Mr. Potato Head and a mother pig with udders nourishing her suckling piglets.
In more recent years, Henri has had some design fun with moldavite. “I used raw moldavite to create a pin that looks just like a bunch of broccoli on a stalk,” says Henri. “Of course it’s set in green gold. It’s a store item. Another piece of raw moldavite looked like curly hair, so I made a Roman soldier’s head out of it. It’s a personal favorite that I wear.”
In his many years of creating custom jewelry designs, it’s difficult for Henri to cite a short-list of favorites. But he did appreciate a couple’s sense of humor decades ago when they asked him to create coordinating ball and chain wedding rings. “Hey, they’re still together after 30 years,” says Henri.
Not all of Henri’s jewelry designs are driven by the unusual shape of certain gemstones. He prides himself as an astute buyer of fine gemstones and has a penchant for opals – all of them. Henri’s designs are all one-of-a-kind pieces, but opals make his jewelry creations even more outstanding.
“Opals are never the same,” says Henri. “I like them all, white and black opals from Australia and of course the Ethiopian opals that have been coming to the market for the last 15 to 20 years.”
In the Halloween store, Henri’s inventory consists of 40 percent in-house designed and fabricated pieces of jewelry. Henri designs and his jewelers make the jewelry. Another 40 percent is hand-made jewelry sourced from his many international industry connections.
The final 20 percent is estate jewelry. Henri may have celeb clients and customers with deep pockets, but his goal is to carry quality hand-made jewelry at price points for just about every budget, taste and customer.
In looking ahead at the future of his business, Henri’s thoughts about retirement are met with the same short answers as technology or advertising. Without disclosing his age, Henri says, “I have no intention of retiring. Ever.”