September 25, 2015
By Sara Poirier Correa
Sentinel Business Reporter
Bright, shiny and something to long for, a good watch (or piece of fine jewelry) is not hard to come by at Manfredi Jewels. And that’s exactly what owner Roberto Chiappelloni hopes customers find when they visit his Greenwich Avenue store.
“The opportunity to operate the kind of business I’m in allows me to compete in the highest level of my industry,” the native of Italy said. “I don’t think you could do this in most parts of the world.”
Greenwich has proved a good location to support Manfredi’s love of rare watches and the like, Chiappelloni said, because the client base demands quality and is able to afford the luxury items, which can sometimes cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“I think we always did [stand apart],” he said of Manfredi’s watch selection. “We always went after the very rare and high-quality watches.”
And when it comes to the jewels, Chiappelloni said his store’s estate pieces and more modern pieces make for something unique.
“We never, ever went after something that someone else had,” he said of the inventory. “The items were always unique to our area.”
However, Manfredi, located at 121 Greenwich Avenue, just above the Lewis Street intersection, is not just a small niche watch establishment and fine jewelry purveyor; it carries well-known brands, too. In fact, the store, which also has a location in New Canaan, offers more than 30 watch brands, making it a destination for watch lovers and collectors from afar.
Its jewelry collection boasts items from Chopard, Roberto Coin, Chimento, and many others. The store was among the first to carry the timepiece brands of Franck Muller, Parmigiani, Richard Mille, Greubel Forsey, Urwerk and Glashutte Original. It also sells Omega, Bulgari and Hamilton, among others.
Presenting itself as a “world of prestigious watches, exquisite jewelry, diamonds and gemstones,” there seems to be something for everyone at Manfredi. But it is the watches that got it all started.
“In the mid-1970s, mechanical watches were totally out of favor, so much so that more than half the watch industry went out of business in Switzerland,” Chappelloni said of the time he first became enamored with timepieces.
But when nobody wanted watches other than to melt for gold, he said he was collecting these treasured “toys,” one by one.
“I always loved watches and I never thought I’d be collecting,” said Chiappelloni, who came to the United States when he was 21. He said he originally thought he’d be here for six months, learning English and exploring New York City.
After deciding to stay long-term, it wasn’t the jewelry or watch industries that brought the business owner his initial success in America. It was food. For 41 years, Chiappelloni has been owner of Alberto Restaurant in Forest Hills, Queens, a business that still runs today with the help of his family.
His good fortune there, combined with what he called the “you can do nothing wrong” positive message put forth by President Reagan in the 1980s, led Chiappelloni to Greenwich, where he purchased an existing Manfredi store in 1988 and made watch collecting more than just a hobby. He said he re-invented the store as his own, adding that he kept the Manfredi name because name recognition was helpful when it came to acquiring some of the brands.
Now, some 28 years later, Chiappelloni owns not only the business, but the building in which it’s located, and has recruited a knowledgeable team to help customers find what they’re looking for. The staff includes, among others, two goldsmiths, two watch makers and diamond sellers.
The recent addition of the New Canaan store, which is the site of the former Henry C. Reid Jewelers at 72 Elm Street, has allowed Manfredi to expand, the owner said. He can now offer Rolex watches, which he doesn’t do in Greenwich.
Greenwich Store Manager Robert Weintraub, who has been at the store for nine years, said there’s always something for everyone at Manfredi, whether at a high price point, or just starting out.
Making the buying experience an enjoyable one for customers is something Weintraub said he and his team strive to do.
“The idea of Greenwich Avenue and a jewelry store can be intimidating,” he said. “We want people to feel comfortable [no matter what service they come in for].
“Everyone has to start somewhere,” Weintraub said.
He said he first became engrossed in the world of time when a friend’s interest sparked his own curiosity.
“I got into this business purely for the love of fine timepieces,” Weintraub said. “These [watches] were amazing and I couldn’t believe how much money people would spend on these things.”
“Just like guys like cars… it’s just toys,” he added about watches. “It ties in with fashion and status. It’s all of those things.
“Luxury will always be an aspirational thing as well.”
A trained opera singer who still performs, Weintraub likened his love of classical music with the luxury watches sold at Manfredi: If you do the legwork before delving in, he said, the experience can be much more fulfilling.
“You can look at a watch on a wrist and think, ‘Oh, that’s pretty,’ but then when you learn about the mechanical history of these timepieces and you can connect the stories of some of these timepieces, it also makes the experience that much richer and it seems like you’re buying a piece of history,” he said, adding that researching an opera beforehand can allow for a more fulfilling viewing.
Weintraub said the experience of buying a timepiece has evolved in the age of the Internet.
“It used to be easy to keep up with the industry, and now there’s so much information being written every day,” he said.
“People are more savvy,” he said. Diamonds, for example, come with not just the Manfredi name behind them, but also with certification from an independent lab, he added.
When it comes to jewelry, Chiappelloni said that clients “put a lot of value on these special things.”
“If you look at our sales and dig a little deeper, in a good economy or a bad economy, there’s always someone celebrating something,” he said.
“And nothing says it better than a beautiful diamond.”
A video about Manfredi was produced last year for Hodinkee.com, a popular watch blog in the industry.
“There are just a small handful of truly meaningful watch stores in the United States,” the blog said. “This group of forward-thinking, daring and creative jewelers are, in some cases, responsible for breeding the generation of watch buyers that kept the entire industry afloat during some of its hardest times, and built it into the period of development and innovation that we are currently enjoying.
“Without these select watch retailers, there would be no industry to enjoy. Roberto Chiappelloni’s Manfredi Jewels in Greenwich, is at the forefront of this group.”