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T-Bird Jewels: Once Jeweler To Elvis And Liberace, Now A Favorite For Sin City Locals |  August 13, 2014 (0 comments)


Las Vegas, NV—T-Bird Jewels, in the Summerlin area of Las Vegas has a history chock full of beautiful jewels, celebrities and old Vegas. The Centurion caught up with second-generation jeweler Darryl Kulwin recently to find out about his business.

"Our business was started in 1962 by my father, Mickey, at the old Thunderbird hotel. Prior to that, he hustled jewelry out of his apartment in his casinos to the various entertainers, hotel bosses and dealers. It was a small town then; everyone knew each other. Eventually he was so busy he wanted a place where people could find him. He knew all the key players. He was an ex-bookmaker, a networker and had grown up with a lot of his customers. It was a natural transition for him," said Kulwin.

Mickey Kulwin's client list was legendary: Sammy Davis, Jr.; the Fifth Dimension's Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr.; comedian Redd Foxx; Jerry Lewis; and Lou Costello of Abbott and Costello, among others. "Of course, Elvis was a customer. They went to him when he called," said Kulwin. "And Liberace. My dad created his stunning piano ring. It was an incredible business."

Piano man: Liberace was famous for both his playing and his love of diamonds. He incorporated his beloved instrument in his bling. Here, a watch created by Mickey Kulwin.

And as the times changed, so did Las Vegas. "We had three stores," said Kulwin. "One each in the Sahara, Stardust and the Riviera. Those hotels were dying; the whole north end of the strip was dying. We were not interested in staying on the strip. The opportunity had moved. So we moved to the Summerlin area in 1998 and opened in a new shopping center here. Summerlin is the Beverly Hills of Las Vegas. We had virtually no competition and we had a name. We had the roots of doing business with local people."

Did Kulwin always plan to go into jewelry? "It was the last thing on my mind," admits Kulwin. "I love jewelry, appreciate it and sell and work with it, but I don't wear much of it." Kulwin went to City College in San Fransciso for hotel and restaurant management. He worked in hospitality for a decade, eventually moving toward watches/jewelry by becoming a salesman for Baume & Mercier."I was a junior rep in Nevada and part of the West Coast."

Kulwin worked with a senior rep and after six months moved to Chicago to take a new position. "I did 25 years on the road as a jewelry rep. Then Dad passed away and my sister and I inherited the business. I decided to move to Vegas to take over the store. My sister, Sherri, has her own business; she's a travel agent to the stars and has an incredible business."


Three views of T-Bird Jewels' interior, above and below.

And how does T-Bird Jewels market to their local community? "Our greatest source of new customers is word of mouth," says Kulwin. "We go out of our way to give people a very personal experience. It's very casual here; it's not threatening for customers to walk through our front door. Customers come here and we want them to feel at home. We don't judge, we're open and warm to our customers."

T-Bird Jewels doesn't just open its arms to humans. They favor dogs, too. We've always had dogs on the premises," says Kulwin. "We're dog-friendly. That face opens up our store for a lot of people. I had Dad's dog; I inherited her. She was better than getting the store. Her name was Toby and she used to come to work every day. Everyone knew and loved her. We held a birthday party on her birthday every year and that became a community event." Today, dogs are welcome in the store and many stop by often.

Darryl Kulwin and Toby.

Kulwin focuses on billboards, print and internet in other marketing areas. They support the local PBS station and support the local performing arts center, the Smith Center, for part of their community outreach.

A new website is also under development. "We're upgrading," says Kulwin. "We need to be more proactive and stay on top of it. We had let it slide. We're also doing more social media." Kulwin wants to better connect with his customers, getting them in the store to show off his jewelry and encourage a more personal relationship.

And do the tourists still find him? "Some do, but we are 20 minutes off the strip so we don't service them regularly. Some do come looking for specific jewelry lines," says Kulwin.

Today, T-Bird Jewels is 2250 square feet with the selling floor about 1500 square feet. Kulwin's staff of 10 is a loyal bunch. "We've got people who have worked here for over 30 years," says Kulwin. "Our bookkeeper has been here for 35 years. One key manager for over 40." Among the ten employees, Kulwin counts a certified Rolex watchmaker (the only one in town) and two jewelers. One is a master jeweler who works in CAD/CAM and has been in Vegas for years. The other has now been with us for 15 years and does an amazing job." The store recently added the new CAD shop and has also renovated with new floors and seating.

So how does a former jewelry salesman choose lines to put in his own store? "I look for several things," says Kulwin. "It's a combination of creativity, quality and value. We also look for firms that are not self-serving and who want a relationship with a retailer. It's the same quality we use with our customers. We sell what they need and do what we can to help them out. We're not trying to load them up with merchandise they don't need."

Initially, when Kulwin moved T-Bird Jewels from the strip to Summerlin, he started with a few key lines that he had been unable to get on the strip: "Simon G., Breitling, Rolex and Tacori. Those lines were spoken for on the strip and had no coverage in the Western suburbs. It was a good thing for us." Today, the American Gem Society Member store also carries William Henry, Furrer Jacot, Jeff Cooper, Steven Webster, John Hardy, Roberto Coin ("one of first dealers in town!" says Kulwin), Bez Ambar, Christopher Designs, and Jewels by Star."

"We take care of everybody," says Kulwin of his community-based store. Clearly that's the case: everybody and their dogs, too!

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