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The Diamond Man

by Carol DeFrank

MOST PEOPLE AREN'T READY to start their own business at the ripe old age of 17, especially a high-end business such as selling diamonds. But Stuart Dunkin isn’t most people. With the help of his parents, who borrowed $5,000 to help finance his first store, he opened the first Dunkin’s Diamonds as soon as he graduated from high school.

“My parents were second generation diamond dealers,” explains Dunkin. “Being conservative people, they were tired of me trying to rearrange the jewelry cases and change their method of doing business. I was young and thought I knew it all. Now I’m 65 and realize I still don’t know it all.”

Stuart is keeping a three-generation tradition alive. His grandfather started the business in Europe. At the time jewelry was sold at open market street bazaars along with other goods. Merchants bought precious stones in large quantities trying to outdo each other.

Dunkin tells the story, “My father came to the United States and began selling jewelry in Chicago. I used to go straight to the store after school when I was only six-years-old and stay in the back room until closing. Eventually I began doing odd jobs. It wasn’t long before I fell in love with the business.”

He says that although he contemplated being a doctor or lawyer he decided designing and selling jewelry was more fun. “I get to work with people during the most memorable and happiest of times in their life.”

His ancestry helped him to be successful because the adage, “it’s not what you know, but who you know” is just as true in the jewelry business as it is in any other part of life. “I deal with companies from Belgium, Israel, Africa, Antwerp and Europe,” he says. “I’ve worked with grandfathers, fathers, and now their children. These relationships have grown over the years to the point where I can purchase millions of dollars worth of diamonds with a handshake — no contracts, just trust.”

He also partners with diamond cutters all over the world, enabling him to eliminate the middle man and sell at competitive prices. Dunkin says, “Traditionally, retailers purchase cut diamonds. In many cases I buy them in the rough and have them cut into exclusive stones.”

In an effort to attract a wide range of customers, Dunkin seeks innovative designers as well as traditional ones and also has his own design department and factory. He says, “I’ve always loved designing jewelry. I like exclusive, timeless pieces that make a statement.”

What he learned during his formative years helped Dunkin successfully open 14 locations in ten years. He continued to learn everything possible from his family and master designers and gold smiths across the globe.

But when a big company offered to buy him out he thought it was a great idea. “I agreed and just like that I was retired,” he says, but continues, “It didn’t take long to realize it was a mistake. I was only 30-years-old, way too young to sit around doing nothing.”

To fill his time, he managed some art galleries for a friend and also became an excellent backgammon player. “I learned the game from some little old ladies who lived in my complex,” he explains. “The group played daily. They took me under their wing and taught me to play well enough to enter tournaments as an amateur. Before long I was considered one of the best amateur backgammon players in the world. I loved the mathematics of the game and the traveling.” He then adds, “I never failed to check out the jewelry and art everywhere I went, especially in Europe.”

In 1983, he returned to Ohio and his passion. For the second time, he went into the jewelry business and began opening stores. Before long he had five locations throughout the state; Dunkin’s Diamonds was back in business. He opened the first Florida store in the late 1980s in Port Charlotte and in 1992 opened another one in Fort Myers.

He says, “I have been doing this for so long it’s become second nature. I depend on a simple formula; good staff, good selection and great prices.”

Dunkin is proud of his ‘Hearts on Fire’ diamond line. These are high-quality stones with an ideal cut, a method used to deliver the most brilliance and fire. The stones are marketed as the most perfectly cut diamonds in the world and have a visible presence of a perfect ring of eight hearts when the diamond is viewed from the bottom and a perfectly symmetrical fire burst of light when viewed from the top — thus the name.

According to ‘the diamond man’, a nickname Dunkin earned many years ago, future trends in jewelry include varying colors of gold and pearls, especially rose. He predicts long pearl strands and pearl earrings will make a comeback as well as diamond hoop earrings. “We have recently seen a trend back to larger diamonds in cushion and princess shapes,” he says. “Silver jewelry is also stronger than any time in history, mostly because it is reasonably priced.”

Dunkin’s Diamonds has been in business for 50 years and been serving Southwest Florida for nearly 20 years. Stuart still works full time, mostly behind the scenes. He says he doesn’t think he will ever retire again — he’s having a good time and doing what he loves. •

from the July-August 2011 issue

"I get to work with people
during the most memorable
and happiest of times
in their life."