Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Del Gatto

Black Enamel diamond and Ruby David Webb Unicorn Pin.
By Ki Hackney

Who is Chris Del Gatto anyway? How did he get to be the CEO of a business that has been growing by about 35-40% each year, including during these economically troubled times? And how did this Brooklyn-born upstart come to own his own Polo Team when he just started riding three years ago? Is he for real? I wondered. I’ve seen the ads for his company, known as Circa, many of which are graciously placed on NYSD, and I’ve heard about the company through my adopted godchild, a gemologist, who has had talks with them. The only way to find out what makes this 38-year-old entrepreneur tick was to request an interview.

First off, Del Gatto is on time. There is no extra waiting in the open, no-frills lobby. In his nineteenth-floor office fronting Madison Avenue, an unpretentious office building between 48th/49th Streets, we get right down to business. What drives him? The self-confessed Ayn Rand acolyte quickly acknowledges: “Being around super-bright people, creating jobs and making people’s lives easier.” And, he adds, it isn’t just about making a lot of money, it’s: “Knowing how to live life!”
Chris at the New York Circa headquarters.
Yes-sir-ee. Here is one man who knows what he wants. While he now reads three books at a time, Chris spent his high school years “looking out of the classroom windows and wanting only to be out in the world.” So, instead of college, at age 17, Chris became a licensed gemologist, by age 18 a diamond cutter, and at 20 years old, a partner in a diamond-cutting business. He says that through the formation of that first business he realized that he had the ability to see the big picture but that he had to learn to be patient. Patient in a Type-A New Yorker kind of way, that is.

Eventually wanting more than cutting diamonds, Chris partnered with third-generation estate-and-antique-jewelry expert, Jeffrey Singer at MHR Estate & Fine Jewelry to purchase jewelry from individuals and wholesalers; then sell it via top retailers throughout the country including Saks Fifth Avenue and our own Bergdorf Goodman. Chris formed Circa in 2001 with Singer, international estate jewelry dealer, Richard Tilles, plus a New York City venture capitalist. Circa has begun adding to its inventory through a new division set up to buy some branded jewelry at wholesale.

Chris reviewing ad material.
Here’s how it works: By appointment, individuals bring their jewels to the company, one of Circa’s experts evaluates it, and the company makes an offer on the spot. If the client accepts, he or she is paid before leaving the private sales cubicle. Then what happens? By invitation only, Circa sells the jewelry and a few precious gold or silver items to world-renowned collectors, dealers and retailers. And just recently, Circa has begun adding to its inventory by buying some branded jewelry at wholesale.

“It helped that I did not grow up in the jewelry business,” Chris concludes. “I was able to see that there was no liquid market for jewelry; no jewelry stock market, so to speak,” he continues. “Before Circa, customers got no respect and had to go all over the place to sell a prized family bijoux, and they were always offered the lowest possible price. For most jewelers, buying a vintage piece was only an opportunity; it did not really impact the company’s overall business. We are able to offer economies of scale and can pay more. We are also the only national and international name brand in the jewelry buying business.”

To stay on top of things, Circa has 50 employees (who speak eight languages) in six offices: New York, with nine expert buyers who share seven appraisal rooms; Chicago; San Francisco; Washington, DC; Palm Beach; and Hong Kong, where sellers often make an event of an appointment and come in groups of four or five. The company will finish adding offices in Boston, Philadelphia, and Miami this year and will open in Paris in 2009.

Circa’s experts evaluating a piece.
They have weekly meetings via the Skype satellite phone system (along with special Circa cameras), and the experts are brought to the company’s New York headquarters five or six times every year for about a week at a time.

Does Chris have a favorite type of jewelry? Sure does. It’s watches, and Chris will often buy them for himself. He loves and is inspired by the Art Deco period, particularly Cartier, and he is a connoisseur of Raymond Yard designs (recently purchasing a platinum and gemstone charm bracelet created by this former jeweler to New York’s social elite during a trip to California).

Back to business, Chris is particularly proud of three pieces of jewelry that have passed through the portals of Circa: a 19th Century Russian diamond necklace; a 50-carat cushion-cut canary yellow diamond that Chris purchased in Geneva and dubbed the “Circa Diamond”, and a late 18th Century English tiara. But it isn’t just the jewelry that motivates this entrepreneur. “We not only created something new, I can’t think of a more creative business than Circa. It is also a place where the people in it can change and grow. Underneath it all, I believe in a meritocracy where people who have ideas and are self made can achieve.”
Platinum, Sapphire and Diamond Boucheron ear clips. Van Cleef and Arpels Stone Encrusted Bird Pins.
Polo is perhaps the most visible expression of Chris’ can-do philosophy. Like so many of us, Chris had a penchant for horses when he was a youngster but no way of indulging his interest. With the initial success of Circa, Chris used profits to sponsor polo matches, because the game involved horses and had a luxury profile not unlike his high-end jewelry business. About three years ago, an article in The New York Times focusing on the Southampton Polo Club inspired a spontaneous trip to the East End. “I had to fudge my riding experience since I had none,” but that day on a polo pony was the impetus for Chris’ dedicated hobby.

A quick study, he began playing polo right away and already owns his own Polo Team, playing the circuit in New York, Argentina, and Palm Beach. On his own time, the divorcé can be spotted on Long Island’s East End, having one of the tasty breakfasts at Estia in Sag Harbor or spending private time with his 8 year-old son and six year-old daughter who are definitely off-limits to the public.
Clockwise from top left: 10.14 Harry Winston Diamond Emerald Cut Platinum Ring; Pair of Platinum, Ruby, Sapphire, and Diamond Deco Bracelets; Silver and Gold Diamond Victorian Flower Pin; Victorian 1940’s yellow gold and diamond pin and earring set.
Platinum, Diamond and Pearl Edwardian Bow Pin. Silver and Gold old cut diamond Victorian chain.