Buying baubles millennial-style from Marks Jewelers

Jim Brusilovsky on Marks Jewelers millennial friendly sales floor. ED HILLE / Staff Photographer

Like generations of men before him, Joel Hindelang, 26, had a particular style of engagement ring in mind -- a round, halo diamond in a white-gold setting -- for when he proposed to girlfriend Adessa Flack.

But unlike many proposers before him, Hindelang, a project manager for a construction firm, had some millennial options: He could customize the ring with technology. He could decide -- no pressure -- with a cocktail. And he could choose environmentally and ethically sound diamonds,  one of his future fiancee’s top requests.

That is why after visiting four stores, Hindelang, of  Sellersville, made his big purchase from Marks Jewelers. (The nuptials are set for July.)

“They helped me build something just for us," Hindelang said.

After more than 20 years in the business of bling, Jim Brusilovsky opened in September his latest  incarnation of Marks Jewelers. This gleaming, 15,000-square-foot space in Montgomeryville has a full bar, flat-screen TVs for customers to watch their jewelry get cleaned and made,  and a Diamond Diner -- not for eating, but for talking. Thanks to a targeted social-media presence and radio ads, he's quickly building a reputation as the friendly jeweler marrying the latest in bauble fashion with jewelry-making technology. 

“We wanted to display jewelry like it was in a museum,” said Brusilovsky,  a 45-year-old former college football player turned entrepreneur. “We want to teach people and entertain them." 

Even for those who don't consider themselves jewelry lovers, Marks Jewelers is an enticing,  suburban smorgasbord flush with all things sparkly.

Brusilovsky carries more than 50 brands of jewelry -- including six Marks Jewelers private-label offerings --  with of-the-moment brands, such as responsibly sourced Forevermark Diamonds, vintage-inspired Verragio ring settings, and sleek Carlex wedding bands (for the guys who can wear pink shirts, Brusilovsky says) in cute, shops-within-shops nestled throughout the store. 

One wall is decked out with black-and-white Pinterest-worthy photos of Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and Frank Sinatra, overlooking perfect-for-groomsmen gifts, like beaded-leather bracelets and flasks. Brusilovsky is working on a similar display for bridesmaids' gifts. 

Across from the full bar -- where cocktails and coffee drinks are served -- a half-dozen leather booths and tables constitute what Brusilovsky calls his Diamond Diner. This is where the nervous ring buyer sits with a salesperson and works out the terms of the agreement. 

“Sometimes when you walk into a jewelry store, an invisible bubble comes around you," Brusilovsky said. "The air gets thicker. The idea is to make sure our customer feels valued, whether they are spending $300, $6,500 or $20,000 on a piece."

I must admit, I got lost in the dazzle (you never know how much you want a diamond until you are close enough to touch one), and leather couches have a relaxing effect.

But I was most intrigued by JewlVision

JewlVision, trademarked by Brusilovsky, is a process that allows customers to customize their jewelry -- not just rings, but necklaces, bracelets, and other kinds of glitz. 

Steve McKenzie, a Center City physician, used the software when he visited Marks Jewelers a few months ago to design a ring with rubies, amethysts, and blue turquoise -- his three children's birthstones -- for his wife. 

“When they showed us how the gems looked on the computer, they clashed, so," he said, laughing, "we added some diamonds. We would have never known how it looked if we didn’t see it on screen."

Brusilovsky hires design students, mostly from Temple University, to create a structurally sound computer model with specs that are then uploaded to an in-house 3D printer, where within 24 hours, a prototype emerges. Once the customer approves, or even tries on, the mold, a manufacturing facility makes the ring with the desired gold or silver precious metal. 

A jeweler in Montgomeryville then adds the gemstones by hand. 

Brusilovsky was born in the Ukraine but immigrated with his family in 1979 to Elkins Park, and Brusilovsky's dad, Mark, quickly found work as a watchmaker on Sansom Street.  During the 1980s, his father opened a repair shop that he later expanded to include jewelry in what was then the Pennsauken Mart. 

As a teenager, Brusilovsky apprenticed at the original Marks Jewelers, with Mike Flynn.  "That man could fix anything," Brusilovsky said. "I started out by sweeping the floor, Windexing the cases, and eventually I began melting wire." 

During the 1990s while a student at Pennsylvania State University, Brusilovsky fixed jewelry as a way to make beer money. He graduated in 1994 with a degree in international politics, but instead of going to law school, he opened a kiosk  in the  Montgomeryville Mall where he repaired jewelry.  He contracted out his services to Walmart and Kay Jewelers. 

Brusilovsky established himself as a jeweler, but he did not enjoy making prototypes. So in the early 2000s, he shopped for software that did the exacting work for him.   

In summer 2014, Brusilovsky decided it was time to further expand, and he searched out prototype centers by visiting Borsheims, Warren Buffett's jewelry store in Omaha, Neb.; Smyth Jewelers in Lutherville, Md., and Robbins Bros. in Dallas. It took almost three years and millions of dollars to renovate the vacant warehouse that is now Marks Jewelers.  

For Brusilovsky, it's all about keeping up with the technology, which now affords people lab-grown diamonds and engineered Moissanites,  and offers customers a pleasant experience.

To purists, Brusilovsky offered this: 

"People resisted the horseless carriage, too. But they came around and embraced that technology. The same thing is going on in the jewelry industry."