Retailer Corner: Henne Jewelers

In the second installment of our Retailer Corner blog series, we are interviewing John Henne from Henne Jewelers of Pittsburgh, PA. Winner of Pittsburgh Magazine’s Best Jewelry Store award for an incredible 6 years in a row (and counting!), Henne Jewelers sets a shining example for other Pittsburgh jewelry stores.

Read on for John Henne’s expert insights on being an historic local jeweler, engagement ring trends in Pittsburgh, and how Henne Jewelers stays technologically innovative.

About Henne Jewelers

Tell me about yourself and Henne Jewelers.

I’m John Henne. I’ve been in the family business for 21 years, started by my great-grandfather, Rudolph Joseph Henne, about 127 years ago in 1887.

How different is the jewelry business today than when your great-grandfather founded Henne Jewelers in the late 1880s?

There’s been a lot of changes in the jewelry business in the last few years, mostly due to technology. My father – who’s been in the business for 60 years – said that he has seen more change in the last 10 than he did in his entire career.

Interviewer: Can you be a little more specific about that?

Well the advent of the Internet has certainly played a big role, which has been really helpful in many ways. A lot of our clients have the ability now to do a fair amount of research and get an idea of styles. They can see so many different pictures, and so when they come in to visit with us, they’re really educated and really prepared to make a buying decision.

How does being a family-owned business set Henne apart from its competition?

I think it is rare that we’re still a fourth-generation family-owned business. You rarely see people make it past the third generation, and now to be over 100 years old is extremely rare. I know that we are the oldest jewelry store in Pittsburgh, and certainly the oldest family-owned jewelry store in the city.

What do you do to get Henne involved in the community?

Henne Jewelers has always been involved in the local community. It goes back to my great-grandfather; he was known to be a giver, to be very philanthropic, and we continue that tradition today. It’s one of our core values. I’ve been on numerous boards of local organizations, and we regularly are giving back to various charities within our local community.

Tell me about Henne’s in-house design services.

That’s the nice thing that we have to offer here. We do have the ability to design and manufacture just about anything that they want, so if they come to us with stones that are from the family, we can make a beautiful ring just to their liking with the loose diamonds that they have.

Ritani and Henne Jewelers

What do you like most about your partnership with Ritani?

What I like most about our partnership with Ritani is they’re absolutely on the cutting edge of technology. They really utilize the newest and greatest technology on their website. They can invest in technology and their website like we cannot, so to have a partner like that so we have the personal feel, the touch, you can meet with us, you can see things in person. But you have their website, which has the robustness of anything you could find anywhere in the industry.

Which Ritani engagement and wedding rings are the most popular at Henne?

The beauty of Ritani is that they have a vast selection of styles. It really varies across the board in what’s most popular from Ritani. We’ll see many of their halo settings being very popular, but also some of the very classic solitaires, and with diamonds just down the side of the shank. We do a lot with their eternity bands, as well.

Buying diamonds and engagement rings online

How has the rise of e-commerce influenced your business?

Absolutely, the Internet has allowed us to open up doors that wouldn’t have been available to us as easily as they are now. So, we do have vendors that we work with in other parts of the world through technology and through the Internet.

The Internet has absolutely expanded our market. We now are able to sell engagement ring all over the country; in fact, we now have clients in other parts of the world. We’re able to communicate with them via email, send them images, and really take care of them in a wonderfully service-oriented manner like we do here face-to-face.

What are your thoughts on shopping for engagement rings online versus buying them in-store?

We think there’s tremendous value in people looking at rings and getting a feel for style online, looking at lots of pictures. But it really is important to actually try it on your hand, because we’ve seen women come in with one thing in mind because they’ve seen the picture online. Then when they put it on, they just don’t love it on their hand, and they go to something completely different. So it’s really important for them to actually try those on, and we’ll see them try on 15, 20 different rings until they come to the one that they love the best.

What have you noticed about the recent rise of selling and buying diamonds online?

Something that we’ve found interesting about diamonds online is that many of the diamonds that you find on the search sites that are the least expensive are there for a reason. They’ve been rejected by all the diamond buyers, and there’s something not quite right with it. There’s something a little bit wrong, and we’ve seen a couple times where a customer brings in a diamond they purchased online and it’s a diamond I would have never bought for our stock or wanted to sell to a client. Even though the certificate might read right, there’s a reason why it’s less expensive.

In fact, we have two diamonds here in our case that we show to clients. They have the exact same certificates, they read exactly the same in grades and in cut, but one looks completely different than the other. There’s a haziness to the one, and it’s a good bit less expensive. So, it would show up first if it was being searched online, and someone might think that they should buy that, because of the value. But when you look at them side by side, no one would ever purchase that less expensive stone.

How do you keep your business fresh and technologically innovative while being an historic institution?

We work on keeping our business fresh technologically in a couple of ways. One – partnering with companies like Ritani who have the ability to invest a lot of money in their website and technology. We also work with local companies here that really are experts in dealing with the Internet. So, we do put a fair amount of time and energy into our website.

Engagement ring trends and advice

What are the engagement ring trends you see in Pittsburgh?

I don’t know that Pittsburgh is much different than other parts of the country, but right now we’re seeing an interest in things that look a little bit more antique, somewhat vintage. The halo look – with diamonds around the center diamond – has been very popular. I kind of like these trends, because something that is classic, that has been around and in style before usually will stay popular for a long time.

How have engagement ring buying habits changed over time?

Today we see a big difference. Women are generally here in the store, involved in the selection. They may not pick the final diamond and the final ring, but they’re certainly giving a lot of input along the way about the style and look of the ring.

What advice would you give to someone shopping for an engagement ring and starting from scratch? 

Well, if a guy comes to me and is talking about buying an engagement ring, the advice I would give to him is open communication with his girlfriend. She should be involved in some way. That doesn’t mean she has to be here picking it out with him, but he should have a really good idea of what she wants. The last thing he wants to do is present her with a ring that is not exactly the style, or particular shape of diamond, that she wants.

What is the most common mistake you see men make when they are shopping for or purchasing an engagement ring?

I think the most common mistake that men make in buying an engagement ring is not having enough information about what their girlfriend or intended fiancée is interested in. If they come in unarmed with information and try to make that decision on their own, they usually are going to make a mistake.

If you live in the Pittsburgh area and you’re looking for an engagement ring, wedding band, or other fine jewelry, check out Henne’s website, Facebook, and Twitter.