At the age of 15, Hans Stern emigrated from Germany to Brazil and became rapt with the country’s colored gemstones. Those colored gemstones would become the cornerstone (pun intended) of H. Stern, the renowned Brazilian jewelry designer. Today, the late Hans’ son Ronaldo Stern runs the company with acumen, ingenuity, and a warm smile.
Ronaldo explains H. Stern’s jewelry as a mix of his family’s two heritages: they are German “quality freaks” with a daring, creative, and sensual esthetic that is decidedly Brazilian. The company is just as likely to use 18-karat gold and diamonds as it is to use the colored stones of the company’s origin. According to Ronaldo, there are no semi-precious stones; they are either precious or they’re not, just like “there is no such thing as a semi-honest man.”
H. Stern has bejeweled the likes of Catherine Zeta-Jones, Sharon Stone, and Angelina Jolie, the latter of whom wore the company’s most expensive piece to date to the 2004 Oscars. The company designed a special $10 million diamond necklace to accompany her white satin Marc Bouwer gown—an iconic ensemble that landed her on many best-dressed lists. Ronaldo also loved bejeweling Halle Berry, whose confidence and elegance are emblematic of the H. Stern woman—someone who is just as likely to choose jewelry for herself as she is to receive it as a gift.
One of thing that sets H. Stern apart is its artistic innovation. A few years ago, the company designed a $20,000 gold and gemstone Havaiana flip-flop. Its most recent endeavor is a collaboration with Brazil’s premier ballet company, Grupo Corpo, headed by Creative Director Roberto Stern (Ronaldo’s brother, who is based in Brazil). H. Stern designers sat in on the dance company’s rehearsals and performances to garner inspiration for the collection. A layered gold necklace was based on the construction of the dancers’ tutus; a collection of rings was inspired by the use of a follow spot; other pieces reflect storylines of the various dance pieces. And now the H. Stern designers are working on a new collaboration with a Brazilian architect.
Although he grew up accompanying his father on his travels for the company, Ronaldo was not always employed in the family business. He worked at the IBM research lab in Brazil where he says, “I was a crazy scientist for a while,” before taking the helm of H. Stern. Today, he carries on the family tradition, taking his children on business trips the same way his father once did with him.
He has “two boys and a princess” 14, 12, and 9 respectively. Stern’s daughter “has really good taste” and chooses his ties and shirts for him. Perhaps her style-savvy makes her the most likely future heir, though it’s too soon to tell. Stern loves to spend the holidays skiing with his children on the slopes of Utah and Colorado, while his wife loves to visit museums in Europe. His wife is a painter whose work hangs on the walls on the office reception area.
In January, after running the New York office for 10 years, Stern will return with his family to Brazil to oversee H. Stern’s worldwide operations. (Susan Nicholas will take on his role as North American CEO.) He hopes the company, which has taken the lead with a “no-conflict diamonds” policy, will be an example for other Brazilian jewelers. (H. Stern is Brazil’s largest jewelry company and their workshop is one of the country’s top five tourist destinations.)
Among the things he will miss, Stern cites Il Buco on Bond Street as his favorite restaurant, and the Frick Collection on East 70th as his favorite museum. He also says it was worth braving the crowds to see MOMA’s Tim Burton Retrospective. What will he miss most about New York? “The energy of the city.” There’s no question that the city will miss him.
H. Stern Jewelers is located at 645 Fifth Ave. in New York and 342 San Lorenzo Ave. in Miami.