Couple brings Israeli designers jewels to spark up Silicon Valley mall

Why did a New York couple move across the country to showcase an Israeli jewelry designer in a Silicon Valley mall?

You have to go back eight years to when Jenni and Gil Luria, who is Israeli, met at Columbia Business School and talked about starting a business together. Still, after graduation, they both began working long hours in New York’s corporate business world, and the dream sat idly.

Nonetheless, in between the 80- to 100-hour work weeks, the couple managed to spend annual vacations in Israel visiting Gil’s family.

“Every time we went to Israel, the highlight for Jenni during every trip was stopping to see Michal’s jewelry,” recalls Gil Luria. Inspired by Victorian postcards, Michal Negrin’s handmade work features romantic floral motifs — tiny roses enhanced with lace, beads and Swarovski crystals.

“I have long been a fan of Michal’s work,” Jenni Luria writes in an e-mail from Israel. “Her colors and styles are so unique, feminine and colorful. Now that I am working with her pieces every day, I have come to appreciate even more the craftsmanship and attention to detail that goes into each piece. I love that I can always find a piece to perfectly match whatever I am wearing and whatever my mood. And I love to see how much her jewelry sparkles when I wear it.”

Their love of Negrin’s work, and the dream of owning a business together, came together. Using their business skills, the Lurias researched the country — canvassing the top 10 malls in the United States — to find the best spot to open a jewelry store.

“We did a lot of research in terms of foot traffic and revenue volume,” Gil Luria says. “It was critical to open in an affluent, diverse and well-trafficked location among other high-end retailers. Obviously, New York City fits all of these criteria. However, renting, building and operating a store in a desirable part of SoHo, Madison Avenue or even the Upper West Side would have been substantially more expensive.

“Malls in this part of the Bay Area have a tremendous amount of foot traffic. In fact, there is three times more traffic at this mall compared to Union Square in San Francisco,” he says.

In October, the Lurias opened Negrin’s first American franchise store in Santa Clara’s Westfield Shopping Town-Valley Fair. It became the 29th Negrin store in the world, joining locations in Tokyo, Paris, Sydney and Majorca.

“Michal Negrin is the best example of not only an Israeli woman who has created this organization, but someone who really cares about Israel and women in Israel,” says Gil Luria. “She could always export her work to another country, but she has decided that all her work should be done in Israel. It’s very important to her that everything is created in Israel.”

Negrin employs more than 200 Israeli women — many are Russian immigrants — in her factory in Bat Yam, an affluent suburb of Tel Aviv.

“Most of the women I’ve talked to have been there at least five years,” he says. “There’s very little turnover.”

“She believes strongly in keeping her workshop in Israel and has resisted numerous offers to move her company offshore,” adds Mazi Efendovich, an Israeli friend of Negrin’s who lives in Sunnyvale and is very involved in the local store. “Even today, at a time of deep recession and political hardship in Israel, Michal sees her employees as a family, which one must not abandon.”

Negrin grew up on a kibbutz and is David Ben-Gurion’s great-granddaughter, Efendovich adds. “She said that she’d never move her work to another country. She has said that she will stay there through the good times and the bad.”

The Lurias’ dream began taking shape while they were in Israel, visiting Negrin’s store. While chatting with the owner about the franchises throughout the world, they asked if there were any in the United States. The answer was no. So the Lurias phoned Negrin’s husband, Meir, who is her manager.

“We asked if he wanted a franchise in the U.S.,” says Gil Luria. “He said yes.”

In October, Negrin made the trip from Israel to decorate and open the store, as she has for all her franchises around the world. The store echoes the romantic theme of the jewelry, with Victorian-style swags, a crystal chandelier and a logo surrounded by roses. Prices range from about $15 for earrings to about $2,200 for an elaborate necklace, “but most of our necklaces are in the $100 to $300 range and most of our earrings are between $40 and $100,” according to Jenni Luria. The collection includes hamsas and mezuzah cases as well as jewelry featuring hamsas and Stars of David. The designer will also create pieces in colors of the client’s choosing.

The response, Gil Luria says, has been incredible. In fact, fan letters have been arriving in their e-mail inbox, with comments such as “I want to thank you for putting such an unusual and gorgeous store in the mall here. It needed your touch!”

“We really stick out in the mall among the bland stores,” he adds. “People walk into the place and say it’s one of the most beautiful place they’ve seen.”

The Michal Negrin store is on the first floor of Valley Fair, 2855 Stevens Creek Blvd., Santa Clara. Information: (408) 615-9974, or