From kings to Carnegies, royalty to Rockefellers, princes to presidents, museums to Marilyn, Black, Starr & Frost, America’s First Jeweler Since 1810 has served American elite with exceptional jewels and gracious service since the earliest days of American history, and well before any other jewelry brand was even conceived. Today, Black, Starr & Frost is the oldest, continuously operated jewelry firm in the country. The men who lead this iconic brand were trailblazers and innovators, bringing many firsts to the world of luxury and fine jewelry, starting in New York City and ultimately expanding to 33 locations a century and a half later. Today, the most important luxury jewelry brand is poised for the next two centuries of excellence and exceptional experiences.
“Black, Starr & Frost is one of America’s most renowned jewelry firms setting the standard for fine
workmanship and design since the early 19th Century. From their exquisite Art Deco jeweled
objects and clocks to their superb gemstone and diamond creations, they rivaled any of their
European counterparts. It is truly rare to find a firm with such a long established history
continuing its values and traditions to this day.” —Rahul Kadakia, International Head of Jewelry,
“To open this book is to open a door to a historic and unique world of American artistry and
creativity. The story of Black, Starr & Frost, as brilliantly told and illustrated in these pages, is rich
in substance, and places this iconic house at the highest levels of the jeweler’s art. The book, in
short, is a treasure unto itself.” —Ralph Destino, Chairman Emeritus, Cartier, Inc.
“Since 1810, Black, Starr & Frost has provided the finest and most exciting jewelry to discerning and demanding clientele. Alfredo J. Molina is now leading the way to provide beautiful, distinctive jewelry of exceptional craftsmanship to his clients worldwide.” —Howard Herzog, Past President, Lazare Kaplan Diamonds
Among many firsts for the company, Black, Starr & Frost was instrumental in
coining the term “carriage trade” in the early 1800s. The term is synonymous with the
finest objects d’art in the world and access to the inaccessible. The firm was the first
commercial entity on New York’s now famed Fifth Avenue—mecca to luxury brands
today—and there constructed the first modern-day apartment building in New York City.
In 1833, the founders were the first to use plate-glass windows, introducing the concept
of window-shopping to luxury-loving passersby, ultimately responsible for New York’s
much-visited Fifth Avenue windows today.
In the mid 1800s, the firm created the first class ring and designed a medal well-known to have launched an era of heroic recognition for honor during battle. In 1860, the company built the first fireproof building in New York City and inside its vault, the first safe deposit box system. So trusted was the company that both Northern and Southern clients kept their valuables in the New York City safe deposit boxes during the Civil War. That same year, the Prince of Wales selected important gifts and silver pieces from the firm and became the company’s first of many royal clients. One day before the grand opening on July 2, 1860, The New York Times wrote: “If a thing of beauty is a joy forever, then the public of New York are indebted to the munificence of Messrs. BALL, BLACK & Co., for having furnished them with perpetual enjoyment, and added another crowning glory to the many beautiful structures which combine and make Broadway the most splendid thoroughfare in the world.”
Our story begins with a young apprentice, Isaac Marquand. Black, Starr & Frost opened under the name E. Barton & Co., in New York City. Founders Isaac Marquand and Erastus Barton debuted their store near Broadway and Maiden Lane, determined to achieve the American dream, selling luxury goods with appeal to high-profile clients of the day. The firm’s name then changed to Ball, Tompkins & Black, and the company was one of a few American jewelers invited in 1851 to exhibit in the London Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition.
Partnerships, locations and names changed many times until Robert C. Black, Cortland W. Starr and Aaron Vail Frost reimagined the operation under the name Black, Starr & Frost in 1876. The newly christened venture gave way to a new address on Fifth Avenue and 28th Street. In 1912, Black, Starr & Frost built one of New York’s most impressive buildings at the corner of 48th Street and Fifth Avenue, several decades before any other jeweler located itself in what is now known as the Diamond District. In 1939, Black, Starr & Frost-Gorham carried on the glorious heritage, serving as one of five American jewelers invited to exhibit at the New York World’s Fair. The business’s reputation as a purveyor of beautiful objects including jewelry, yachting trophies, fine clocks and small silver goods ensured continued success.
Hollywood royalty were clients of the legendary brand including Peggy Hopkins Joyce. She was the inspiration for Marilyn Monroe’s character Lorelei in the big-screen production Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, where Marilyn sings, “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,” and includes Black, Starr & Frost-Gorham in the lyrics. Joyce acquired one of the most important pearl necklaces of its time from the company. In 1928, she bought the largest blue diamond in the world weighing 127.01 carats for $373,000. Today that diamond is the largest, faceted diamond in the National Gem Collection in The Smithsonian. Hollywood icons including Elizabeth Taylor and Zsa Zsa Gabor, First Ladies including Mary Todd Lincoln and Grace Anna Goodhue Coolidge, and famous families from the Guggenheims to the Trumps were notable Black, Starr & Frost clients. The firm was a trendsetter in acquiring the most rare gemstones from mines around the world, and presenting the investment benefits to its clients. In 1931, Mr. Black purchased the Lucky Baldwin Ruby for $100,000. In 2014, that ruby was offered for $60 million, which represents an annual return on investment of 6,858 percent. Additionally, Black, Starr & Frost signed jewelry brings substantial premiums at world- class auctions, confirming the brand’s ability to stand the test of time. For the first time in two Centuries, a thorough collection of the archives, images and history of America’s First Jeweler have been assembled in this landmark book on the iconic brand of Black, Starr & Frost, now an impressive 205 years old. The firm set the stage for one of the most important shopping districts in the world, defined the world of jewelry as we know it today and served American presidents, leaders of nations and Hollywood royalty as the most important purveyor of diamonds and fine jewelry. Today, Alfredo J. Molina, one of the most respected and best-credentialed gemological experts in the world, owns Black, Starr & Frost. Molina acquired the firm on October 26, 2006 with the momentous intent to introduce a new generation to America’s First Jeweler. Like Isaac Marquand, Molina embraced his American dream by placing Black, Starr & Frost on a path of revival. His respect for the history and prestige of the firm guarantees continuation of its founders’ creed: offer the finest one-of-a-kind jewelry creations in the world that are delivered through unparalleled service, and presented in unforgettably opulent, living room-like spaces.
Black, Starr & Frost is the first and most important American luxury brand, rooted deeply in the colonization of this country. This legend’s DNA preordains its high standards for exquisite merchandise and refined service that refuse to be foiled by evolving tastes or art forms, or volatile economies or world wars. Rather, Black, Starr & Frost is destined to continue in this realm, and its future begs an understanding of the rich heritage of its name. To know the resilient renown of the house of Black, Starr & Frost means starting at the beginning of its archives.
In celebration of the company’s first two centuries, Molina commissioned historians, researchers and authors to bring together the magic that has captured America’s imagination about this storied company into the first-ever historical compilation. It has taken seven years to write this book, but 205 years to create the story; one that is aligned with the history of this young country, as Black, Starr & Frost began making history just three decades after America began making hers.
For those who know Black, Starr & Frost, the history is incomparable, and the legendary service is second to none. For those who do not know the story of Black, Starr & Frost, a treat awaits as impressive feats and mind-blowing jewelry of exceptional quality and design follow in these pages.