By Michelle Graff
San Francisco--San Francisco. The city that was the epicenter of the counterculture movement of the 1960s, home to Haight-Ashbury, hippies and hallucinogens.

Marcus Chait, left, with his dad Joseph at their offices.

The city that is today at the center of another movement, the sharing culture, home to Airbnb, Uber and, now, a jewelry company with a 100-year history that wants to share its inventory with retailers worldwide.

Marcus Chait is the managing partner of San Francisco Provident, a company that makes loans against high-value assets and buys and sells jewelry from the public, as well as appointment-only boutique and e-commerce site 66 Mint and his latest venture, MemoGems, an e-commerce platform that gives retailers everywhere access to their inventory.

The company’s philosophy in developing MemoGems was this: People are willing to buy jewelry online, but are more apt to buy it from a retailer they know and trust.

If, let’s say, a client in Tennessee came across a piece they liked on the 66 Mint website they might not hit the buy button, simply because they don’t know anything about this San Francisco-based company. But if that same piece were on a retailer’s website in Tennessee, its chances of getting sold increase.

“We’re willing to put our ego out of the way,” Chait said. “Let’s empower these other dealers around the world who need inventory.”

The story of how 66 Mint, and thus MemoGems, came to be is a story in itself. In 1965, a man named Frank Rusalem sold San Francisco Provident--which was founded in 1912 and purchased by him in 1952--to another San Francisco businessman, Robert Chait.

When Rusalem died, Robert Chait attended his funeral along with his son Joseph. There, Joseph Chait met Rusalem’s granddaughter Deborah, and the two ended up getting married and, eventually, became Marcus Chait’s parents.

“It’s crossed the family lines and generations since the ‘50s,” Chait said, adding that they have had both sides of the family working there at various points throughout the company’s history.

While the wholesale side of the business dates back to 1912, it was only about three years ago that the family opted to open a brick-and-mortar store. They set up shop at 66 Mint St. and named their store after their address, not a bad idea in these days of Google searches. (The store comes up second when Googling “66 Mint Street San Francisco.”)

Chait said as part of the launch of 66 Mint Fine Estate Jewelry, they put a lot of time into building an e-commerce site, operating under this philosophy on technology: “It you don’t embrace it, you are going to be trounced by it.”

The site worked, and 66 Mint found itself selling significant pieces to people all over the world, people they wouldn’t have been able to reach otherwise.

The owners of 66 Mint Fine Estate Jewelry wanted to continue to build on their online success, so they came up with MemoGems, a platform that allows them to virtually share their inventory with retailers everywhere while also assisting those who lack the resources, time and/or know-how to build and maintain an e-commerce site.

Launched in October, the MemoGems platform is a fully functioning e-commerce site branded with the retailer’s name, logo, contact information and “About Us” information that is, in Chait’s words, “paint-by-numbers” simple to operate.

Retailers log in to the site via a web portal to see a list of the available inventory. It shows them what each piece costs them to buy from 66 Mint and what 66 Mint will list it for on their public-facing website. There’s also an empty box where they fill in what they would like to list the piece for on their website.

Chait said they are welcome to match, oversell or undersell 66 Mint, noting that the average profit margin when matching the 66 Mint price is 30 percent. “Our thought process is: they know their clients better than we know their clients, and they know what price (they’re willing to pay.)”

He said they once had a diamond ring on the 66 Mint site listed for $16,000 that a dealer three blocks away sold for $23,000 because they have more site traffic and because the client was more comfortable buying from them.

Once the retailer selects and prices the pieces they would like to sell, they hit a button to upload them to the site. When a piece gets sold, the retailer wires 66 Mint’s cut to San Francisco and emails them the shipping waybill. (The retailer is responsible for arranging and paying for shipping, and also sets their own rules for returns and exchanges.) Then, 66 Mint ships the piece either to the retailer or directly to their client.

Chait said MemoGems, which launched in October, currently has about 15 users, and their goal is to reach 40 by the end of the year.

The platform gives retailers access to about 550 pieces of antique, estate, closeout and custom pieces 66 Mint made by re-purposing jewelry bought off the street.

Retailers are free to post as many, or as few, pieces as they would like, and the inventory is synched across all sites. If, for example, a retailer in Texas sells a brooch, that piece gets marked as sold in the system within milliseconds so a jeweler in Pennsylvania cannot promise that same piece to a customer.

Chait said it costs $900 to build each site so they ask for that amount as a deposit up front, which the retailer gets back as soon as they reach $5,000 in sales. There is also a $200 per year charge for MemoGems that covers the bandwidth, maintenance and hosting of the site, which 66 Mint handles.

“There is so much tech innovation going on, quite literally all around us, that we figured we better jump on the wave and take advantage of the new business opportunities that this new technology has made available to us,” Chait said.

And, so far, it’s working. “People are selling the heck out of this stuff.”

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