This article appeared in the Feb. 14, 2014 Jewish Advocate.

Gann Jewelers maintains brilliant downtown presence

Weddings & Simchas

By Susie Davidson

Special to The Advocate

Joshua and Matthew Gann are co-owners of Joseph Gann Jewelers in Boston’s Downtown Crossing.

It was 1933, the height of the Great Depression, and watch repairman Joseph Gann was slated for a salary cut. But instead of accepting the sharp reduction (from $48 to $15 per week), the highly skilled and gregarious craftsman opened his own shop in the historic, Art Deco “Jewelers Building” in downtown Boston.

The Jewelers Building of Boston still stands today at 387 Washington St., and so does Joseph Gann Jewelers, on the fourth floor.

Gann found quick success building a watch-repair business. During World War II, when watch production stopped, he improvised by using parts from older pieces. Soon, he employed eight watchmakers, began taking wholesale jewelry buying trips to New York and Philadelphia, and hired traveling salesmen to sell the wares.

According to the Gann website, high-quality merchandise and excellent service has always been the company’s hallmark. While Bulova, Movado, Seiko and myriad other top timepiece brands continue to make up a significant part of the Gann inventory, the store is also renowned for diamond jewelry, accessories, and top brands of crystal ware, flatware, china, tableware, and personal and household finery.

A variety of wristwatches can be found at Joseph Gann Jewelers.

According to the website of Gann Academy, which bears his name, Joseph Gann, who was descended from a line of Talmudic scholars, studied at the Slobodka Yeshiva in Lithuania, near his birthplace in Rokishok, which operated until the Holocaust. Following his father’s death while seeking work in South Africa, his family was exiled along with many other Jews to Siberia, where he ran a grocery store with his mother and learned the watchmaking trade. He learned jewelry making in Koenigsberg, Germany, where he had escaped to prior to immigrating to the United States in 1922. He worked for a local jeweler while living with an uncle, and received a job offer from Boston, where he moved in 1926. According to a 1997 obituary in the Jewish Ledger, he and his wife Rae (Perkins) Gann, who over their 69-year marriage had a son, two daughters, 13 grandchildren and six greatgrandchildren, became major philanthropists across all streams of Judaism. Beneficiaries of his largesse included educational institutions such as the eponymous Gann Academy; Hebrew College, which houses the Rae and Joseph Gann Library; the Maimonides School; and the Lubavitcher Yeshiva, as well as synagogues to which he belonged: Temples Emanuel, Beth El, Atereth and Young Israel, all of Newton, and others in Florida. The Bostoner Rebbe also honored Gann for his dedication to the medical assistance organization Rofeh International.

Gann, who died at 100 and worked until he was 98, was a 32nd degree Mason and Shriner. He is buried in Everett. “A scholar, a highly successful business leader and a passionate believer in education, Joseph Gann’s story serves as an inspiration for our community every day,” states the Gann Academy website. “His extraordinary 100-year life serves as a testament to the spirit of the Jewish people and to the power of community.”

Son Herbert Gann took over the business, and today, five family members operate the establishment, which was gleaming, ornate, and welcoming on a recent visit. Sons Josh and Matt Gann are owners, daughter Elisa, also an owner, runs the china and registry department, and mother Rita is an administrator. In all, there are 12 employees.

We don’t hide the fact that we are Jews and that this is a Jewishowned business,” said son Josh. “We treat everyone equally, but we understand the needs of our Jewish customers.” They come from all strains of Judaism, and include the Orthodox as well as rabbis, who come in for wedding bands, engagement rings and jewelry. The store carries Judaica as well.

We both came in here during our summer school vacations while growing up in Newton,” said Josh Gann. Both he and his brother Matt, also an owner, are graduates of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). The school has two branches; Josh went to the one in Santa Monica (now located in Carlsbad, Calif.), and Matt went to the New York location. Both also hold bachelor’s degrees from New York University – Josh in management and marketing, and Matt in marketing.

Since we kind of grew up in the business, I would relate the case studies at school to here,” said Josh. He worked at a company after college, but that job didn’t last a year. “I realized that if was going to work this hard, I may as well do it here as part of the family business,” he said. Matt also worked elsewhere for a few years, including at a jewelry company.

But according to the two sons, there was no pressure. “There was a point where our father said ‘the business is here if you want it,’” recalled Josh, who said it’s a pleasant environment to work in. “In a business like this, you’re dealing with happy times and simchas, which is a benefit to coming to work every day.”

The business is doing well. “Since the recession, people have put a lot more emphasis on what they need, rather than on gifts for themselves,” said Josh. Studies have shown that during economic downturns, people tend to be more family-centered, and that trend is also reflected in Gann’s clientele. “We do a lot of resetting, reworking and refurbishing of family heirlooms,” said Josh. “And our business is more wedding-related than it used to be. People don’t buy giftware or special-occasion gifts like they used to. They don’t need another necklace, and they may not need a 50th-birthday present, but they still are going to get an engagement ring [or] a wedding ring.”

Josh added that people are also getting married a little older now than in the past, and have some savings. “They can afford it, and they’re going to get it,” he said. “The wedding rings have become a ‘have-to-get’ item.”

At that moment, Matt assisted a couple that came in to view various settings and look at the different ways diamonds are set, and how the prongs are fashioned.

Most customers are local,” said Josh. “But it’s like a good doctor – when they move away, sometimes they come back to who they knew, and so they continue to shop here.”

A clock made by the Rhythm Clock Co. then erupted into a musical sequence. Josh set it to a more complex routine, where the face rotated and opened up, while the unit played “My Way” in delicate tones. “It plays a different tune every hour,” he said. Brink’s also came in to pick up a diamond order for shipping. For high-value items, Josh explained, Brink’s delivers, but medium-value items are picked up by Brink’s and then given to UPS. “ We do online sales,” he said, “ but most people browse, and then come in to see their choices in person.” However, the wedding registry is online, so he said they purchase wedding gifts that are shipped via UPS and other delivery companies.

He said that his parents are continuing Joseph’s philanthropic activities. “They also mainly support schools, such as Gann and other Jewish day schools in the Greater Boston area,” he said, while adding that their gifts are given privately, made without outward recognition.

The family is also continuing Joseph’s ethical character. They sell only “conflict-free diamonds,” which go through the Kimberly Process, established by the United Nations in 2003 to ensure that the stones are responsibly sourced.

Both Matt and I do the diamond buying, and we can often name the actual country of origin,” said Josh. “Being socially responsible and ethical was how our grandfather operated, and we wouldn’t think of doing business any other way.” He said that customers do ask. “A lot of our diamonds come from Canadian mines,” said Matt, “or from Democratic African countries.”

Josh explained that the main issues that led to the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) – problems such as warlords using diamonds to buy armaments, and otherwise finance violent conflicts and catastrophic civil wars – no longer exist because of such scrutiny and regulation. “ The issues now tend to concern dictators who own the diamond mines and who treat their people badly,” said Josh.

Gann’s selection of cuts, including Round Brilliant, Princess, Cushion and many others, are also GIA-graded diamonds. According to their website, the GIA is the most accurate of all the grading laboratories. Staff members also assist customers in “the four C’s of diamond quality and value” – cut, color, clarity, and carat weight.

The Gann Jewelers website further details all aspects of diamonds, and the diamond process. As it states, “We at Joseph Gann Jewelers know that an educated consumer is a confident and satisfied customer.”

Copyright 2014, The Jewish Advocate.