Established in the heady days of Melbourne’s gold rush, Kozminsky is thriving in today’s less than booming economy with a well-heeled client base that includes prime ministers, high-court judges and celebrities.
The store’s 157 year history of meeting the fine jewellery needs of Australian society has indeed made the Kozminsky name “synonymous with the finer things in life”.
Kozminsky was established by Simon Kozminsky, a Polish immigrant from Prussia, on the corner of Melbourne’s Elizabeth and Bourke Streets in 1851.
In the early days the store stocked a wide array of goods including furniture, coins, antiquities and loose gems but gradually shifted its focus to exclusive antiques, watches and jewellery.
In 1910 Simon moved his thriving business to the Block Arcade in Collins Street where its reputation among Melbourne’s elite grew rapidly with the granting of vice regal patronage by Lord and Lady Hopetoun.
In 1916 Simon passed away leaving his wife Emma and brother Isadore to run the store until they were forced to sell during the Great Depression.
The new owner Norman Lardner then moved the business to Little Collins Street where, in 1958, he employed Kurt Albrecht, a young German silver and goldsmith as a diamond expert and jeweller.
Some years later Kurt bought the business from Norman and with his passion for continental silver and Victorian gold, he gradually cemented the business’s future as an exclusive supplier of antique and modern jewellery.
In 1975 he moved the store to its current home on the corner of Bourke and McKillop Streets.
The new generation
Today the store is owned and managed by two of Kurt’s four children – Ben and Kirsten Albrecht. (Kurt died in 1997).
Located in an old Victorian building that used to be a bank, the ground floor of the three storey Kozminsky is stocked with elegant displays of antique and modern jewellery including fine Art Deco jewellery, exceptional South Sea pearls and Art Nouveau objects to name only a few, while the middle floor is dedicated to Australian Art with a primary focus on young and emerging artists.
Ben says the store is renowned as “the best antique jeweller in Australia.”
“We don’t sell trends,” he says. “We do not sell mass produced items. We sell handmade one-off pieces. Basically when people buy from us they know they can be guaranteed that whatever they’re buying is unique or one of only a very small number.”
Kozminskys’ reputation for stocking unique pieces has attracted the attention of not only the doyens of Australian society such as former prime ministers Robert Menzies, Harold Holt, Malcolm Fraser and Paul Keating but also international celebrities like Elton John, Cher, Linda Evangelista and Imran Khan.
However Ben is quick to stress that the store has relationships with customers from all walks of life – not just well-heeled A-Listers.
“We look after captains of industry but we also look after plumbers and electricians,” he says. “We love building relationships with our customers and we are happy to sit down and have a conversation with everybody who comes in to see us.”
Ben believes this relationship building is as important to Kozminskys’ success as the exquisite jewellery pieces that it sells.
“I honestly believe that the bespoke side of the jewellery business is gone in most stores,” he says. “There has been a decline in industry standards that has tarnished the jewellery industry in Australia.”
“We’re a multi-generational business and we genuinely value our relationships with our clients. We’ve been dealing with dad’s clients for years and now we’re dealing with dad’s clients’ children so our relationships are very, very strong.”
Not surprisingly, Ben and Kirsten both believe that Kozminskys’ future is intrinsically linked with its clients.
“Because we have such strong relationships with our clients Kirsten and I feel that if we ever wanted to do something dramatic like open another store we’d almost have to ask them for permission first … “Would you like that? Would that offend you?”
He admits that such sentiments might sound “ridiculous” to outsiders but says the store’s clients are like “our extended family”.
“We can’t really make a massive change without first finding out what our clients feel,” he says.
So for now at least Kozminsky will continue to do what it has done for last 157 years – supply exquisite pieces of jewellery and objet de beauté to old and new members of the Kozminsky “family”.