A local treasure takes on the UK

Beni Padani drums his fingers on his desk as he describes his ideal vision of a client.

Beni Padani drums his fingers on his desk as he describes his ideal vision of a client. "She is sophisticated, has delicate taste and is a very contemporary lady who knows how to mix and match jewelry with her dress. She is the lady that has many facets," he muses. With the exception of the gender roles, Padani, with his quiet, old-school European elegance could be describing himself. Despite the noticeable lack of clutter or even a single piece of paper or ornament on his desk, one is afraid to move too suddenly lest something break. His office exudes high-class modern design, though it reveals not even a hint that Padani is the manager and CEO of one of Israel's high scale renowned jewelry chains. It is fitting, then, that the Padani Company recently announced plans to open a branch in the UK - a return, if you will, to the family's European roots. Just four years ago, Padani took over the family business from his father and brother. His father, the famed Uri Padani, was a young jeweler when he married into a family of Belgian diamond merchants. The family gradually built up a solid reputation for high-quality merchandise and upon arriving in Israel after World War II, Uri founded a jewelry design studio in Tel-Aviv, in 1947. Today, the company can boast of nine stores throughout Israel in Eilat, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. "We specialized from the first-day in high-end jewelry," Padani said, explaining that his stores sell about 50 percent of their merchandise in watches and 50% in traditional jewelry. The core of the business, however, is in high-quality contemporary designs to be found in the 15-20 lines Padani markets at any one time. Each line contains 20-30 pieces ranging from the medium- to high-end with some like the Safari line revealing an aristocratic design and others like the Primavera embodying a more floral touch. Close to 70% of all Padani jewelry is manufactured in two of chain's own factories in Tel Aviv and Netanya. The lines are designed to appeal both to young customers and Padani's luxury clients with prices ranging from few hundred dollars to upwards of $20,000. A privately designed Padani piece can sell for a comparatively reasonable $2,000. "Nothing will be sold at Padani unless I like it. You can come to me with the best design, the best sellers, but if I don't like it, it won't go in our stores," Padani explained. With the Israeli market covered and at close to 30% of buyers coming from outside the country, Padani expects sales in the UK to reach between $3 million and $4m. in the first year of operation. While the potential for business obviously motivates him, Padani's expansion into the UK is as much based on his need to feel a connection with the atmosphere around him whether it pertains to the jewelry in his stores or the people with whom he works. "The UK is an emotional decision. I decided that if I wanted to expand, it must be a country where I speak the language, like the culture and there is also a good potential for business," he expounded. The construction of the Kent-based store in the UK was itself an exercise in historical sentimentality. The store was built inside a building that dates back to the 16th and 18th centuries. Not allowed to disturb the original architecture, the store, like many others on the same street, had to be built inside the building as a separate entity, essentially a "box within a box" Padani explained. A tall, wiry man, Padani admits that at 59 he is somewhat of an enigma. A former air force pilot in the IDF, Padani fought in the both the Six-Day and Yom Kippur wars. He credits his sense of jewelry design, however, with having grown up in a household saturated with jewelry acumen. Although, Padani considers working in jewelry to be as natural as breathing, he hasn't always worked directly in the field. Early in his career, he built and managed a real estate company with his brother and another partner. In addition, even though he earned a degree in economics and business management as a young student, he went back to university at the age of 48, to study philosophy and political science. These later studies, he offers, have been far more useful to developing his business sense. "When you learn business, you see the business through accounts, but there is a major part of business which is psychology-the way people behave in crowds and they the way people react to you too, which is much more important," he explained. For now, Padani shrugs off future plans for expansion beyond the UK. He sees his greatest challenges in the next years as being able to continue innovating and strengthening his brand name-two traits he believes are essential to all business today. "Even with a product like jewelry, which is more of a status symbol and decoration, it is very important that you find the right design, and not just rely on the power of the stones (inside the jewelry)."