In an unassuming Culver City neighborhood, set amid a string of mom-and-pop groceries, gas stations and auto-parts dealers, is a cache of diamonds, emeralds, rubies and sapphires.
This is not the fabled King Solomon's Mines, but the home, factory and showroom for Cynthia Bach Inc., the crown jeweler of Hollywood.
"Nobody knows we are here," said Bach. "We like being low key. The post office is just down the street, we are near the water and every morning before I start work, my husband and I go for a walk on the beach."
Bach, who designs all her work, has an exclusive arrangement with Neiman Marcus to sell her line of tiny jewel-encrusted crowns, tiaras, brooches, rings, bracelets and crosses items made to conjure images of the crown jewels of the great royal houses of Europe. She is rapidly becoming a well-known name in the field of precious jewelry, running a business that is growing at a pace of about 30 percent a year.
"Business has been exceptional," said Tim Braun, buyer for designer jewelry and watches at Neiman Marcus' headquarters in Dallas. "She is one of our top performers in jewelry since 1992. We have seen her grow leaps and bounds."
Bach's celebrity clientele includes Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife Maria Shriver, Meg Ryan, Cybill Shepherd, Bruce Springsteen, Bridgett Fonda, Heather Locklear, Tim Allen, Quincy Jones and the Princess of Brunei.
"It's classy, unique and I love it," said Shriver, whose husband saw a jewel-filled cross of Bach's on a TV show and promptly bought it for his wife.
Tim Allen, Bach says, "saw an article in National Geographic about Tahitian black pearls and he had to run out and get a Tahitian black pearl rosary with a pearl drop in a crown bezel."
Discussing celebrities and high-priced jewelry was no more than a dream when Bach and her husband Jim Matthews, who is the company's treasurer, started their company in 1992. They had just $15,000 to invest and only two employees: themselves.
Revenues for the first year were $6,000. Last year, Bach, who is the president of her company, watched that figure rise to $2 million. She anticipates revenues will hit $2.6 million in 1998. The company now has 15 employees, not counting Bach and Matthews.
Prices vary for Bach's custom designs, depending on the stones used. A gold ring designed to look like a crown starts at $1,500 but could jump to $6,500. A tiara bracelet begins at $7,800, but rises to $16,000 if you add rubies and diamonds. A black pearl necklace sells for $80,000. Gold chains start at $2,800 and soar to $8,000, depending on the length.
No matter which glistening item is selected from her 350 designs, they all have one thing in common: "They are not dainty; they are very bold," said fashion stylist Jessica Paster. "If you wear a simple dress, you'll always notice Cynthia's work. It is for the woman who is confident with her jewelry and who loves her jewelry."
Bach and her husband may not be as well known as designers like Paloma Picasso or Elsa Peretti, but they have a growing following among celebrities, fashion stylists and executives at Neiman Marcus.
"The fun thing about her jewelry is that it is extremely well-made with an attention to detail that our customers can appreciate," Braun said. "Each piece can become an heirloom that has a regal flair and sophistication that allows a customer to feel its individuality."
Over the years, Bach has discovered that many wealthy women become obsessed over their jewelry collections. For example, she said two well-known women in L.A. are battling at cocktail parties over which one has the largest 40-carat diamond in the city.
"It can be an addiction," Bach said. "They can't get enough. Some women who are jewelry collectors live for jewelry."
It is no accident that Bach's jewelry looks like it could be part of a European royal collection. The daughter of a career Air Force officer, Bach was born in Japan, but spent her formative years in Germany, where her mother took her to museums, the opera, the theater and castles.
"I love the 18th century," she said. "When I was a child, I used to play with my mother's jewelry and pretend I was a pirate."
She stopped pretending and studied metalworking at Munich's Kuntsgerwerbe Schule, but returned to the United States when her father was transferred to Abilene, Texas. There she met her husband, who operated his own jewelry store and designed custom pieces for clients.
After graduating from the University of Abilene with a degree in fine arts, she and Matthews opened their own shop. Then a phone call changed their lives. An executive headhunter recruited Matthews to a job with Van Cleef & Arpels in Beverly Hills, where Matthews ran the West Coast manufacturing department.
It was an eye-opening experience. His clients included the Shah of Iran, Nancy Reagan and Elizabeth Taylor, whose fabled Hope diamond, a 42-carat chunk of blue ice, he once cleaned.
"She would come up the back stairs from the parking lot and nobody would ever see her," Matthews said. "She was pretty mellow."
Candy Spelling, wife of producer Aaron Spelling, sent her jewels to Van Cleef to be cleaned.
"We would have to shut down for an entire day," he said. "She would send five or six suitcases filled with jewelry, maybe 150 to 200 pieces. It was more jewelry than we had in the showcases."
While Matthews worked, Bach continued to develop her own line of jewelry. Van Cleef closed its manufacturing department in Beverly Hills in 1992, putting Matthews out of work, so he and Bach decided to go into business themselves.
They began modestly, renting a loft in Venice. Within a few months, they had convinced Neiman executives to carry the new line at their stores in Dallas and Houston. Beverly Hills followed, and Bach's designs are now available at all Neiman Marcus stores.
The couple moved to Culver City in 1994. The workshop and showroom is on the ground floor of their building, where the jewels are made by Bach and her staff. The couple lives upstairs in an apartment filled with 18th century antiques, an array of art books and Bach's drafting table, where she designs her pieces.
"We like to live close to where we work," said Matthews.
Cynthia Bach Inc.
Year Founded: 1992
Core Business: Making and designing jewelry
Revenues in 1992: $6,000
Revenues in 1998 (projected): $2.6 million
Employees in 1992: 2
Employees in 1998: 15 (nine freelance)
Goal: To sell jewelry worldwide
Driving Force: Celebrity-fueled demand for jewelry that looks as if it were made for European royalty
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