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Hans Stern
Brazil's king of colored gems

Hans Stern has certainly lived up to his family name, which is the German word for star, and has been bringing sparkle to the Brazilian metropolis for many years now. I naturally did not want to miss a visit to this many faceted magnate.

It would be hard to imagine Rio de Janeiro without the sugar loaf mountain, the Copacabana, the girls of Ipanema and the long nights of torrid samba rhythms. This beautiful South American country has also made a name for itself from it's wealth of precious stones and sparkling diamonds.

Hans Stern is Brazil 's most important dealer in precious stones. He has ruled over the largest jewellery empire in the world for over 50 years and thanks to him, the gemstones of Brazil's back country have risen to glittering heigths of world-wide popularity. The only son of a German Jewish electrical-engineering consultant, young Stern had not given serious thought to a future career while growing up in Germany. But when the Nazi seized the family assets in 1939 the Sterns fled the country, arriving in Rio almost penniless. At age 16 he learned how to cut and classify gems and soon was making trips on muleback to purchase raw stones. Until today he doesn't forget that he was confronted with alligators on his way to the Brazilian hinterland and that he had to escape a jaguar who stalked him during a long night.

Today, if you have not heard of H. Stern, you have probably not been to Paris, Lisbon, Munich, Tel Aviv, Buenos Aires, Caracas, New York or any other major city in the world.

Hans Stern:
I emigrated with my parents before the war to Brazil , because I had an uncle here. During the war, I got my first job as a secretary in a company that exported the precious stones and minerals. And that is where I learned the trade. In 1945 I founded the company and financed it with the only money I had: $200 from the sale of an accordion which I brought from Germany.

What happened then is the success story of a man who believes in honesty and old-fashioned work ethics. Hans Stern has built the world's only fully integrated gemstone business and has become the leading producer of aquamarines, topazes, amethysts, tourmalines and other coloured gemstones.One day in 1951, President Anastasio Somoza of Nicaragua purchased an aquamarine necklace from Stern. The price was nearly $ 22.000 - and Hans from Germany was on his way. Today, Stern's inventory of uncut aquamarines run at about $ 500.000, and his stock of finished and polished jewelry consists of more than 30.000 pieces, priced from $ 1 up to $ 25.000. The company is one of the world's largest international jewelry concerns alongside Tiffany and Harry Winston of New York. Stern, however, is the only one that does its own mining, cutting, manufacturing, designing, wholesaling, retailing and exporting. I have to admit, I am impressed meeting the extraordinary man behind the scenes who really can be proud of what he has achieved in his life.

There are many jewellers in the world - you have become one of the most important. What is the secret of Hans Stern?

Hans Stern:
Firstly, luck; secondly, hard work, but also circumstance - for example living in a country like Brazil in which most of the world's precious stones are to be found. And which are also the finest in terms of quality. Then we have offices around the world to service our jewelry, and finally if we say something is perfect, it is perfect. If we say it's genuine, it is genuine. H.Stern provides purchasers with a certificate of appraisal and a one-year credit, exchange or repurchase guarantee valid at other branches.

Which are your favourite precious stones?

Hans Stern:
Emeralds, aquamarines and especially tourmalines. Tourmalines come in a variety of different shades, green, red, pink etc.

Is it correct that certain precious stones suit certain women better than others, for example a blond or brunette?

Hans Stern:
Absolutely, aquamarine is a stone that especially suits blonde women, whilst brunettes tend to prefer amethysts, because they suit them so well
. Or yellow citrines resembling topazes.

What sort of things should one be aware of when buying jewellery these days?

Hans Stern:
The good quality of the stones and the classic design. And above all that the finish is good.

How can a layman judge that?

Hans Stern:
For the finish, it is actually very difficult. You have to know a little bit about it. The most important thing though is to be able to trust your jeweller. For the price, I guess we are quite unbeatable. Savings might be anywhere from 20 - 40 percent over what the same gem would cost in new York, for example. Savings on settings and the mounting of the stones can be even higher due to the low cost of labor in Brazil.

You are surrounded by luxury. What is your personal view of wealth?

Hans Stern:
It is a means to an end. Wealth is very relative in my opinion. Today you have it and tomorrow it's gone. But one should - having reached a certain affluence - treat oneself to the nicer things in life, without showing off.

I heard that you were born blind which is naturally a horrible stroke of fate. Can you remember how you felt when you could suddenly see after the operation?

Hans Stern:
I was very young, therefore I really can't remember. However, I can still only see out of one eye. But that doesn't bother me, since I have known it any differently. I don't know what it is like to be able to see out of both eyes.

You are well-known here for your consideration towards others. You do a lot for your staff. What exactly does this entail?

Hans Stern:
We do a lot more than the law demands. We finance homes and buildings where the staff can meet. We also finance holidays and something which is very unusual
for Brazil : we pay hospital expenses and support the health system. We even have our own doctors and dentists here.

A visit to Stern is an integral part of the shopping and sightseeing programme for Rio. The man who, after his successful eye operation, rode through the Brazilian desert and jungle for two years and whose reputation has continuously risen thanks to his social contribution and successful business with precious stones has remained extremely modest. One of Hans Stern's keenest satisfactions comes from a feeling that he has done something to repay Brazil for its long-ago hospitality to his family - back then three penniless refugees. "Brazilians are the kindest people on earth. For their sake, I want the world to think of Brazilian gems as automatically as it now thinks of Brazilian coffee". And what is his personal dream for the future?

Hans Stern:
My dream would be to have a holiday in Rio. In my opinion, Rio is the most beautiful city in the world, and I never have the tim e or the chance to do what other people do:
to have a holiday in Rio .

Hans Stern Website



* This special feature "Hans Stern" has been one of more than 200 VIP-Portraits, produced by Nathalie Gütermann for her TV-Shows 'Nathalie's Lifestyle' and 'Nathalie's Art of Living' that were broadcasted between 1990 - 2003 in Germany and in 15 countries world-wide. The content has been updated with actual information in 2004 for © 1990 - 2004. The reproduction or other use of any text, photographs, etc. needs the prior written permission of the Chief Publisher.

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