Man-to-man Way Of Buying Jewelry Today's Male Helps Gay Couples Shop For Symbols Of Commitment

Posted: February 12, 1993

The linked male symbols in the newspaper ads for Today's Male are the tipoff that this Jeweler's Row store is seeking a unique niche in a highly competitive market: gay customers.

"A lot of gay men want commitment. A way of expressing that is through a ring," said Tony, the store manager, who asked that his last name not be used. "There are not a lot of jewelers where they can go to shop and feel comfortable. We're the first one to be doing it, and doing it big."

Open about six months, Today's Male, at 104-06 S. 8th St., is actually a store within a store. The display counter with commitment bands for men - staffed by Tony - is inside the handsome 1,800-square-foot showroom of Diamond Mine Jewelers, owned by Leonid "Lee" Vaintrub. But Today's Male has its own phone number (922-5178) and its own ads, which appear regularly in the city's gay weeklies and in the City Paper.

Gregg Mayfield, an advertising salesman for the Philadelphia Gay News, helped design the ads, which have a conventional look but feature male couples rather than a man and a woman. Response from the gay community, he said, has been "tremendous."

"Finally, they're seeing some warm and sensitive and caring sort of ads" about their lifestyle, he said.

"The reality is that you're looking at a market that represents 10 percent of the community at large," Mayfield said. "Even if it is stereotypical, there is a large segment of the gay community that likes jewelry and can afford it."

Vaintrub, 34, who is not gay, says the ads have prompted some phone calls.

"Is this two men hugging each other?" one caller asked Vaintrub.

"Does that bother you?" the jeweler replied. "Then this store is not for you."

Vaintrub said it was Tony who suggested targeting gay customers, when they worked together at another store in the suburbs. The concept was simple: a store where gay customers could feel comfortable shopping with their lovers.

"Men would come in the store," Vaintrub said. "I would see they were very shy. Very scared."

Vaintrub decided to hedge his bets by opening a store that would cater to both straight and gay shoppers. The result was Diamond Mine Jewelers/Today's Male.

Vaintrub estimates that about half of the browsers are gay, and that his gay customers range in age from mid-20s to senior citizens.

Matching commitment rings, worn on the left hand, are the most popular item among gay customers. They range in price from $100 to $1,000, with custom designs the most expensive. Some designs look more like a fashion ring than a wedding band, Tony said, because some customers do not want to invite questions that they'd rather not answer.

Tony smiles when he talks about graying customers in obvious long-term relationships who have come in to purchase rings.

"They've wanted to do this for 20-some years, but where could they go to do this?" he said.

Vaintrub said he has seen some lesbian customers as well; those who have made purchases tend to buy "bigger jewelry than then men. Bigger diamonds - like an engagement look."

Like any good jeweler, Vaintrub's goal is to build a loyal repeat clientele. And because Diamond Mine Jewelers carries a traditional stock of diamond and colored-stone jewelry, gold chains and bracelets, pearl necklaces, watches and earrings, he hopes his gay customers will shop there when they want something for Mom's birthday or a sister's graduation.

However, he doesn't expect a significant business boost from this weekend's Valentine's Day holiday.

"Christmas is much bigger," he said. "And Mother's Day."

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