When Marilyn Janss opened Cleopatra’s Barge in 1966 at Third Street South in Naples, the shopping center was like a ghost town. Twice a week in the afternoon, she would hand up a “gone fishing: sign and leave to catch the dinner she’d later cook for herself and two small children.
Janss, the first fine jewelry designer and manufacturer in Naples, admits to rough beginnings. There was even a point, about five years in, when she considered selling the business and moving back to New York where she previously worked as a model. She put an ad in a magazine but backed out when offers poured in. It remains one of the best decisions she’s made.
Today, Janss, who learned jewelry manufacturing techniques from a designer for Tiffany & Co. and Van Cleef & Arpels, is celebrating 50 years in business. She cites “exponential growth” during the last five decades and has sold millions of dollars in jewelry to a client base ranging from three generations of Naples residents to Europeans who visit her store yearly. She once discovered 46 percent of her customers had out-of- town ZIP codes.
Perhaps patrons are drawn to the store’s prices. Janss deals directly with companies that buy from gem mines and pearl farms to offer the best deals. Or it could be her reputation for custom-designing jewelry for customers, whose satisfaction she guarantees. In her half century of business, she’s remade three pieces.
“I want each piece to be specific to that particular person so that when they see it they’ll love it and not put it in a drawer. Jewelry is meant to be worn,” Janss says.
When a person comes in to the store to have a piece designed, Janss guides him or her through the more than 2,000 displayed items—ranging from rare gems to “previously loved” jewelry to designer lines—and asks the customer to pick out a few favorites.
If the client requests a certain cut of diamond or design that is not already represented, it’s no worry, Janss says. “I tell people we can pretty much do anything. The impossible just takes a little longer. A lot of people know me for being able to find the impossible.”
The award-winning jewelry designer gained extra notoriety in 1992 when she created and copyrighted the Naples Medallion—a die-struck silver or gold pendant that shows off the Naples Pier. Naples Mayor John Sorey has a large image of it over his desk, Janss says, and it’s displayed elsewhere around the city.
The medallion is like a testament to Janss’ 50 years in Naples—the place she’s found success through creative intuition and a loyal customer base. And she has no plans to slow down. “I’m sort of a workaholic, so I can’t imagine myself not coming into work,” she says, as long as it remains her passion.
“It’s been a lot of fun actually. I always tell people that when the fun gets below 75 percent, close the doors, I’m out of here,” Janss says.