Alfredo J. Molina doesn’t care for pennies.
“Starting when I was a young boy, I learned the jewelry business from my grandfather,” Molina says. “He would take pennies and roll them out into a sheet because copper and gold have similar malleability. Every day after school, he would put me to work on the bench for four or five hours, learning how to make jewelry. He would find fault. He was a perfectionist, but I learned how to craft fine jewelry. But to say I have a strong dislike for pennies would not be an overstatement.”
From his humble beginning working with pennies, Molina has built an empire that rocked the jewelry world in 2012 when he sold the Archduke Joseph diamond – a 76-carat stone once owned by Archduke Joseph August of Austria – for $21.5 million, the highest price ever paid at auction for a colorless diamond. If you ask Molina how he went from working with pennies to becoming a record-setting diamond seller, he is quick to point to his lineage.
“I am an 11th-generation jeweler,” Molina says. “My ancestors were silversmiths in Milan, Italy, beginning in 1634.”
His family eventually landed in Cuba, where Molina was born in 1959, three months after the revolution. Molina’s father, Roberto, had built his own multi-million-dollar jewelry and gold empire in Cuba until Castro seized power along with the Molina family fortune.
Molina’s family fled Cuba in 1967. They landed in Chicago with no money, but a man — whom Molina has never been able to identify — selflessly bought the family food so they could survive. That single act, Molina says, inspired him to become philanthropist who has given away a staggering $30 million to more than 195 nonprofit organizations.
But earning those millions to give away didn’t come easy. After coming to Phoenix as a teenager to see his uncle and then staying, Molina set his sights on opening his own jewelry business. He opened Molina By Appointment Only at 13th Street and Missouri on Oct. 1987 with no money in the bank, no inventory, and $90,000 worth of furniture that he was only able to secure because he talked the furniture store owner into a “90 days same as cash” agreement.
“I had to call it ‘by appointment only’ because I didn’t have any inventory,” Molina says. “But what that did was set us apart. By having the customers make an appointment, it gave me time to talk with them, find out what they were looking for, and then I had time to source the merchandise and when they came in, I was able to present them options that gave them exactly what they wanted.”
In his first two months in business, Molina made more than $1 million and he quickly built a reputation as the go-to jeweler for those seeking the highest quality and craftsmanship.
“We are not just in the jewelry business,” says Molina, who is celebrating 25 years in business, “We are in the emotion business. We are about the experience of buying fine jewelry. We do everything within our power to make that experience unforgettable.”
Molina Fine Jewelers
3134 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix