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Laguna’s Crown Jewel: David Rubel, co-owner of Fredric H. Rubel Jewelers, celebrates 90 years in the
celebration business 

Story by MARRIE STONE

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

David Rubel, co-owner of Fredric H. Rubel Jewelers on Forest Avenue, has spent his life in the celebration business. From engagements and marriages to births and anniversaries, Fredric H. Rubel Jewelers has been a trusted resource for helping clients mark significant milestones. This year, they’re celebrating a major milestone of their own. The store has been in business for 90 years, stretching across three generations, with the hope of adding a fourth in the near future. 

LLP David Rubel Trio

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Gary, Fredric and David at Fredric H. Rubel Jewelers

“When our grandparents started their jewelry business in October 1928, they probably were not thinking of building a legacy of three generations that would survive the Great Depression and World War II and witness the lunar landing and countless other memorable events,” the Rubels wrote in the opening to the Fredric H. Rubel Magazine last winter.

David and his brother Gary now operate two stores – one in the heart of Laguna’s village and the other in the Mission Viejo Mall. They both know the business well, having learned it from their dad, who learned it from his own father. The story of how it all came to pass is an interesting one, as is the not-so-hidden secret of their enduring success. 

Whether you’ve known David for a long time, or you’re just getting acquainted, there are several things about his family’s unique history that are bound to make you smile. And perhaps tempt you into treating yourself, or someone you love, to a timeless treasure from their store.

In the beginning

David’s grandparents met in the mid-1920s. His grandfather, Bernard, grew up in North Dakota, working in a pawnshop that specialized in jewelry. Rose, his grandmother, came from Minneapolis. She was a fiery woman, in every sense of the word. Rose stood no more than five feet tall with brilliant red hair and lived well into her 90s. “She was quite a character,” David recalls. The couple met and married in Los Angeles and honeymooned in Big Bear Lake. 

On the long car ride up, they happened upon new storefronts being built in San Bernardino, immediately realizing this would make the ideal location for a jewelry store of their own. Soon after, Crescent Jewelers was born. 

Typical of the day, the shop sold more than jewelry. “They stocked silverware and flatware, movie projectors, razors, all these sorts of things,” David says. “They sold on credit. Clients could put down $1 a week to buy an engagement ring for $35.”

Location, location, location

By 1940, the shop grew successful enough to open a second location. Frederic – Bernard and Rose’s son – was a teen. He had little interest in following in his father’s footsteps, studying at Berkeley, and meeting and marrying his wife Joan in the late ‘50s. 

But, in the mid-1960s, Frederic’s father suffered some medical issues and Frederic returned to assist his mother with the business. “My father has always made strong decisions,” says David. “He brought the stores into the modern era, figuring out how he could build the business and make it his own. He’s very adaptable and a great visionary.”

Frederic studied market trends and similarly structured businesses. He sought out the latest jewelry designers, bringing his clients interesting, yet classic, pieces ahead of what other jewelers offered. He focused the business on watches and high-end gems, dispensing with the “other stuff” his father sold.

By 1971, Fredric was ready to open a third location in San Bernardino, its first inside a mall and by far the most stylish, utilizing black glass and chrome highlights. This is also the time the business adopted the name change from Crescent Jewelers to Frederic H. Rubel Jewelers.

LLP David Rubel Fredric

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Fredric Rubel changed the course of his father’s business, setting the stage for the stores to become known for luxury brands and classic, hand-fabricated designer jewelry

From San Bernardino, the business soon grew and relocated from Riverside to Santa Ana in 1987 and, eventually, Laguna Beach and Mission Viejo. “When my brother and I came into the business, we were in one tiny store, bursting at the seams. We needed to branch out, but also needed the right place that fit what we were doing.”

Frederic and Joan still live in Laguna Beach and are celebrating 61 years of marriage this year. 

A relationship of trust

For over 50 years, the shops have offered some of the finest luxury brands available. They’re known for classic hand-fabricated designer jewelry in platinum or gold, ideal cut diamonds, and fine timepieces. They assist clients with custom jewelry design. They also offer watch services for Rolex. Both David and Gary are members of the American Gem Society, and five of their associates hold the coveted title of Certified Gemologist Appraiser. 

“Ultimately, we’re in the trust business,” David says. “Our designs are very classic. We see ourselves as advisors [as opposed to jewelry-makers or designers]. Our clients require good advice, and we’ve built strong relationships over time. We’re fortunate to have this longevity, allowing clients to get comfortable with us across generations. We’ve helped grandparents, their children, and their grandkids.”

LLP David Rubel David

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David Rubel believes in building relationships of trust and longevity with his clients

Multigenerational businesses aren’t wholly uncommon in the jewelry industry. “We were at a tradeshow in Switzerland five years ago, sitting with three other family-owned businesses,” David recalls, “and – at nearly 90 years old – we were still the youngest one.” In the digital age of the Internet, online shopping, and big box stores, the jewel industry is still one built on confidence and strong relationships.

He laughs, thinking about clients who have come in for special anniversary surprises for their spouses. “We’ll secretly help them both, neither one knowing the other has come in.”

The family has also sustained a state of trust among their staff and associates, many of whom have been with them for decades. Valerie Wilshire, the company’s trusted buyer, has worked with them since 1987. She was only 23 years old and, even then, interested in someday becoming a buyer. The opportunity arose in 2012. “She’s the best buyer we’ve ever had,” says David. “Obviously better late than never.”

But the award for longevity goes to Elsa Carlton, who’s been in the business with the Rubels for 50 years. “She was in high school when she was hired by my dad, around the time Bobby Kennedy was assassinated,” David says. Elsa drives over an hour and a half to work every day. “It’s worth it,” she says. “Watching the evolution of the store over the decades, moving from various locations and watching it grow…it’s been an amazing experience.”

Integrated into the Community

Much of this confidence has been earned through David and Gary’s deep and extensive ties to our community. David and his wife, Kerry, raised their two sons in Laguna. David coached Little League. Kerry was the quintessential team mom. “The whole world opened up to us with Top of the World Elementary. We met all sorts of wonderful families and got involved,” he says. David and his sons – Michael (27) and Evan (25) – participated in Indian Guides. They played basketball and soccer. 

The convenient location of the store allowed David to attend his sons’ games and events. “I could be working in the store and get down to Riddle Field or up to the high school in minutes. Then back to the shop afterwards.” 

LLP David Rubel store

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Fredric H. Rubel Jewelers is located on Forest Ave 

David is also heavily active in the local business community, serving as Vice President of the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce. He has strong relationships with other busainess owners, the City Council, and the Design Review Board. “We all work really well together,” he says, referring to recent remodels of his store.

A tight-knit family

For the Rubels, the family business isn’t all about business. Those close ties across generations, and between siblings, aren’t by accident. The sons of all generations came home to help out when their parents needed them. The parents were actively involved in their children’s lives. Fathers and sons talk almost every day. Brothers too. 

“We’re a huge sports family,” David says. “I played Little League as a kid. My brother, my dad, my boys – we all still text at night about the games. The families all get together.”

David’s son Mike, now living in New York, works for a diamond wholesaler. “We’re hoping he’ll come back,” David says. Adding a fourth generation to the family business would mean much to him. 

The business of giving back

“Because we live and work in the communities where our stores are located, it’s important for Fredric H. Rubel Jewelers to assist local causes,” they say. Outside of Laguna, the company supports Mission Hospital Foundation, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, and Camino Health Center (affiliated with Mission Hospital and St. Joseph Health), to name just a few.

But David’s passion lies in Laguna. In 2013, Fredric H. Rubel Jewelers received SchoolPower’s Hall of Fame Award, recognizing 10 years of commitment to the Laguna Beach Education Foundation and Laguna Beach public schools. “Supporting SchoolPower is a no-brainer for us because we feel so lucky to be part of this community,” David said upon receiving the award. Gary, David’s brother, is on the SchoolPower Board, along with his wife Belinda. “It is such an easy relationship with SchoolPower,” he said. “Everyone is invested in the same thing. Everyone is pulling in the same direction.”

SchoolPower is not the brothers’ only local cause. The Boys and Girls Club of Laguna Beach has also been an organization they’ve committed to throughout their time in Laguna. David coached basketball when his boys were small.

To show their continued support, throughout May and June, Fredric H. Rubel Jewelers will be donating $100 for each purchase of $1,500 or more to the Club.

In many ways, Fredric H. Rubel Jewelers exemplifies what’s best about our town. What matters most is family and community, what’s valued highest is trust. The bonds they’ve built over the past century are as strong and enduring as the timeless pieces they sell. And they recognize the importance of giving back wherever and whenever they can. Along with the Rolex watches and Lazare Diamonds, these are the qualities that make Fredric H. Rubel Jewelers – and David Rubel in particular – the true gems in our little town.