Harold Tivol epitomized whimsy, elegance and grace. A savvy, progressive businessman with an irrepressible witand a zest for life, he was considered an icon in the jewelry industryfar beyond Kansas City. When he passed away on July 6th at age 92 surrounded by Ruthie, his wife of 38 years, and his beloved family, Harold left not just an eponymous, respected brand, but also a lifetime of priceless lessons on which the essence of the company’s enduring success was founded: integrity, service and kindness.
Seventy years; seven decades; 25,550 days. That’s how long Harold Tivol worked in the jewelry business that was founded in 1910 by his European immigrant father, Charles, as a trade shop with other jewelers as primary customers. Located in a cramped second-story office at 11th and Walnut in Kansas City’s stylish Petticoat Lane district, TIvol was in excellent company. The two-block area boasted the city’s finest luxury department stores and trendsetters of the era such as Emery, Bird, Thayer & Co; Harzfeld’s; Woolf Brothers and Rothschild’s.
Customers occasionally found their way to the shop via the stairs or a trip in a rickety metal elevator. One day, a couple known around Kansas City as Harry and Bess brought aquamarine stones gifted to them by the president of Brazil. Charles fashioned them into a ring and earrings for the Trumans. (Yes, those Trumans.)
Fresh from serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II in 1946, Harold, who had studied gemology in Los Angeles, joined his father to learn the business from the bottom up and began making bold suggestions to encourage growth and increase the customer base, which was, at the time, strictly word-of-mouth.
Not satisfied with the number of retail customers and seeing the potential for many more, Harold's first recommendation to his father: open a visible, street-level storefront.
After shopping around, Harold became enamored with a small space on the Country Club Plaza that bore the hallmarks of a desirable location (expanded over the years, today it’s the company’s glittering flagship store at 220 Nichols Road). The Plaza, an architecturally distinctive center founded in 1922 by pioneering Kansas City developer J.C. Nichols, emulated the first-class image Harold envisioned for the next chapter of his family’s business. Hanging the Tivol shingle in the tony shopping district and working with his father, mother Mollie, and a Swiss watchmaker, the eager young gemologist launched what was destined to become a celebrated lifelong career—much of which he spent as Tivol’s president.
He was a trailblazer, visionary, mentor, relationship builder and, like the shops that surrounded his family’s first store in Petticoat Lane, Harold Tivol gained status as a style arbiter.
Indeed, the Tivol tradition is punctuated by excellence in every facet of the business; standards are set without limitation and values are defined without concession. It’s the Tivol way.
Now in its fourth generation as a successful family-owned business, TIVOL is helmed by Harold's daughter, Cathy, who assumed the role as chief executive officer in 2005. Her 32-year-old son, Hunter Tivol McGrath, who has followed in his grandfather’s footsteps and is a certified gemologist in addition to being a CPA, is vice president. Brian Butler, celebrating his 18th year with the Tivol family, was appointed president in 2015. Drawing on the rich legacy her father bestowed, Cathy recalls potent lessons that were as much about conducting a well-regarded business as about living a fulfilling life.
“Dad taught me that being a mentor has incredible value—coaching others on your skills and beliefs,” she says. “Always tell the truth and stand behind your product. Never answer a question unless you know the answer to be true.”
In fact, Harold himself tirelessly tutored new employees on the importance of serving the customer in every way. “I teach our employees that if a customer asks a question and you don’t know the answer, find out,” Harold told a reporter writing a story in 2010 on the company’s 100-year anniversary. “Never give out incorrect information.
Harold was also adamant that the company’s sales associates were educated about the products they sold, encouraging them to enhance their knowledge with Gemological Institute of America (GIA) courses.
“But he felt that the most integral part of selling was to build customer relationships,” Cathy says. “We’re in the relationship business first and foremost, and Dad was a master at establishing authentic, genuine rapport with customers, regardless of how much money they spent.” Known for business ethics where integrity was the centerpiece and never an afterthought, Harold was scrupulous in paying bills in a timely manner. He refused to compromise quality in the products meticulously merchandised in the store’s jewelry cases.
“Once we received some diamond jewelry Dad ordered from a dealer who was also a friend,” Cathy says, “and he didn’t think the carat weight was correct. Our jewelers removed the diamonds from the piece and Dad carefully weighed them. He discovered that the piece was under-carated by 25 percent and ceased doing business with the vendor.”
Harold's carefully cultivated qualities of honesty and transparency—lessons learned from his father Charles—impacted his daughter from both a professional and personal perspective.
“I value that he taught by example,” she says. “And his example was exemplary. I saw firsthand how he treated vendors who came to the store with their bags of jewelry or diamonds. He never turned anyone away without looking first, whether the salesman had an appointment or not. He had a lovely way about him, and was courteous to everyone.”
Harold Tivol was not only legendary for the business he built and nurtured over the years, he was also revered for a deep, unwavering love of family. Perhaps the heartbeat of that affection was for Ruthie—his wife and confidante, best friend and trusted adviser, travel partner and soul mate. “Harold was a rare person indeed,” Ruthie Tivol reflects on her attraction to the man she married in 1978. “He had a wicked sense of humor, a wonderfully endearing smile, an irresistible twinkle in his eyes that never faded.”
Like many great love stories, the Tivols shared a special bond and connection that didn’t diminish as the years passed. “Oh, both of us were strong willed,” Ruthie says, “and I won’t say he was perfect, because he wasn’t. But Harold’s huge heart was always open to the possibilities.”
In addition to colleagues and designers like Roberto Coin and David Yurman (many of whom TIVOL introduced to a U.S. audience), Kansas City itself embraced TIVOL. For Ruthie, that response was priceless, a treasured memory that will sustain her.
“Harold was well regarded in the community and amongst his peers, a remarkable legacy for anyone to leave loved ones,” she says. “Tivol will continue to grow and thrive because of his mistakes and successes and a willingness to sometimes take a daring approach to business.” Harold and Ruthie’s marriage was characterized by mutual respect and romance, a relationship that matured over the decades.
Years ago Harold carried the work of a famous designer and invited him to the Plaza store for a trunk show. “This man insulted a customer and she began to cry,” Cathy says. “Dad took her into his office and apologized profusely. The following week we sent back all the designer’s merchandise we owned and never did business with him again. That speaks volumes to Dad’s integrity and the kind of legacy he has gifted each of us who works here.” After Cathy assumed the company’s reins in 2005, meetings between father and daughter were spontaneous, with Harold offering helpful advice or suggestions.
“He was never demeaning or condescending—he was anxious to pass along mistakes he made and as a result, his wisdom,” she says. Loving, kind and funny are three words the CEO uses to describe her father and notes that Harold's trademark humor was a valuable component of his success.
“The perception that buying jewelry can be intimidating often dogged the industry, and to an extent still does today,” she says. “Dad worked very hard to banish that. Humor was used in our advertising, reflecting a departure from the way fine jewelry was usually marketed.”
Indeed, Harold helped change the way people purchase fine jewelry. Tucked away in Kansas City’s conscience is a broad, inviting smile flashed by a man with well-etched laugh lines and a bald head. Featured in a compelling television, print and billboard campaign conceived by a talented Kansas City ad man and launched in the 1980s, Harold was at first a reluctant pitchman.
“Dad’s sense of humor was legendary and he had the most incredible ability to laugh at himself, both in the store and in our advertising,” Cathy says. “He was a risk-taker in marketing, but when John Muller of Muller + Co., our advertising agency, suggested that Harold become the focus of a new campaign, he was totally against it. Eventually Dad changed his mind because of John and his team’s brilliant ideas, and finally, Ruthie’s convincing. The staff, along with customers, loved this side of him and the campaign drew national attention.”
Before Harold’s face became a familiar fixture in Kansas City, it was his wife Ruthie who made her mark. She joined the company in the late 1970s and made the argument that her husband should sell jewelry under the designer’s name, not the Tivol name.
“Suffice it to say, it was a daring approach,” Cathy says, “but she eventually won her case with Dad by using the Chanel suit example. She said, ‘I don’t buy a Woolf Brothers or a Harzfeld’s, I buy a Chanel.’”
Harold took his wife’s sage advice and started advertising by brand name. An entire industry shifted the way it did business, too, including Tiffany. Butler, who travels the globe perusing and procuring for Tivol, knows firsthand the respect the Tivol name garners within the industry. “It’s like mentioning superstars,” Butler says. “The reaction from their colleagues, including people who know them personally and people who know them just by name, is always one of utter esteem. The Tivols are at the top echelon of movers and shakers in the international world of fine jewelry.” Over the course of seven decades, Harold earned international status for his contributions to a discerning industry. In 1988 he was honored with a prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award from the industry publication, Modern Jeweler. Harold also received the 2003 Couture Collection Award from an organization of the country’s top jewelers and manufacturers.
Respect was an intangible byproduct of Harold's integrity, something that Butler says allowed him, as a company representative, to do business anywhere in the world on a handshake. Butler quickly learned that Harold regarded buying the best pieces, gems and diamonds to sell in the stores as akin to buying good stock.
“I may have brought something back that wouldn’t sell for three years, but the quality investment was important to Harold,” he says. “He also stressed to us and customers that just because Tivol carried the best of the best didn’t mean it was out of range for every budget. Quality to Harold meant buying the best within your budget. If you’re shopping for a $200 pair of earrings, buy the best possible $200 pair of earrings.” Attention to detail was also critical in all aspects of the business. Butler reminisces about Harold's insistence on perfection. “Harold could spot a fingerprint on a tiny diamond as he was walking by a case in the store,” Butler laughs, “or you’d clean a ring for a customer and he’d send you back to clean it again. When we were shopping for jewelry, he always examined a piece from the back first—how was a tennis bracelet finished, for example. I was in the industry before I joined Tivol and discovered how much further Harold took the notion of quality. It was like a new industry.” Tivol performs a large volume of jewelry repairs—including customers who bring in heirloom pieces handed down to them because they trust Tivol’s reputation.
“We hear a lot, ‘I wouldn’t take my mother’s ring anywhere else because you’re the best,’” Butler says. “That says a lot about the image we have in the market—something we work hard every day to maintain. Harold wasn’t one to sit on his laurels.”
Ruthie and Harold were also known for their uncanny ability to spot an up-and-coming designer or one that had a large European following but no U.S. audience.
“Harold brought Italian designer Roberto Coin to this country,” Butler says. “He helped put David Yurman on the map in the U.S., too.” Although Harold's passing has been an emotional loss for family and the company’s employees—many of whom have marked 15 years and more of service—Butler says Harold’s spirit is palpable.
“We all cherished him and are committed to the values and lessons he taught each of us,” Butler reflects. “It’s true—we’re one big family, something that was priceless to Harold and transcended everything. The dedication he had to his family and employees helped shape Tivol and the way we do business.”
Inevitably writers and journalists covering the Tivol business would pose the question to the man with twinkling blue eyes and a razor-sharp wit: To what do you attribute your success?
“A long happy life,” Harold was quoted as saying in several articles. “Surround yourself with people you love and enjoy being with; appreciate what you have and don’t despair over what you don’t. Have a good marriage. Have fun and laugh. Tell the truth.” And that, according to Harold Tivol, is how to succeed in business and in life—adopt old-fashioned virtues as timeless as the jewelry his stores sell.
Harold Tivol was my friend and mentor. One of the last of a very special breed, Harold truly loved the jewelry business. When I first met Harold over 35 years ago, I was so excited to share my work with him. To my disappointment, he was actually quite critical of the product. Unhappy with his critique, I asked him to coach me, and teach me what he knew. Harold always made time for me. He would be so excited to show me the things he loved, and to share his thoughts and expertise. A true gentleman, family man and one of the best hosts I have ever known, Harold was always fun to be around. Harold had a profound impact on my career. A big part of who I am as an artisan and designer came directly from his feedback and encouragement. My heart goes out to Ruthie, Cathy, Tom and the entire Tivol Family. Harold will be missed by many, including me. With Love, Steven Lagos
Derek McGrath, 36, one of Harold Tivol’s 14 grandchildren who now lives in Columbus, Ohio, remembers many good times with his grandfather—or Papa, which was his nickname. For McGrath, the common thread weaving the memories together—whether it was over sushi at New York City’s Hatsuhana to celebrate his 16th birthday or at a family holiday gathering in Kansas City—was Harold's signature laugh. “Papa could just erupt in laughter,” McGrath says. “No matter where you were in the room or house, you knew when he was laughing. He had different types of laughs, too—there was the coy laugh, the shy laugh, the supportive laugh. And the guffaw.”
Harold Tivol Character – A word that applied to him in a couple of different ways. A giant in the world of fine jewelry—innovative, creative— a leader in understanding the best ways of establishing a genuine rapport with every customer. Having character in the sense of being honest, trustworthy and trusting, and always gracious with vendors as well as clients. And he was “a character” in his perpetual joy in dispensing his wry humor, which permeated his being. None of us ever remember him without a smile on his face. He loved putting people on. When a young Hank Edelman visited his store as a Patek Philippe salesman in the mid-’60s, his inevitable first line was, “Why are you here? We don’t need watches, we haven’t sold any.” After a little research, it usually turned out he had, in fact, personally sold several. And he never let you leave without an order—even on those rare occasions when he had not sold any.
Harold, Ruthie and Cathy have been great and loyal partners for decades. We have admired his clever advertising; used Tivol as a prime example to show our Swiss associates that in middle America they could find a world-class jeweler; and for years Tivol was a destination for every American retailer that wanted to be inspired by that class.
Above all, Harold was a friend. He will be missed, but memories of his smile, his warmth and his caring will always be part of our lives. Our deepest sympathy to his family. Our grieving is tempered because our lives were enriched by having known Harold Tivol. From all of us at Patek PhilippeA ROCK STAR
Intended to help lessen the intimidation of buying jewelry, Harold Tivol’s well-known sense of humor headlined the cutting-edge advertising designed by John Muller, owner of Kansas City’s Muller + Co. One day in the late 1980s, Muller paid Harold an unannounced visit at the Country Club Plaza store, where the veteran ad man learned that one of the veteran jeweler’s biggest challenges was the perception that people couldn’t afford shopping at Tivol.
A month later Muller reappeared at the Plaza store and shared with Harold an idea that the jeweler summarily rejected: to put Harold's face on a series of ads. It was Ruthie Tivol who convinced her begrudging husband that the concept was, in fact, a stellar idea.
“Harold wasn’t fond of advertising people,” she says, “and he didn’t like the campaign at first. I said, ‘Cool it—the approach is fresh and brilliant.’ He finally agreed.”
So the campaign showcasing Harold’s unmistakable charisma and charm and his passion for the business was born—and along with it, his celebrity status.
David Marks, a Muller + Co. creative director, started working on the Tivol account in March of 1987. By that time the print campaign strategy was in place and Marks was charged with expanding it.
“My job was to make it work harder to not only entertain and increase brand awareness, but to increase sales,” Marks says. “We decided at that same time to change the ad layouts dramatically. Previously, the photographs showed Harold standing up, from more of a distance. To help the audience feel more connected to Harold, we began using a close-up of his face in the ads, each with a different expression, depending on the headline.”
In addition, Muller and Marks wanted Tivol to appeal to a whole new generation of younger consumers.
“By younger, we didn’t necessarily mean people in their 20s,” Marks says. “We meant people under 65.”
Muller and Marks showed Harold the storyboard for a playful concept, along with a challenge idea, over a spaghetti dinner at the Tivols’. The driving visual concept—the conceit—was based on a simple visual joke.
“Namely, the fact that Harold was (mostly) bald,” Marks says. “We had no idea whether Harold or the rest of the family were willing to take the risk of appearing silly. But as soon as we explained the concept, and showed the storyboard, the feeling was unanimous that it was a risk worth taking.”
Muller + Co. created what appeared to be an eclipse of a planet or moon across the lower portion of the screen and added ominous music while a message scrolled from the bottom to the top of the screen (a la Star Wars). Once the message left the screen, the eclipse was revealed to be the top of Harold's head.
“Pretty silly, but stylish and engaging and in its own way, quite powerful,” Marks says. “So basically, each TV spot was also a print ad that came to life, with the incredibly photogenic Harold as the center of the universe.”
For the first TV campaign, Muller designer and classical music aficionado David Holt suggested a piece from Holst’s The Planets titled Mars, The Bringer of War.
“It turned out to be perfect,” Marks says. “Not only was it epic and ominous, but it had a crescendo at the 25-second mark, which timed out perfectly to reveal Harold’s head with five seconds left in the commercial. Magic!”
Throughout the years, the Tivol campaign helped crystallize the brand and gained recognition for its ingenuity in bringing the business to life not only in Kansas City, but also across the world. Marks recalls making a portfolio presentation of creative work samples at the Los Angeles office of the Italian Trade Commission.
“When I shared one of the Tivol print ads,” Marks says, “they immediately said: ‘Hey, there’s Harold. Give our best to him and Ruthie!’”FULL CIRCLE
Hunter Tivol McGrath recalls the day a longtime Tivol client’s son ventured into the Country Club Plaza store. It was December of 2015, a busy time when shoppers were traditionally selecting holiday gifts for loved ones.
“He wasn’t there to shop, though,” McGrath says. “He was there to sell.”
From his pocket the son produced a ring that McGrath’s grandfather, Harold Tivol, had sold to his parents during a November 29, 1974 shopping expedition. But the couple didn’t spy the ring in a jewelry case—instead, the extraordinary cat’s eye gemstone had adorned Harold's left hand. “The couple was so taken with the ring that Papa literally sold it to them right off his finger,” McGrath says, “believing the time had come for someone else to enjoy the stone’s remarkable beauty.”
Now part of Tivol family lore, how the cat’s eye ring transferred ownership that November day is etched in McGrath’s memory bank. Harold had a penchant for this particular stone because of its exceptional combination of characteristics. “Cat’s eyes are known to have a unique optic phenomena that occurs when a focused light causes a line to run across the stone,” McGrath says. “This one is rare thanks to a well-defined and vivid line, creating a so-called milk-and-honey effect.”
Fast-forward 41 years to when McGrath, now vice president of Tivol, assisted the customer.
Although the ring was sold 10 years prior to his birth, Harold’s grandson immediately recognized it, knowing its provenance and sentimentality.
“It was surreal—like a Hollywood movie,” he says. “The man explained that his father had passed away five years ago and left the ring to him. The son knew the ring was very special, but he didn’t wear it often. Like Papa so many years ago, he believed it was time for someone else to enjoy it.”
It surprised McGrath that the son didn’t wear the ring, but he was grateful the decision was made to return it to Tivol. A week later, the transaction complete, the cat’s eye ring was back in the Tivol family.
“This ring personifies Papa,” says McGrath, who today wears the cat’s eye on his right hand. “It means so much to have a part of him, and especially something that symbolizes his style, grace, ethics, generosity and honesty.”
The original receipt of purchase from November 29, 1974.