As a teen working in a jewelry store, Isreal Morales was intrigued by Rolex watches. “I couldn’t believe a watch was worth that much,” he says. “The value of these small things intrigued me and drew me to the industry.”
Today, he runs Sky Diamond Jewelers, a full-service jewelry store in New Windsor, N.Y. The five-employee business, which he founded with his wife Jennifer in 2016, brought in more than $1 million in revenue last year at its 1,000-square-foot store, and he is now considering expanding to a second location or wholesale operations. Morales was recognized as an Entrepreneur of the Year by New York State’s Entrepreneurship Assistance Centers (EAC) earlier this year, after attending the 60-hour Entrepreneurial Training Program at the EAC’s Women’s Enterprise Development Center in Poughkeepsie.
Starting the business wasn’t easy. Morales’s father died before he was born, and, when his mother passed away from cancer when he was nine-years-old, his brother Jose, then 17-years-old, went to court and won permission to raise him and his sister. “He was working in a car dealership and was able to show a decent income,” says Morales. “He worked all the time and tried to provide. I remember him coming home, cooking dinners and getting my sister ready for school the next morning.”
Morales worked in jewelry stores in the area to earn extra money. One employer, ULTRA Diamonds, sent him to classes to learn sales. “Some people don’t take the classes. I took every single class I could,” he recalls. Meanwhile, he attended college part-time at the College of Westchester to study business
His next job, at age 18, was at Hannoush Jewelers, a franchise, where he learned another side of the industry. “I was buying gold and diamonds,” he says. “It was fascinating to me. I’m still fascinated today.”
That led to other work in retail and then at Monroe Jewelers, a family-run business in Monroe, N.Y. Morales ran a side business where he would buy and sell gold he purchased from the public, via sites such as Craigslist, at a profit. “It came to a point where I thought, ‘I need to give this a shot and do it for myself,’” he says.
Morales’s lucky break came when someone reached out to sell him $16,000 worth of jewelry products. Morales only had $4,000 in his bank account on that day. He told the seller, “Let me keep the products for a day. I need to authenticate everything. I’ll bring you the $16,000 tomorrow. I knew there were pieces a client would buy.”
Morales closed a few sales and paid him the $16,000. He estimates he made another $40,000 on the merchandise he sold. It gave him confidence he could build his own business full time.
“At this point, I knew—no matter what, I was opening a jewelry store,” he says. “This was the most money I ever had in my life. Making $60,000 to $70,000, it would take me forever to accumulate $40,000.”
Working with the EAC, he put together a business plan with his wife, mapping out what the store would be like if there were no compromises in following the plan. Once the document was complete, he reached out to the owner of a local plaza and shared the plan with him, hoping to rent space. The owner knew his family and the story of how his parents passed away. He asked if Morales had funding. When the answer was “No,” the owner told him, “I might be able to help you out.”
Initially, Morales asked for $250,000—the cost of opening the “no compromises” version of his store. His potential backer sent him away four times to whittle down the costs.
Thinking creatively, Morales found a used safe for the store. He obtained four quotes from every contractor he needed to hire to get the store in shape and leveraged his relationships in the industry to purchase products from suppliers who allowed him to pay them after selling each piece. Jennifer, who studied graphic design in college, helped him with branding and marketing. These efforts reduced his planned startup costs to $140,000, and mall owner agreed to lend him the money. “Finally, he had no choice but to say ‘Alright, I’m going to give you the money,’” says Morales.
Morales was able to pay him back in two years. Although Sky Diamond was shuttered for three months during the pandemic, he used the time to improve his website and social media to expand the store’s visibility. One hallmark is its specialty in engagement rings, built around marketing tied to one of the most memorable events in a couple’s life—the marriage proposal.
Since he opened the store, Morales has also introduced on-site repairs, gold buying and appraisals. He customizes purchases for his clientele by using computer-aided design.
Morales isn’t sure what the future holds, but he believes that owning his business has been pivotal for him and his family. He and Jennifer now have two children. To give back, he donates to the Newburgh Free Academy High School, a local public school, and Safe Harbors on the Hudson, a provider of mixed-use, affordable housing. “This was a great catalyst to be able to propel our lives forward,” he says.