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Jeweler Christopher Kaufmann back in family business on Worth Avenue


On a particularly warm day last week, three women strolling down Worth Avenue were drawn into Kaufmann de Suisse by sparkling gems in the window and cool air wafting out the front door.

They were greeted inside by a slender, middle-aged man who flashed a smile at one of the women hunched over the glass case admiring a lemon quartz necklace.

“Hello,” Christopher Kaufmann said with a smooth, charismatic voice. “Would you like to see that necklace?”

The women likely didn’t know the financial trouble in which Kaufmann has found himself in recent years, including  allegations that he failed to pay clients hundreds of thousands of dollars he promised them. And the women certainly didn’t realize how strange it was that he was there.

RELATED: Worth Avenue jeweler’s diamonds frequently disappear

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But after fending off more than a dozen civil lawsuits and keeping at bay a Florida Attorney General complaint that sought to “forever” prevent him from consigning jewelry in the state, Worth Avenue jeweler Kaufmann is back in business.

The owner of the now-defunct Christopher Kaufmann Le Salon is working for his younger sister, Monica Kaufmann, at her flagship Worth Avenue store and at a new location at 230 Sunrise Ave., an extension of Kaufmann de Suisse that’s open only in the evenings.

“So we can work day and night to repay Chris’ debt,” Monica Kaufmann said recently at Kaufmann de Suisse, 210 Worth Ave. Her new store opened April 26.

Siblings reunite

The siblings’ working relationship is significant because, until six months ago, they hadn’t spoken in years. They had a falling out and their family’s company, Kaufmann USA, sued Christopher Kaufmann in 2010, alleging that he paid himself more than his contract allowed and that he depleted the company’s assets.

That was one of several suits filed against Christopher Kaufmann after he opened his competing store, which closed in October, less than one month after Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi filed an injunction alleging that he owed $554,439 to at least 17 clients for whom he was supposed to consign jewelry.

RELATED: Worth Avenue jeweler Christopher Kaufmann faces 13th lawsuit over payments

RELATED: Attorney general Pam Bondi moves to shut down Worth Avenue jeweler Christopher Kaufmann

“We are amenable to resolving litigation amicably if it is in the public interest to do so; however, in the meantime any litigation continues,” said Whitney Ray, a spokesman for Bondi’s office. “As this matter is in active litigation, it would not be appropriate to comment further at this time.”

That and six other cases against him are pending in Palm Beach County Circuit Court, according to court records. Attorneys representing plaintiffs in those cases didn’t respond to phone messages.

Nearly $1.4 million is at stake in those suits. Other lawsuits against Christopher Kaufmann ended with judges awarding more than $366,000 to various plaintiffs in the last several years.

RELATED: Worth Avenue jeweler Christopher Kaufmann named in another lawsuit

Christopher Kaufmann also operated two stores in the Hamptons; those also closed in October. A lawsuit pending in the Supreme Court of the State of New York in Suffolk County filed Feb. 14 alleges that Christopher Kaufmann committed civil theft in a case involving the consignment of a $400,000 diamond ring.

He also spent three days in jail there in September on a criminal grand larceny charge, according to Suffolk County Correctional Facility records. No other information about the charge was available.

‘I will pay everybody back’

But the 56-year-old — who isn’t managing a jewelry store for the first time in decades — says those days of trouble are over.

“I went through a lot so I’m just grateful to be able to continue to work and make weekly payments to the people I owe money to,” Christopher Kaufmann said. “Slowly but surely I will pay everybody off, pay everybody back, and I’m sorry about all the difficulty I created for people.”

According to the siblings, Christopher Kaufmann has paid back $206,000 to people in the last six months, though he declined to say how much he owes.

“A lot,” Christopher Kaufmann said. “But my life expectancy has 35 years to go, so I’ll get it done.”

The Daily News was unable to confirm how much he owes or has repaid.

Christopher Kaufmann and his wife, Andrea Kaufmann, sold their 7,400 square foot Seaspray Avenue home last week for about $10.41 million, property records show. The house had been the subject of foreclosure proceedings with three mortgage lenders, according to property records.

As Christopher Kaufmann discussed what led him and his sister to rekindle their relationship, their father stared down at him from a photograph hanging across the room. Emil Pius Kaufmann opened Kaufmann de Suisse in Montreal, Canada, in 1954 and expanded to Palm Beach and New York the same year.

Monica Kaufmann said she keeps the picture there so her brother “remembers the values that he has to live by because there’s no monkey business in my store.”

The siblings agreed that their working relationship has been “great.”

‘I want his soul to go to heaven’

“Christopher’s made a lot of changes in his personal life since we’ve been working together,” Monica Kaufmann said.

She described their reunion as serendipitous, though she first hesitated to let him work in her store.

“Everyone I talked to said, ‘Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it.’ But my heart said do it. So I let my heart win,” Monica Kaufmann said. “I want his soul to go to heaven one day. And the only way his soul’s going to heaven is if he repays people and clears the slate.”

She added that they have an agreement about her brother’s role in the business, and that he doesn’t handle the books or cash. Last week, however, he handled jewels while a champagne-sipping customer tried on several pieces.

Michael Griffith, an attorney representing the plaintiff in the New York civil suit, said he doubts that Christopher Kaufmann has changed his ways.

“I called Monica because I heard from a very good source that he may be up to his old tricks,” Griffith said. “This guy is one slick dude.”

Monica Kaufmann said there really was no other option for her brother, and it makes sense for him to work in the family store since jewelry is rooted in love.

“That’s why we buy a piece of jewelry (for people),” she said, “because we love them and we want to let them know.”

MORE:

Ex-Palm Beach jewelry store owner Christopher Kaufmann sells house

Worth Avenue jeweler charged with domestic battery

Judge orders jeweler to pay former client $109,193



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