Downtown Miami’s Seybold Building remains a center of commerce for an age-old trade, housing hundreds of jewelers and diamond dealers who spend their days polishing and setting sparkling baubles and golden goods. The second largest jewelry building in the United States, rivaled only by the Diamond District in New York City, the Seybold Building is much more than a shopping destination.
It’s a pioneer’s legacy, a frontier for legions of immigrants making a new life in an unfamiliar home. The Seybold Building is one of Miami’s most important cultural landmarks — but its history remains fairly unknown.
Miami as the next frontier
When John Seybold first arrived in Miami in 1896, armed with little more than his experience as a baker and a hunch that Miami could become the next great American frontier, he set up his first shop along Miami Avenue, crafting sweets and loaves of bread that he’d deliver to his customers by horse and carriage. Business was booming, until tragedy struck. Seybold returned from a hunting trip to find his life’s work burned to ashes. All he had left were the three dollars he carried with him in his hunting jacket. Perturbed but not defeated, Mr. Seybold worked odd jobs with other bakers until he had amassed $75 and set out again, this time opening his bakery on Flagler Street in the rapidly growing business district in Downtown Miami.
Seybold once again enjoyed economic prosperity, and the need for expansion was soon on the horizon. He built sideways and wide-ways, but dreamed of going up. Seybold envisioned building one of the area’s tallest buildings and business centers. In 1922, his dream became a reality, when construction began on an additional 10 floors to the popular Seybold arcade. Even by the 1920s, the Seybold Building had already become a premier shopping destination. Milliners, barbers, and dress shops lined the first two floors, while the offices above were filled with lawyers and insurance brokers capitalizing on the building’s proximity to the historic Miami-Dade Courthouse.
In the 1960s, the building’s first jeweler moved in. Jeffrey Buchwald, a Hungarian immigrant who first opened his jewelry shop on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, moved to Miami to escape the cold. Today, Buchwald Jewelers is a third generation, family-run business, and co-owner Jeff Buchwald recalls visiting his family’s store when he was just a kid. “We were the first jewelers in the building — back then there were a few stores and a lot of lawyers,” Buchwald says. “By the time I took over 25 years ago, there were a lot more jewelers.”
And that wasn’t a coincidence, either. According to Jerry K., a master handmade jeweler who once owned RGB Jewels, the Seybold Building’s leasing agent was making a push for bringing more jewelers into the building in the early 1970s. “When we came from New York, we were told that this was on the verge of becoming a very good location for jewelers,” Jerry K. said. “So he told me, ‘I’ll give you the fourth floor,’ and he charged me about $650 for 2,000 square-feet of space.”
The plan to transform the Seybold Building into a jeweler’s hub had a helping hand from the Cuban revolution, when scores of Cuban jewelers and manufacturers left the island after the Castro regime confiscated their businesses. Mario’s Casting, a second-generation family-run jewelry manufacturing business, came to the United States in 1969 to try and pick up where they had left off. “In the 1970s, a lot of Cubans were coming over and making a home for their jewelry business in downtown Miami,” said Martha Camero, one of the owners and operators of Mario’s Casting. “As more and more jewelers moved into the Seybold Building, lawyers started moving out. Pretty soon, every single floor was filled with jewelry makers of all kinds.”
From stone setters to gold platers, watch repairmen to wholesale manufacturers and gemstone traders, the Seybold Building today is still brimming with bijoux, sold by people of all backgrounds and races. But it’s the stories of triumph in an old Miami that make the visit worthwhile.