In the late 1950s, New Yorker Murray Mondschein returned to the city after service in the army and purchased a Greenwich Village shop on MacDougal Street, named Fred Leighton after its late owner. The boutique specialized in diverse Mexican imports — crafts, silver jewelry, colorful clothing, and very beautiful all-white or all-beige, cotton wedding dresses. The latter were to become synonymous with Leighton. Legend has it that a dealer in Victorian jewelry stopped by with pieces to sell and Mondschein realized that that the Victorian jewelry presented a far more interesting inventory. He started to make very targeted buying trips abroad, seeking out estate and vintage collections and because he had a great eye and courage, he managed to amass an enormous quantity of fine quality jewels to sell.
Within a short time, Mondschein dropped the Mexican tchotchkes altogether and focused on fine jewels, moving the now very chic emporium uptown to a prestigious Madison Avenue corner.
From the Beladora Archives: Fred Leighton Diamond, Onyx and Seed Pearl Tassel Necklace in 18K
His clientele grew and so did the inventory. The venerable establishment had some of the most stunning and unusual pieces, all under one roof, including important bijoux from the 18th and 19th centuries; the Edwardian, Art Deco and Art Nouveau periods; as well as Retro, Mid-20th Century, and even contemporary jewelry. Fred Leighton was the go-to source for elite estate jewelry buyers and also stylists eager to borrow jewelry for red carpet events, a practice that became ubiquitous. In 1998, Leighton opened an outpost in the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.
In 2006, Mondschein sold the business to the then highly regarded dealer, collector, and fourth-generation jeweler Ralph Esmerian. Within a short time under this new ownership, the once-esteemed business was forced to declare bankruptcy due to what might best be called reckless and creative financial bookkeeping practices. When it emerged from bankruptcy in 2009, the company was purchased by the New York jewelry firm, Kwiat Corporation, the current owners. Fred Leighton himself passed away in 2017 and the jewelry world turned out in force to honor him. His brilliant eye, classic New York attitude and his enduring love for the singular charm and workmanship that exemplifies the best of estate jewelry will long be remembered. The destination shop still maintains an eye-catching estate inventory, including some extraordinary, one-of-a-kind diamond and platinum engagement and wedding rings, many using stones appreciated for their old-world cuts.