After 30 years focused on integrity and innovation, the father and son team
behind RDI Diamonds have set their sights on becoming a billion-dollar business.
Out-of-the-box thinking has been Michael Indelicato’s mantra since he began selling gold jewelry out of the basement of his family home in Rochester, NY. This home-based business grew into RDI Diamonds, a company that over the course of 30 years has developed a reputation for introducing many firsts that became industry game changers.
Ingenuity was essential from the beginning for the future CEO. After the untimely death of his father, Michael, having just graduated from high school, needed to find a way to support his mother and sister. His father had sold gold chains and charms as a second job and Michael began selling the jewelry, first approaching family and friends and then factory workers and beauty salons.
His introduction to diamonds came after he took over the territory of a diamond sales rep. Then in 1992, the company shifted its focus to diamonds. Originally called Rochester Diamond and Gold, Michael changed the name to Rochester Diamonds Incorporated. But jewelers in other parts of the country had no idea where Rochester was located. Knowing that initials were popular at the time and advocating the “simple” solution — as he would do throughout his career — he changed the name in 2000 to RDI Diamonds and doubled his business as a result.
While his customers have always been number one, Michael also remained loyal to Rochester and
ignored the very vocal critics who told him he would “never succeed” there and urged him to move to New York City. In 2015, they moved to a state-of-the art, four-floor facility that remains the base of operations. Four years later, the company opened an office (recently expanded) in the Gem Tower on 47th Street.
“Too often the discussion
revolves around certificates
and ratios. It should always be
about the beauty of the stones”
From the start, Michael viewed the diamond industry as “archaic,” with one generation doing business
the same way as the generation that preceded it. “It didn’t make sense. I always challenged myself to find solutions. How can I do it faster? How can I do it better? How can I help the jewelers?” That ethos is
shared by Sam Indelicato, who joined his father in the business in 2020 following his graduation from George Washington University in Washington, DC, and is now director of jewelry.
While each generation brings a new perspective to the business, the essentials remain the same, with integrity and trust at the core of the customer partnerships they develop and nurture.
During the pandemic, the company extended terms to customers, which Sam believes exemplifies their
philosophy of exceeding customer expectations. “It strengthens the bond between us,” he says, describing this approach as integral to the company. “We’ve always been about innovation. It’s always about moving the needle,” says Sam. But he acknowledges that while advances in technology facilitated many changes, it began with the basics.
AHEAD OF THE CURVE
Although the practice is standard now, RDI Diamonds introduced free overnight shipping. “We did it on a
grand scale,” says Sam. “It might be simple in itself, but it put us on the map.” As proof of its dedication to strengthening partnerships, RDI Diamonds was also the first to establish a “Lifetime Trade-up” policy in 1997. The aim was to ensure that jewelers were never stuck with diamonds. “We give people dollar-to-dollar value for those stones,” Sam explains.
In 2013, the company launched its Mobile Diamond Connection, which incorporates customized technology to create an individualized website inventory link under the retailer’s brand name. This helps its sales team engage with customers and drive in-store sales.
Introduced in 2022, RDI’s Rare & Forever natural diamonds use artificial intelligence (AI) that sets a new standard in natural diamond grading and offers significant benefits for brick-and-mortar and small chain stores. “It allows them to diversify and get ahead of their competition,” says Sam.
Still, both Michael and Sam admit that not every endeavor was successful – though the experience
proved valuable for the lessons learned. One example is RDI Diamonds’ launch of clarity-enhanced diamonds in 2015, which preceded lab-grown diamonds but were then overtaken by them. And while its custom brilliant cushion cut did not sell well, it laid the groundwork for Rare & Forever. “You have to always keep trying,” notes Michael, who says his staff are always striving to do better. “Grit and optimism are the two vital components in business,” he adds.
A continually changing industry also requires shifts in strategy. “Our marketing has become significantly different over the past few years,” says Sam. “Instead of just buying the back cover of magazines, we’re promoting our business through advertorials. Being a thought leader in the industry adds to our credibility. People don’t just want to be sold to; they want information.”
KEEP IT SIMPLE
Father and son also maintain that another critical component of their business is: Don’t over-complicate. “Speak so people can understand,” says Michael. “Selling something or getting an idea across is so much more powerful when it’s cogent and brief,” says Sam, quoting Shakespeare’s admonition, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” This idea, he says, echoes a lot of what they do at RDI Diamonds.
“At the end of the day, we’re selling diamonds,” says Michael. “Too often the discussion revolves around
certificates and ratios. It should always be about the beauty of the stones.”
Sam says he likes “looking people in the eyes” as a way of establishing trust. A traditional concept that is
as relevant in the digital age as it was when Michael had jewelers write the type of diamonds they wanted
on the backs of their business cards. Technology has transformed the business, but a firm foundation in core principles is still essential for success.
Looking ahead, Michael has set an ambitious goal for the future. “We will be a billion-dollar company in
the next five to 10 years,” he says. “I make sure to tell people, so I’m held to it.”
Image: Princess-cut, 2.03-carat, H, Sl1 diamond and and Asscher-cut, 3-carat, H, VS2 diamond. (RDI Diamonds)