M.S. Rau renovation and expansion brings world-class jewelry gallery to the French Quarter
In November, the owners of M.S. Rau completed a multi-year renovation and expansion at the French Quarter fine art, antiques and jewelry gallery known for its museum-quality exhibitions. The final stage included the addition of 10,000 items to the jewelry gallery.
“Our goal for this phase was to provide a showroom for our jewelry offerings that matched the quality of the jewelry we offer,” says Scott Ferguson, M.S. Rau’s CFO. “To that end, we really feel like we met the challenge.”
The resultant eye-popping space has sophistication and atmosphere to spare, which will come as no surprise to the company’s well-heeled clientele. Ferguson and members of the construction design team at Palmisano recently visited with us to share some of the process, trials and triumphs of creating this new, one-of-a-kind space.
What were your goals for the design and why?
Adam Zander: To create the most prestigious, unique and world class gallery that would house only the rarest and finest jewelry in the world.
What, if any, was the biggest design challenge, and how was it overcome?
Scott Ferguson: This is a project we deferred for over a year due to COVID-19. Like any old building, you don’t really know what you are working with until demolition is completed. We discovered several walls that were severely out of plumb, two lengths of footings that had to be replaced and water encroachment from the walls we share with our neighbors. The un-plumb walls caused a real problem when installing the vault with 4-inch-thick rigid walls, but the team worked around the clock to complete the work successfully. Milan, Italy, was one of the cities in Europe that was hardest hit by COVID-19, which caused huge delays in the manufacturing of the casework. Compounding this was the sudden increase in the price of wood, shortages in construction materials and labor. Topping this off was the kink in the global supply chain and the limited shipping opportunities to get things from Milan to New Orleans, plus the significant additional costs to do so. As is typical in a renovation such as this, there were hundreds of small issues to be vetted and resolved by the members of our construction team.
What is the standout feature of the design and why does it stand out?
Ferguson: The new space is designed to exclusively operate as a jewelry gallery, so the floor plan is very open and bright. Our casework was manufactured by our partner in Milan, Italy and features very sophisticated lighting and access controls … But, in the end, our jewelry is the star of the show, and it is displayed 1,000 percent better than it was before.
Zander: The “Glass Closing Room” is an oval- ellipse- shaped room, created out of a combination of lower base and upper display cabinets. It is wrapped with 3/8-inch laminated, curved glass and crown molding and is only accessible through a special key fob.
How would you describe M.S. Rau to someone who hasn’t ever visited and define its core clientele?
Ferguson: A blogger once referred to us as ‘a museum done up by P.T. Barnum where every object has the most amazing provenance.’ Others refer to us as a ‘museum with price tags.’ M.S. Rau is a place where you will encounter some of the finest art, jewelry and antiques ever made and will also likely find something that you didn’t know existed. Our clients are sophisticated but typically understated and have an appreciation of the finer things in life and the financial wherewithal to afford these things. They love us because of the level of service we provide along with our unique, one-of-a-kind offerings and our one-stop shopping experience.
How did you set yourselves apart from similar businesses in New Orleans?
Ferguson: The new space speaks for itself — there is nothing like it in the city of New Orleans. This uniqueness is in our DNA, and we strive daily to cultivate our staff, our retail space and our inventory to meet this desire to offer things that no one else can offer.
How do you promote a positive work atmosphere for the M.S. Rau staff?
Ferguson: As leaders in the company, we keep this at the forefront and work on it constantly — things change so quickly that if you are not constantly thinking about your employees, then you fall too far behind to catch up. Our human resources department plays a big role in promoting and developing a positive atmosphere through ongoing development of managers and employees. We set quarterly and annual financial goals and our employees earn bonuses based on hitting these goals, which helps keep us rowing in the same direction and adds a bit of fun to the daily routine.
What are your biggest challenges?
Ferguson: Sourcing inventory is always a challenge since we can’t simply call the factory and order another Picasso or 10-carat blue diamond. We are trying to add staff now to help with the acquisition side of our business, but it is a unique position requiring a broad mix of knowledge and skills, so it has proven challenging. Continuing to find the right mix of employees is an ongoing challenge, but we have a great team now so making sure we are giving them what they need to make them happy, productive and successful is a terrific goal and challenge.
Biz: What goals do you hope to meet in the next 12 months?
Ferguson: We are on pace to break another annual sales record in 2021, so we will set that goal a bit higher for next year and strive toward that end. We are always interested in diversifying our inventory offerings and our business as well so we will be spending time and energy on both of those in the next 12 months.
At a Glance
M.S. Rau Jewelry Gallery, 630 Royal St.
Number of years in business
December 2020 to November 2021
630 Royal St., 7,000 square feet; all gallery space, over 40,000 square feet
Number of Employees
Persons in Charge
Bill and Rebecca Rau, owners; and Scott Ferguson, CFO
Architect, Office of Jonathan Tate, Jonathan Tate and Rob Baddour; Contractor (construction design build partner), Palmisano (Brad Shannon, Trevor Adam, Adam Zander, Jason Martin)
Truitt Brand Design, Scott Truitt