Martin Siegel, chairman of Hamilton Jewelers, dies at 86

Martin R. Siegel, the Hamilton Jewelers chairman who was instrumental in growing his company’s brand through creative and innovative marketing, died on Dec. 17 with his wife and four sons at his side. He was 86.

Born in Trenton to Irving and Alice (Novros) Siegel, Martin attended lower schools in Trenton, the Milford Academy in Connecticut, and Duke University before serving in the U.S. Army artillery in Germany in 1953 and 1954. Upon his return from the armed services, he joined his father as the second generation of his family to work at the heritage fine jeweler Hamilton Jewelers.

Martin was elected president of Hamilton Jewelers in 1968, and laid the groundwork for successive generations of his family to continue his vision. The foundation of his business philosophy was an emphasis on superior quality, relationship-based business practices, and community leadership that enabled the Hamilton brand to grow from a local store to a nationally recognized industry leader with clients from all 50 states and around the world. He continued to serve the firm as chairman from 1994 until his death, a role that allowed him to mentor hundreds of Hamilton employees, never hesitating to share his experience and knowledge. He was also eager to share his stories and experiences with others in the fine jewelry industry, particularly enjoying the chance to attend industry trade shows and events in his later years.

His colleagues said Martin had a merchant’s eye and a keen sense of design and value. He loved finding the unusual jewel or timepiece for Hamilton clientele, could not keep himself from choosing the most beautiful and finest quality pieces, and was a pioneer in launching new products to the local market. He was among the first jewelers in the United States to order special Rolex timepieces from Switzerland with rare gem-set cases, bezels, and stone dials for clients in Palm Beach. He also discovered and launched many fledgling designers before “designer jewelry” was in fashion and before they became nationally recognized. He believed in the wonderful and special power of a gift of fine jewelry to commemorate a special occasion in one’s life, and loved helping clients celebrate life’s moments. In keeping with the ways of his father, it was not uncommon for Siegel to assist a young person looking for an engagement ring, accept no payment, and with a handshake, allow the purchaser to leave the store with the ring and make subsequent payments “whenever they could do so.” Inevitably, he would gain a customer for life.

Siegel remained in the Mercer County area his entire life, living in Trenton and Yardley, Pa. for 26 years, Princeton for 33 years, and New Hope, Pa., as well as Palm Beach Gardens, in his later years. A passionate advocate for all things local, he served and supported hundreds of Mercer, Bucks, and Palm Beach County organizations throughout his life, along with his wife of 63 years, Denise. He was an active athlete, and enjoyed soccer and tennis in his youth. He continuing his passion for tennis as an adult, and in later years enjoyed playing golf with friends and celebrities alike. As a young man, he particularly excelled in tennis, and won the Trenton Junior tennis title in 1951 at 18. He played tennis on the Duke University team, and served as chair of the tennis committee at the Greenacres Country Club for many years.

More than sports and the jewelry trade, Siegel’s greatest passion was giving back to his communities. He was a trustee for 18 years at the Helene Fuld Medical Center in Trenton and a board member of the United Savings and Loan Company for 12 years. In 1982, he received the Crusade Citation from the American Cancer Society for his leadership. In 1984, he worked to found the diabetes educational and informational center at Princeton Hospital and was recognized for contributions to the field of diabetes education. He also received a citation from Trenton’s City Council for his dedication to the Trenton Little League, which he supported for more than 50 years. Unbeknownst to anyone except close family, he sponsored foster children in Latin America for more than 20 years, and was particularly proud when they graduated from upper school. In 2003, the Greenwood House Home for the Aged recognized Martin and his wife for their multigenerational leadership at a gala where President Bill Clinton spoke and honored them for their long-standing involvement with the home. The State of New Jersey Senate and General Assembly passed a joint legislative resolution honoring Martin in 2003 for his “meritorious record of service and leadership,” citing that “by his deeds and by his example, he has earned the respect and admiration of all who know him as a man of remarkable character and exceptional determination.” In 2005, the Martin Siegel Community Fund of the Princeton Area Community Foundation was established to commemorate his 50th year at Hamilton Jewelers. The fund benefits local educational, medical, and arts organizations in the region. In 2011, National Junior Tennis and Learning of Trenton, an organization that creates opportunities for success by enriching the lives of under-resourced youth by combining tennis and education, dedicated a tennis court located at Cadwallader Park in Trenton in Martin’s honor. Earlier this year at a gala, Greenwood House once again honored Martin and Denise Siegel for the community leadership.

Martin was an eternal optimist, and his friends and family said his optimism was contagious. Anyone who knew him experienced his giant personality, passion for life, and regular practical jokes. Ten years ago, he was diagnosed with advanced squamous cell cancer and given a grim prognosis. He remained unfailingly optimistic, keeping cancer at bay and relishing the 10 additional years he lived after his victory over the disease. Martin was able to touch so many more lives as a result, family members said. He was able to enjoy the birth of his youngest grandchild, the wedding of his oldest, and so many shared experiences with those he loved, those he met at the Hamilton Jewelers stores, and those whose random interactions with Martin occurred while waiting in line at the deli or the hardware store. Along with Denise, he was also able to continue to be a part of the communities he loved in Mercer County and Palm Beach Gardens, regularly saying, “I truly can’t believe how fortunate I am to be able to live in such a fantastic community with so many wonderful friends.” He enjoyed the company of people from all cultures and backgrounds and created an atmosphere around him of warmth, care, and concern. One of his favorite pastimes was to walk around town or the community and meet new people, and he always relished having even a small connection with a stranger. He loved new ideas and innovation, which he encouraged with everyone he met. With all of his life’s accomplishments and the people he cherished along the way, he loved and cherished his family most of all. The patriarch of the Siegel family, his family will remember him as a happy, proud and loving husband, father and grandfather.

Martin is predeceased by his sister, Rita Goodman, and is survived by his wife, Denise (Ulanet),; his sons Hank (Lisette), Jeffrey (Heidi), Scott (Lucy), and Peter (Kari); and grandchildren Andrew (Betsey), Benjamin, Emily, Ellie, Hannah, Jake, and Abigail. Funeral services will be held Friday, Dec. 20, at 2 p.m. at Adath Israel Congregation, which is located at 1958 Lawrenceville Rd. in Lawrenceville. Burial will follow at Ewing Cemetery. Friends will be received at the home of Lisette and Hank Siegel in Princeton from 5 to 8 p.m. on Friday. On Saturday and Sunday evening, calling hours will be from 4 to 8 p.m. at 32 Creek Run in New Hope, Pa., with a memorial service at 6:30 p.m. The family respectfully conveys Martin’s wishes that in lieu of flowers, those wishing to do so may donate to the Martin Siegel Community Fund of the Princeton Area Community Foundation, or to Greenwood House in Ewing. Funeral arrangements are by Orland’s Ewing Memorial Chapel. Orland’s Ewing Memorial Chapel 1534 Pennington Rd. Ewing, NJ 08618, (609) 883-1400