Why Won’t This Man Retire?

My father, Fred Kaplan, flunked retirement in five days.

After working for 60 years as a diamond dealer in Manhattan’s jewelry district, my then-84-year-old father packed up his loupe and 20-years-younger wife and reluctantly retired to Florida.

“It’s time,” Dad said about leaving the business he started after mustering out from the Army at the end of World War II. “I can’t work forever.”

Dad, who never lived more than 30 miles from his childhood home in Brooklyn, called Florida retirees “the living dead.” But after surviving a triple bypass 10 years earlier, the New York winters were finally getting to him, and trudging through snow to his 47th Street store was becoming “tricky.” So Dad reluctantly called it quits and moved to a country club development in Palm Beach Gardens.

After Tennis, Then What?

A week later, I called to see how he was loving leisure.

“Well, I’ll tell ya,” he said. “I got up this morning and had a lovely breakfast, read the paper, played an hour of tennis, and took a nice, long shower. Then it was 10:15.”

Dad, who had worked nine hours a day, six days a week for most of his adult life, was “bored to death.”

“There’s nothing to fill the days,” he said. “I’m flunking retirement.”

Back in Business

Dad lives for the deal, the thrill of buying a three-carat something, maybe re-cutting it to remove black spots and yielding a handsome profit. But hawking diamonds on 47th Street is more about psychology than geology. Dad understood his customers, who, like himself, were mostly the newly rich from suburban Long Island or Westchester County. I once watched him sell $62,000 worth of jewels to a Great Neck father-of-the-bride by appealing to the poor schnook’s desire to impress 400 guests.

So after two weeks avoiding the Florida sun, Dad was starved for action. He rented an office on Palm Beach’s tony Worth Avenue, took out a “We buy diamonds!” newspaper ad and charged back into the game. Turns out, he knows more about diamonds than anyone on the billionaires’ block. So when jewelers can’t fathom the true worth of a stone, they call him.

Dad now calls himself “semi-retired.” At 88, he works about five hours a day, longer if some Palm Beach doyen has a lifetime of jewels to sell. In January, he manned a booth at a Miami jewelry show.

“I overdid it,” he said sheepishly from bed, where he was sidelined exhausted for two days after the show. “But, hey. I can’t die young.”

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