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RIDING HIGH

CHRIS DEL GATTO AND VERONICA WEBB HOST A ROMANTICALLY RUSTIC GETTOGETHER INSPIRED BY BEAUTY FOUND IN ARGENTINA, POLO AND JEWELRY. BY JENNIFER PFAFF | PHOTOGRAPHY BY JERRY RABINOWITZ

Off State Road 441 and Heritage Road, roughly two minutes from Wellington, the sound of horses’ hooves thunders from a field. Classical Spanish guitar melodies float in the air as onlookers sip wine and watch the Circa Polo Team practice. Polo, the oldest team sport in the world, was invented 2,500 years ago by soldiers as a way to prepare for battle. “The game is beautiful. It’s really a ballet, a violent ballet,” says Chris Del Gatto, the team’s owner and captain. On the field, Del Gatto is ambitious but a gentleman; “light but ferocious,” says supermodel Veronica Webb, his girlfriend. His disposition is no different off the field, where he has accepted business challenges with humble confidence, yielding overwhelming success. Polo simply plays to his nature, as the sport’s history, tradition and aesthetic remind him of his industry: jewelry. Both fields are difficult to enter in their own ways, yet Del Gatto has approached each with careful determination— and absolutely no experience. 66

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Del Gatto runs the Circa Polo Team with the same ideals as his company: motivation, pride, organization and loyalty. Below left: (left to right) Martin Pepa, Marcos Alberdi, Chris Del Gatto. Opposite, top: (left to right) Pepa, Nacho Cabrera, Fernando Maciel


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The table was set with amber glass and accents of silver, lavender and purple hydrangeas for a look that is rustic but elegant. Below: Empanadas; signature mango-vodka cocktail

“I like a challenge, yes,” he admits. Del Gatto’s drive in the jewelry industry began when he was 17 years old. Upon graduating high school in the Bronx, he skipped college to become a licensed gemologist, then a diamond cutter a year later. He was a partner in his firm by age 20 and sold his interest when he was 23, a decision that allowed him to retire wealthy as friends his age were graduating college. But Del Gatto had other plans. He traveled the globe for nearly three years, buying and selling large diamonds and fine estate pieces at auctions worldwide before returning to New York to become a partner at MHR Estate and Fine Jewelry. The firm supplied department stores nationwide with estate jewelry purchased at auctions, a method Del Gatto viewed as a broken cycle. 68

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“We would sell a fantastic bracelet to Neiman Marcus and not know how to get another one,” he says. Recognizing there had to be a better way, Del Gatto teamed up with another young dealer in the industry, Jeffrey Singer, a third-generation member of the esteemed Singer’s Jewelers supplier. The two hosted public buying events at retail shops under the name MHR until they launched their own business in 2001. Circa, originally called Sell Jewelry, is a global wholesaler and now the world’s largest buyer of diamonds from the public. While the idea of selling or buying secondhand jewelry often conjures up images of sketchy pawnshops and predatory jewelers, Circa has transformed the process into a luxury experience. In each office,

including the Palm Beach location, clients and representatives talk comfortably in private buying rooms that resemble upscale boutiques. The company prides itself on customer service, promising to educate clients on any piece appraised and to provide a caring point of view, understanding the emotions in letting go of sentimental heirloom jewelry. Del Gatto is particularly proud of Circa’s message of environmental sustainability, touting purchasing secondhand jewelry as a form of upscale recycling. The eco-luxe company has put roughly $500 million worth of diamonds back into the marketplace since its inception, spreading the message that every diamond bought is one fewer that has to be mined. Webb has literally become the face of


Circa’s “Rebirth” campaign, appearing in advertisements and speaking about giving used jewelry a second life. “We’re just pulling the product not from the ground but from the drawers and jewelry boxes of people globally,” Del Gatto says. Del Gatto’s force behind creating a successful company in a multitrilliondollar market is unsurprising to Webb, who serves as fashion director of Italian watch brand Sector, which is distributed by Circa. “He’s so curious and has this motherboard that’s really quick at putting together really different pieces of information to create something new very quickly,” she says. “Everyone talks to him, and everyone takes him in. And likewise, he does that for other people.”

“It was interesting to have Cilantro’s [cater], because they travel between Argentina and here, and they really make the authentic food of polo,” Webb says. The menu presented Argentine comfort food in a sophisticated way, including the dulce de leche milhojas (right), which has a brown sugar caramel center. PALMBEACHILLUSTRATED.COM | APRIL 2012 69


After polo practice, guests swapped stories around a bonfire. From left: Hilario Ulloa, Johnny Bianco, Del Gatto, Webb, Rafaelle Capoferro.

Del Gatto’s quick-study attitude was the same in his decision to take up polo six years ago. At the time, he was building up his business and wanted a relief outside the office. “I needed something unusual,” he says. “And elegant,” Webb adds. An athlete from a family of boxers—his father and grandfather were fighters—Del Gatto picked up sparring again until he came across an article about the Southampton Hunt and Polo Club. He had always viewed polo as a marketing tool, as Circa had sponsored a few matches, but he decided to give it a try as a player after reading the article. Del Gatto went to the club, told the staff he knew how to ride—a lie—and climbed a horse for the first time with a mallet in hand. There was an immediate spark. Polo had the physical demands Del Gatto craved, coupled with the alluring qualities 70

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also found in the jewelry industry: beauty, expertise, precision, codes of conduct, a particular lexicon, and a certain appreciation and knowledge. “It was just a beautiful fit,” he says. In his typical zeal, Del Gatto never took an official polo lesson, instead learning how to play the sport by studying DVDs of the Argentine Open and trying to imitate how the players rode. Aiming to become a professional player, he bought horses over the years—he now owns nine—and traveled to Argentina, where polo is the equivalent to what baseball is here in the States. Del Gatto stays there for a month at a time each year, doing nothing but riding. Now, Del Gatto plays high-goal polo on the Circa Polo Team, which is on the Palm Beach-Hamptons-Argentina circuit. The team made it into the finals its first year in the Hamptons, summer 2010, and

returned the following year to win the Hamptons Cup. In Palm Beach, the team had advanced to the semifinals of the Iglehart Cup at press time. Polo has proven to be Circa’s biggest driver in marketing brand awareness and raising the company’s credibility among the right clientele, Del Gatto says. Through relationships formed from the sport, the company has made seven-figure purchases, including acquiring items from European royalty. Worldwide, people stop by Circa offices asking to see “the polo player.” During the polo season, usually in celebration of a tournament win, Del Gatto and Webb host dinner parties with the players, friends and team supporters. A recent one held at the Circa Polo Team’s Palm Beach County facility was based on the concept of the Argentine asado, a Spanish barbecue particular to that region.


The event took place late in the afternoon, beginning with a team practice. As guests arrived, a Spanish classical guitar player performed while a bonfire was set up—the asado cooking method for steak, lamb and short ribs. Dinner was served in a gazebo on the property. Normally an empty structure that serves as a playhouse for Del Gatto’s and Webb’s children, the gazebo this evening was given rustic chic decor reminiscent of Argentina, arranged by Idlewild Furnishing in Wellington. In the middle sat a 21-footlong mahogany table, crafted from a single Hawaiian tree cut in 1954, and surrounded by wooden benches strewn with oversized pillows and Indian blankets. On the table were fluted amber glass plates, wooden serving platters and bowls and sequoia flatware, coupled with burlap napkins, a spray of sage and lavender flown in from California—a nod to the company’s corporate color. The overall look captured Argentina as well as polo’s natural beauty—“beauty without any fuss, which I think is, in many ways, the epitome of class,” Del Gatto says. Wine glasses held red Argentine wines or the cocktail created for the evening, consisting of fresh mango puree, soda water and vodka. The meal, prepared by Cilantro’s in Wellington, began with appetizers of empanadas and stuffed bread—a square, grilled bread filled with ham, genoa salami, provolone cheese and an olive mix. A salad of mozzarella en carroza preceded the asado—the main course of meat—and choripán, homemade sausage with chimichurri sauce. Rounding out the meal were Argentine milhojas, layers of flaky pastry and dulce de leche—“the flavor of Argentina,” Del Gatto says. As the sun set, tiki torches flickered and guests swapped stories sitting on hay bales around the fire. For Del Gatto, the Argentine-inspired evening payed beautiful tribute to the sport that has helped launch Circa’s success as a luxury conglomerate. Polo, he says, has brought to life many of the philosophies of his company. “It’s been an incredible thing for the Circa family to rally around,” he says. u

Among the wines served was Pujanza, a Spanish favorite the couple enjoys while visiting the Circa office in Barcelona. The meat, seasoned with only salt and pepper, was roasted on a flat wire rack atop glowing embers on a bed of coals.

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Riding High  

Jennifer Pfaff's article for the Sunshine State Awards

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