A definite crowd-pleaser stole the attention of Berkshire Hathaway shareholders Sunday: Borsheims’ commemorative, cushion-cut, fancy yellow 50-carat diamond.
That is, until the crowd’s real best friend arrived.
Warren Buffett’s traditional stop was shorter this year at the Regency Court shopping center, where shareholders are treated to a free brunch and special shopping privileges at Borsheims Fine Jewelry, the Berkshire Hathaway-owned store.
This year Buffett shared a quick albeit animated exchange with table-tennis star Ariel Hsing. He stayed much longer playing bridge with experts on the second floor, but not many people were allowed in that constrained space. In fact, a line formed to get a peek.
Then the Berkshire CEO and chairman whisked through the mall and out the door without, as had been his custom the past four years, selling discounted jewelry from behind the counter at Borsheims.
Despite Buffett’s reduced on-stage moments, his fans were not disappointed. They jostled to get a better view and cheered when he was near.
“I understand — he’s 84 years old,” said Ting Ting Wang of Hong Kong, who was attending her first shareholders weekend. Her father managed to get a photo with Buffett and Charlie Munger, and didn’t mind at all that the image was really of him with life-size cutouts of the famous investor friends.
Joe Goodsell of upstate New York said that while Buffett’s Borsheims appearance was briefer than last year’s, he was pleased nonetheless to see Buffett in good spirits, and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates taking on Hsing like a “champ.”
Gates entered Regency Court with Buffett about 1 p.m., and was first up for the annual table-tennis challenge. After a few rounds between Gates and Hsing, Buffett joined on Gates’ side and they double-teamed their opponent. The men served up two balls at once; she returned one and Buffett promptly ended the volley with a slam.
One ball landed at the feet of New York’s Qeric Koten, who left thrilled to have nabbed a “winning ball” that he later asked Hsing to sign.
Borsheims spokeswoman Adrienne Fay said the crowd felt about the same size as last year, adding that they wouldn’t have sales tallies until later.
Absent the “Crazy Warren” prices that Buffett personally gave in past years, shareholders still were connecting with the collectibles marking the 50th anniversary of Berkshire under Buffett’s command, Fay said.
Enter the 50-carat yellow diamond ring from Rahaminov Diamonds, which Borsheims touted as a commemoration of the golden anniversary milestone.
The retail price was $2.3 million. Even at the shareholder price of $1.72 million, Kathaleen McCabe of Brooklyn chuckled and said it still was a bit out of her range.
Still, she tried it on as her friends flashed photos and fussed over the extravagance.
“My hands were shaking,” McCabe said. “It gives you such a feeling.”
She moved on, diamond-less, with fellow shareholder Virginia Shaffer, also of Brooklyn, and Omaha friend Mary Kennedy.
A young man stepped up to the counter next. “Is that the 50-carat? It’s so big,” said Daniel Modic.
Royce Mack, kiddingly nudging his wife, Kae, acted less intimidated: “Is that still available?”
Elsewhere in the store, shoppers such as Safa and Salah Elshanshory were finding deals within reach.
The brother-sister duo left with a Michele Deco diamond watch strap, calling it a deal because they had seen the same for much higher in another store.
Safa, a native of Egypt who lives in Houston, said her favorite part of the weekend all had to do with a 91-year-old man and his quips at the Q-and-A session.
“I fell in love with Charlie,” she said. “He is so hilarious.”
The Borsheims shopping and brunch wound down a long weekend highlighted by a Saturday business session that drew an apparent record crowd to Omaha.
On their way to airports, or to their final dinner before returning home, some reflected on the weekend.
What stuck with Ryan Chan, a student at the University of New Brunswick in Canada?
Patience. “Don’t take short cuts, think long term,” he said.
Jack Suchy of Davenport, Iowa, kept talking about integrity.
Modic, of California, said he came to Omaha on the hunt for investments that quickly rise in value so they can be sold and he can move on. The 20-year-old said he was impressed by two older guys who touted the value of long-term payoffs.
He also was awed by the variety of shareholders he met from all over the world, some who farmed, banked, practiced law.
“Investing is not just for white-collar white guys,” he said, “it’s a global thing.”
Contact the writer: 402-444-1224, email@example.com