In Memoriam: Cyril Israileff of ASBA USA, Pearl Dealer & Jewelry Designer, Dies at 65

By Jennifer Heebner Editor in Chief

Cyril Israileff, Founder of ASBA USA, died recently after a long battle with cancer. He was 65.

Sons Joshua and Nicolai Israileff will carry on the business, along with Dominique Israileff, who started it with him in 1982.

Born in Geneva, Cyril’s father worked as an accountant for a Pearl dealer, giving him early exposure to the category on which he built his business. Cyril dropped out of high school and worked as a disc jockey for a period.

“He loved music, especially rock music, and was a huge Led Zeppelin fan,” says Joshua.

Cyril Israileff, ASBA USA, 1958 to 2023
Cyril Israileff, ASBA USA, 1958 to 2023

He moved to the U.S. in the early 1980s and started wholesaling Pearls with his wife, Dominique, out of their apartment in Los Angeles. The pair moved to San Francisco in 1982, running ASBA USA from there until 1992, when he bought a 10,000-square-foot factory in Sarasota, Fla., where headquarters remain today.

Cyril fathered three boys—Nathan, Joshua, and Nicolai—with Dominique. Later in life, he moved to Thailand and opened another office there. He died at home in January 2023.

Joshua remembers his generosity, among other traits.

“He used to pay off people’s layaways during the holidays for Christmas gifts,” recollects Joshua. “And on more than one occasion, if he saw a young couple out celebrating dinner, he would pick up the tab for their whole meal. He never did these things for praise, but he just knew not everyone had it easy and wanted to give people a reason to smile.”

Clients and friends, too, recall Cyril as always moving and working and helping the less fortunate.

Dominique and Cyril Israileff, ASBA USA, pearl shopping in Japan in the early 1980s
Dominique and Cyril Israileff, ASBA USA, pearl shopping in Japan in the early 1980s

Terry Wheeler of TK Wheeler Jewelers in Oak Ridge, Tenn., who did business with Cyril for 40 years, felt an “instant camaraderie” with him. “He was interested in helping to sell the product, and he really became like family,” says Wheeler. Cyril was also always ready to help. When Wheeler had real estate trouble in 2008, Cyril quickly offered up much more than advice. “He was a generous, trusting, and giving person,” adds Wheeler. “It’s hurtful when a person like that dies because there was nothing fake about him. He was the same to everyone everywhere he went.”

Jim Saylor of Jim Saylor Jewelers on Kauai, Hawaii, remembers Cyril as a straight-shooting fun and generous businessman (“He always extended unbelievable terms,” he says) who could talk politics and world perspectives with a keen, well-traveled understanding of different markets.

“He had good-quality strands in a variety of price ranges and was always looking to try out new things,” says Saylor. “He knew how to sell and was always up front about how he felt about someone—sometimes in colorful terms. His favorite restaurant on Kauai was a French-Pacific-Island-fusion-style spot called JO2, and the second he got into town he would ask me when we were going out to dinner together. He was a true friend for 30 years.”

Frank Ancona at Ancona Designs in San Francisco also had a long history with Cyril. For 30 years, Ancona bought one-of-a-kind loose South Sea and Tahitian cultured Pearls and strands from him.

“He gave me lots of help—references and generous terms—in the beginning of my business,” he says. “He was very knowledgeable. I didn’t travel much so I relied on what he knew. And whenever he came to town, he always had a ‘little treasure’ for me, he would say. ‘You are the only person who would appreciate this,’ he would tell me. I liked doing business with a sole proprietor. He was concerned about me as individual and wanted to make sure my business thrived.”

The family has already held a memorial service for him, but donations can be made in Cyril’s name to the Red Cross.