I’m often asked, “So what’s the difference between a regular jewelry store and your goldsmith shop?” I answer, that’s where the magic comes to play. Most jewelry stores simply sell jewelry or watches and if they accept repairs or custom work they will most likely “send it out” somewhere to someone. Rewind the time machine to the year 1978 and that somebody, somewhere would have been yours truly.
I ran my own jewelry repair shop and did the work for many of Boston’s prestigious jewelry stores, both in the city and its suburbs, and at that young age I was busier than a one armed paperhanger covered with fire ants.
Besides doing repair and antique restorations for numerous established jewelers, I was also busy with jewelry made-to-order or custom work for my own private clientele. Things were going pretty well then (1980s). I got married and had a kid, and soon after I hit the wall at age 26.
Apparently working 70 hours a day, seven days a week for what seemed like an eternity didn’t sit well with the missus, but back in the day that’s what it took to be a successful goldsmith/bench jeweler.
I was young and got tired of making other jewelers wealthy working long hours and my fingers to the bone. In those days we worked by the piece, not by the hour. I decided I had enough, I can run my own retail jewelry shop and call it “The Jeweler’s Bench” and make myself rich. How hard can it be? The town nearby to where I resided was called Marblehead (and so was my head at the time!).
Marblehead was an old wealthy Yankee sailing town, and in the spring and summer was packed with big yachts and hundreds of sailboats. Marblehead, Massachusetts is supposedly the birthplace of the Colonial American Navy, which is today’s U.S. Navy. It also had some of the state’s most prestigious yacht and country clubs. I’m pretty sure the Kennedys and other famous mucky mucks hung out there in the ‘60s. The town was jumping with tourists in the spring and summer.
So I bet now you are thinking, how could I lose? That’s exactly how I felt… it ended up being a five year learning curve I would never forget! I invested everything I had in renovating a broken down below street level hovel, right down to custom-made oak showcases, only to be cited by the town hall for “destroying” a town landmark because I painted the ceiling white to brighten the below level hole in the wall a bit. I was required to sandblast all the paint off and return it to its original condition, and luckily, I only received a slap on the wrist.
Needless to say they watched my every move during the renovation or lack of one, and it dragged on and on for months before everything was completed (which included my bank account).
It gets better. On the grand opening week in January of 1980 (Yeah, the town permitting inspectors made me miss the Christmas shopping season!), the price of gold soared to the unimaginable height of $800. It was around $200 for like forever before that! Even silver spiked to an all-time high. My new how could-I-lose, sure-fire business was cut off at the knees before I knew what was happening.
All that and the fact that I was the new so-called “yuppie” in town who defaced a town landmark, so I wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms. All I could do at that time was grin and bear it.
In the midst of all this, something magical happened. I now had time to do what I do best and that was designing and creating beautiful pieces of jewelry. I created wonderful nautical and sea life jewelry and did a few newspaper ads portraying my work and things kind of progressed from there. My business that first summer was in my mind… outstanding, considering what I had been through. Oddly enough, the word of mouth and results of my repair and antique restoration experience got around the small seaside town and I kept pretty busy even in the off season, which is winter in them-there parts. Business was so good I moved up the street to a larger location in a new strip mall next door to the town’s only convenience store.
One of many economic recessions hit New England in the following years and it severely affected all luxury businesses. The locals and the tourists alike began spending their nickels like manhole covers and I was forced to close the business.
Call it Karma if you like; I eventually ended up here on Marco Island (or Mayberry with sand) in 1994 doing exactly the same thing with better results.
Summertime is the perfect time of the year in my workshop to get your jewelry inspected, repaired or to have your pearls or beads restrung, and save some money too! Take advantage of the space in our parking lot in August!
Richard Alan is a designer/goldsmith and owner of The Harbor Goldsmith at Island Plaza and welcomes your questions about all that glitters. Contact him at 239-394-9275 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit his informative website at www.harborgoldsmith.com.