John Wade                     
My start in the jewelry business came as a result of being the travel companion to my semi-retired parents and a regular family vacation to the west.  One such regular visit was to Virgin Valley, Nevada where my uncle, Charlie Eddy, had an opal mine.  It was his passion and interest in mining that inspired me.  He taught me lapidary and my fascination with jewelry began.  I was a short kind of square guy with no true athletic talent but it was my best asset when the girls found out I could make jewelry.  I taught myself some silversmithing, but it was nothing more than a hobby.  After a year in college in learning about electronics repair, I realized I was simply not cut out for this type of work.   I wanted to work with my hands.  My parents supported my thirst for wanting to learn more about jewelry making and encouraged me to enroll in Gem City College in Quincy, Illinois, a school for jewelers and watchmakers. I took the fast track curriculum of all of their courses in watch repair, clock repair, hand engraving, and jewelry.  I graduated in 1978 with an Associate’s Degree in Horology and Jewelry Making.   Jewelry making came naturally to me with an ease of understanding and balance of both the mechanical and technical processes matched with an artistic flare.  Finally, I felt that being a little guy with tremendous upper body strength made me the perfect physical fit for being a hand engraver.

My professional career in the jewelry industry began 38 years ago. I have worked in stores, operated a trade shop, owned a retail store for over 10 years and have now returned to operate out of a studio.  I do custom design by appointment and hand engraving and custom for the trade.  I created a Bridal line and a line of fashion jewelry  that is now sold in a few retail jewelry stores on the east coast as well as online.  My jewelry captures an element of hand engraving and old world craftsmanship with new design styles for today’s fashions.

     A gold buyer brought me this
   emerald, which was mounted on
     a ring and was badly cut. I re- 
        cut it, designed and built
       this pendant using his gold
                   and diamonds.

My jewelry studio and showroom is a 1600 sq. ft. building with a separate driveway beside my home.  This building allows me to have a nice shop to work from, a casting room, as well as a small showroom/consultation area, and an office for my part time book keeper.   My wife Rita runs my marketing, social media and website design from a separate office.   The minimal overhead while offering the same services I provided in my full retail operation has allowed me to develop even more customers wanting that personalized and hand crafted product at a fraction of the cost of mass produced inventory found in a traditional jewelry store.  While many who love the ebbs and flows of retail, or as I might better describe as a roller-coaster ride, I consider my favorite memory of my career was the day I closed the retail store and moved to this much less stressful situation.
Traditional retail is not for everyone but it allowed me to be exposed to the public and for them to get a taste of what I offered.  It was truly a journey and had I not captured the audience of close to 6000 customers over my 10 years along with their contact information, I might not have eased into this situation quite so gracefully. Today my customers have complete access to me through my store phone number, my cell phone number and online where they are able to make appointments with me throughout the week for design services.  I hand draw sketches of what they are looking for and quote them an exact finished price.  I’m able to close over 90% of these sales with either my hand drawn sketches or with the use of Stuller’s 3C Flex Designs I have fully loaded with my own logo on my website.  I do not do CAD/CAM but if someone wanted or needed something I was not able to carve I know who to call…Stuller!  All of my pieces are either hand carved waxes or fabrications, or both.  What I enjoy the most is designing.  I like building and delivering a one-of-a-kind diamond engagement ring.  It is very rewarding when someone puts their trust in my skills for the most important purchase of their lives.

     I engraved the family crest on this
                        gold pendant

Most of my designs include hand engraving, which gives them a uniqueness that can’t be found in massed produced jewelry. Many of my customers give me materials that I am able to re-use in the design of their new ring.  Along with my retail sales and services I also have stores that send me items to hand engrave, from baby cups to golf trophies to family crest rings.  For most of my career I have been known in the industry for years that if I couldn’t fix something that no one was likely to be able to fix it.  I have a large wholesale client that has a trade shop with dozens of jewelers doing repairs for hundreds and possibly thousands of stores across America and when they get a tough one… they send it to me.   Repairs have always been a big part of my business for many years.  I continue to provide repair services for my retail clients.   I first became aware of Stuller about 25 years ago when I did repairs for a store in Des Moines, Iowa.  In the early 90’s findings suppliers required minimum purchases, and it would take about two weeks to get the product.  I was the only jeweler for all three of the Plumb’s jewelry stores and we had to keep a big findings inventory.  Stuller offered no minimums and next day delivery. That was the end of keeping all that money tied up in findings inventory.
The challenge I found myself experiencing and see many jewelry stores facing today is that marketing products and services to customers moved at an exponential rate and before I knew it my traditional marketing resources were almost obsolete.  The only thing that has stood the test of time is word-of-mouth and while it may not necessarily be in a conversation from person to person, I am thankful that social media has kept the spark alive.  Seventeen years ago, I only did wholesale hand engraving.  I would print a paper catalog and price sheet and send it out to stores.  Today, I have an online catalog and a retail website.   Fortunately I had the intellectual
resources from my wife and a daughter who studied graphic design in college.  Without them, I might have been in the same place many stores are today.

   These bracelets are part of the line I build 
           and sell both wholesale  and retail


The fact is that many stores simply do not have the resources or the desire or willingness to make the changes necessary to adjust to the shift in advertising.  Millennial’s and Gen-Z’s  don’t read the newspaper;  they don’t listen to commercials on the radio when they have Sirius XM in most of the cars that were built after 2005 or watch traditional TV when it’s easier to TiVo the shows they want to watch or Netflix and Hulu with no commercials.  They will spend money to not be exposed to advertising.  Advertising on social media must not look or sound like advertising.   If you want to sell diamonds and engagement rings, you have to reach this age group in less obvious ways.   You almost have to sneak up on them and your message has to be coated in something they are interested in or it will go unheard.  The other thing I see is an unwillingness to embrace a point of sale system.  Older stores, who have been operating on paper, don’t want to have to learn a point of sale program.  I see them saying “It’s just gotten too hard and too complicated.  I am going to run a GOB in a year or 2 and just close it down.”

What I am doing now has become a trend and confirms my decision to make this move. I know of three other jewelers that have or are about to become by appointment studio jewelers.  Operating by appointment and wholesale has allowed me to be a little more flexible with my schedule.  When the weather is nice, I arrange a three or four day weekend, pack up my dual sport motorcycle with camping and fly fishing gear and head off to the North Carolina Mountains. There are also a couple of dual sport rallies and get-togethers that I enjoy attending, We all tend to be middle aged guys who like to spend as much time as possible in the middle of nowhere.

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