October 21st, 2018 is Aspen Jewelry Designs 25th anniversary. Twenty-five years. How many people are fortunate enough to do a job that they love for 25 years, and do it with there best friend.
When I was 18 years old I was convinced that I was going to own a jewelry store. My friends always said how lucky I was to know exactly what I wanted to do in life. I dont see it as luck, more like good fortune. When I was 18, I met my brother, my friend and my confidant, Rick Little. Eight years later, Rick and I opened Aspen Jewelry Designs.
It was a pretty big year for me. We opened our business in October, 1993, I married the woman of my dreams in April, 1994, and we bought our first house the following August. Kids came a little later, thank goodness!
It hasnt always been easy. Retail is a fickle you know what. But, somehow, through thick and thin, we always prevailed. We wouldnt have survived the last 25 years without the support of our community. I love that our customers are our friends and neighbors. I love that when I attend a charity benefit I see the same friends and neighbors there supporting the same cause. We dont talk about politics, we talk about helping people. Well, maybe politics come up a little.
Twenty-five years by the numbers.
My favorite sales have always been engagement rings and wedding bands. Being a part of such a happy occasion is a wonderful feeling that never seems to get old. Since 1993, we have sold, designed and created 5,001 engagement rings and wedding bands. When I saw that number I about fell off my chair. Included in that number is nearly 1,700 carats in diamonds. Thats a lot of carats! We seem to be pretty well known for replacing watch batteries as well. Not the real glamorous part of the job but an important part of our customer service. We have changed a mere 33,747 watch batteries since we opened our doors.
We have also done our fair share of jewelry repairs; 58,107, give or take a couple. That number really floored me. We have shortened watch bands, refurbished family heirlooms, and fixed that anklet that seems to break in a new spot every year.
Twenty-five years of friendship.
I love to reflect on how we started, what we have created, and the wonderful friends we have met along the way. I feel satisfied that we have built a business that has supported our families and our community. It really has been an incredible ride filled with memories that will last forever.
A big shout out to my goldsmiths, Ricky and Natalie. When a customer thanks me for repairing their ring or necklace, I say dont thank me, thank those two talented goldsmiths. They make my job a piece of cake!
Another shout out to Mike, Megan, and Erica for your dedication to Aspen. You make it a treat to come to work every day. And to Larry, Jeannette, David, Bryce, Carlos, Kacie and everyone else who has passed through our doors and helped make Aspen what it is today. And, to the lovely Jean Jones, Rick and I miss you every single day.
And finally, thank you Rick for believing in me and giving me the opportunity and freedom to live my dream for the past 25 years. If I wasnt already married…
Every once in a while, I'm presented with a challenging design. This can arise from many different inputs including the shape of the stone, the expectation of the customer, and my goal for the statement of the design as well as the desired genre, be that style or under what circumstances the finished piece will be worn. All of those elements come into play when I first hover my pencil over a blank sheet of paper.
The piece below was the perfect storm of all of those inputs. First, the stone was unconventional. It is a slice of flint, a softer stone used with steel to cause a spark and ignite a fire. The graceful curves of the stone belie the power of the millions of sparks that are locked inside its highly polished surfaces. The colors of the stone, a combination of creamy tan, grey, and black, make it both cool and warm. I didnt want to overshadow the cream with white gold or tone down the cool grey and black with yellow gold, a natural complement to the tan. My customer added a layer of complication to the process as well. She is, simply put, a wonderful person who extends to me a level of trust and artistic freedom that is as freeing as it is burdensome. Design whatever you want Rick. I know its going to be fantastic. Sigh… the pressure! Those words carry an added weight because this particular customer is always right on point. She is stylish and elegant, understated and confident, all class and home grown. I am honored to have been her jeweler for the past 20+ years.
In the end, the design I came up with used white gold to represent the steel, a bright white diamond at the top showing the spark, and rose gold to illustrate the glow of the embers in under a fire. Originally I wanted the stone at the top to be a fire red ruby but my customer decided on a diamond. The rose gold bar at the bottom, set with a row of diamonds, doesnt touch the flint at all. Both this piece and the frame are supported by a rose gold, back plate with curves that mimic the natural designs in the piece of flint, and are meant to show the slow curvy dance of a flame.
My customer wanted a pendant she could wear casually. I wanted to create something for her that matched her style and personality. She got simple elegance with a little bit of a spark. A perfect match!
My science project in high school was on diamonds, specifically, how diamonds are graded for cut, clarity, color and carat size. You may be more familiar with the term, The Four Cs, courtesy of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). My friends at Reston International Jewelers loaned me a microscope, tweezers, a diamond cloth, a variety of diamond simulants AND an actual diamond! I also had some charts showing the different grading scales. Needless to say, I had the most popular table at the fair.
One of the judges took a keen interest in my project. She asked me about the 4 Cs and I told her about each one in as much detail as possible, obviously trying to wow her into giving me an A. I told her that the better a diamond is cut, the more brilliance it had. The color of the diamond or better yet, lack of color in a diamond, helped with the brightness of the gem. The clarity grade is dependent on the size, location and the number of inclusions found in the diamond. A diamond is deemed to have a good clarity grade if the inclusions in the diamond could not be seen with the naked eye. And, the weight of the diamond was measured in carats, a word derived from the Carob bean. Carob beans are very consistent in weight and because of that they were originally used as the counter weights on diamond scales.
At this point I thought I was the foremost expert on diamonds in the entire county, maybe even the state! An A was definitely in my future. I was already picturing myself standing on the podium with my first place blue ribbon in one hand and my microscope in the other, raised over my head with fireworks going off behind me.
Then she asked: What is the refractive index of a diamond? I said: Refractive index? She said: Yes, its the measurement that tells you how light bends as it goes through a gemstone facet. Every gemstone has its own refractive index. What is a diamonds? I said: Is this a trick question? She said: No
Then she asked: What's a diamond's specific gravity? I said: huh? She said: You know, it's the ratio of a diamond's density compared to the density of a standard, usually water. Every gemstone has one. I said: Oh, yeah, the gravity, yeah….umm…I dont know.
Then she said: "Don't quit your day job"
Before I could tell her that this IS my day job, she was gone. Four years later, I earned my certificate in diamond identification and grading from the Gemological Institute of America. I really wanted to track down that judge and tell her; See? This is what happens when you dont quit your day job. Oh, and I still got an A.
This is my first blog, so bear with me. I feel as a first time blogger I should first give you an idea of who I am and how I got here. After I bore you with my background and a few family anecdotes, I will shower you, periodically, with interesting facts about gemstones, jewelry design, and jewelry care and occasionally throw in a story or two of my experiences in the retail jewelry world over the past 34 years. Experiences that I promise to be entertaining, at least to me.
In 1984 I was a junior at South Lakes High School in Reston and I needed a job. Back then, in order to find a job, you had to do it the old fashion way...look in the classifieds, in a real newspaper. Our big local paper was the Reston Times. It contained all our local news and had a decent size classified section. I remember weighing my options between three different jobs: 1) waiting tables at the local watering hole (Fritzbees for any of you old Restonians) 2) Life Guarding at one of the Reston pools and 3) Jewelry engraver and store helper at Reston International Jewelers. So, I omitted #1 since I was only 16 and would have to bus tables for two years and I was told the tips would be disappointing. I decided against #2 since I had frequented the Reston pools for most of my childhood and was not interested and anything that had to do with cleaning up someone's, well, #2. So that leaves us with #3. Intriguing as it sounded I was skeptical. What did I know about jewelry engraving? Store helper seemed like a no-brainer and it did say that training would be provided. I applied and as it turned out, so did several of my classmates. I must have impressed the socks off of them because after the third interview (yes it took three interviews to hire a 16-year-old store helper) they offered me the job. I think I was getting paid a little over $3 an hour but all I could think about was how $3 was a movie with popcorn and a drink at the Reston Twin (another for all you Restonians). I was going to see a ton of movies!
I loved the job and it seemed to agree with me. The owner, Elynn Eiss, had a great mind for business and to this day is the most interesting woman I have ever met. My manager was Larry Baldwin who told me that "if you are honest, a gentleman and know your product you can sell anything but don't, whatever you do, go into retail. It will kill you." What makes that quote funny to me is that we are both still in retail we own businesses across town from each other.
Soon after, Elynn hired a strapping young man named Rick Little. If Elynn and Larry were the reason I started in the jewelry business, Rick is the reason I stayed in the business. Hands down, I would not be where I am now without Rick's friendship, generosity and guidance and he would be the first to disagree. But, this is my blog and I read that a good blog is one that states honest facts. So, there you have it.
Let me wrap this up so we can get on to more important blogging. I will be 50 years old this December and since I was 16 there have been 7 months that I did not work in a jewelry store. Five of those months I worked at a trophy and engraving shop and two were spent riding my bicycle across Mexico with my good friend James Yamada when I was 19. I'd say that makes me qualified as an expert jewelry blogger.
I leave you with this: When my son turned 16 I told him he needed to get a job, because, that's what you do when you are 16 and one day you will need to take care of your mom and I and you better have enough in your savings to do so. He agreed that a job was a good idea but struggled with where to work. I said how about Chipotle or Safeway or even the UPS store which are all within walking distance of our house? That only frustrated him more. I asked him why he was frustrated and he said "Dad, what if I get a job at Chipotle and that's what I end up doing for the rest of my life?". Then I realized, that's what happened to me. Cheers, Kurt Rose