About fifteen years ago Kimball’s Jewelers closed their doors on Gay Street. Even an optimist would have been hard pressed to predict that the downward spiral in center city would reverse enough to ever return a jeweler to Gay Street. While a jeweler may not be an essential ingredient of daily life, the presence of one in the center city certainly signals a healthy downtown. History will mark the return of such an indicator to downtown Knoxville in November 2012.
Rick Terry Jewelry Designs opened its doors at 618 S. Gay Street, in the Arcade Building, this past week. I wrote about the purchase of the Arcade Building last April and my friend, John, wrote extensively about its history, here. This makes the third location for the business. The others are in Lenoir City and Farragut and the Farragut store is set for significant expansion in the near future. The downtown store will primarily function under the leadership of Blake Terry, downtown resident, certified gemologist and son of business owner Rick Terry, who recently moved to Knoxville from Chicago.
Blake and brother Matt, who runs the CAD/CAM milling machine to realize desired designs for jewelry, met me Saturday morning at the downtown location to give me a tour of the new store. I learned the distinction between a jewelry store and a “jewelers.” A jewelry store sells jewelry, which Rick Terry Jewelry Designs certainly does, but a jeweler does much more – and not every jewelry store has one. Rick Terry’s has a number of them.
A jeweler can size your ring, repair your watch or piece of jewelry, help design a piece of jewelry and bring it to fruition. “It’s all about stones and metal,” Blake said. He described the evolution of work with jewelry over the years including an explanation of some of the modern laser techniques which their business employees.
The work required to do specific repairs, to make pieces of jewelry and so on are performed at one of the three locations, depending on whose specialty is required and where the equipment is housed. Jewelry may be deposited for repair or consultations for a design may be held at the downtown location, just as they may happen at others. Blake noted that they do buy diamonds and gold, but it isn’t a major emphasis.
The family has a long history in the area, arriving from Louisiana in the 1970s in order for Rick and his brother to pursue vintage motorcycle racing. Their father, who worked as a jeweler in Louisiana, operated a Yamaha/Suzuki dealership in Oak Ridge while Rick went on to win three national championships in motorcycle racing. After graduating from Clinton High School, he married Patty and began work in the jewelry industry in 1981. Blake and Matt grew up in the industry. Blake remembers, “playing on the floor,” while his father met with Mr. Diftler to learn the business.
The connection with Mr. Diftler is an important one. Mr. Diftler, a prominent Knoxville jeweler, practiced his art in his store which sat approximately where the Country Music Park sits today. He later moved to Market Street in the Arnstein Building before leaving downtown. His safe which was purchased in the early 1920s and installed in his Gay Street store traveled with him to Market Street before being sold to Mr. Terry and taken to Lenoir City. The original safe is now back home, having recently been installed in Mr. Terry’s downtown location. Feels pretty good, doesn’t it?
I’d encourage you to drop by the storefront and consider taking any work or jewelry design needs to them, as well as considering a purchase from their inventory. On their end, this is a long-term, established business behind the new location and I think that bodes well for their long-term presence in the center city. For our end, are we ready to embrace a downtown jeweler once again?
The presence of the business in our midst makes a very affirming statement about our emerging community. Let’s make sure that affirmation is well placed by supporting them.