... and how I caught the jewelry design "bug"
Note: This "bio" is meant for those who'd like to get to know me a little better, so it's a bit long. But it seemed right for my blog.
For a shorter version, visit my website's about us page.
I am often asked how I got into the jewelry business. Did I inherit my store? Did I have family in the business?
No, my father is a veterinarian, my one grandfather was an architect, my other grandfather was a photo engraver for the local news paper, and my great grandfather (who lived until I was 16 and was the only person to ever call me Davy) was a printer. The truth be told, jewelry found me, or I found jewelry depending on how you want to look at it.
Ever since I can remember I have been fascinated with small things and I have always loved to work with my hands. Just about every penny I had as a kid went to buying model kits of all kinds. When I got tired of that, or there was nothing else that caught my imagination, I started branching out to design and create my own kits.
My grandfather, the architect, had a lot do with this. He was into everything that I found interesting; design, buildings, boats, history and if all that was not enough, he could even make original ‘things.’ In my office sits a model of a boat he designed and made, entirely by hand, for me when I was about ten or eleven. Not only is it a handsome boat with its graceful gently sloping lines, it is also a remarkable work of craftsmanship in its own right, made even more remarkable given that my grandfather was partially paralyzed on his left side by a stroke the year I was born. Eventually there was a series of six of these boats, every one of a unique design and each entirely hand made, one for each of his grand children. It was from this man that I got my earliest, and in some cases best, education in design and craftsmanship.
My early education often consisted of a one-handed drive around town in a bus-sized Lincoln being quizzed on various architectural styles and the design merits, or not, of this building or that. It was from these afternoon drives, interrupted by the occasional laying on of the horn and swearing at an errant driver and the more frequent stops for “five dollars of high test please,” that I learned my most valuable lessons – from a master in line, form, space and proportions. My grandfather died when I was fifteen and I still often wish he could critique with me a new design I am excited about just like we used to do when I was a kid.
Around this time, I got my hands on some sterling silver wire and a couple of black star sapphires. I don’t remember where the silver or the sapphires came from, but along with a scrap piece of some exotic wood (from the parquet flooring in our house) I decided that I would try to make some jewelry as gifts to the family. It was only a little bit of wire, some scrap wood and a couple of very inexpensive, poor quality star sapphires, but I was hooked.
Between my sophomore and junior years in high school I got my first formal education in jewelry design and metalsmithing. I attended a summer program for high school students at the Rhode Island School of Design. It was the best, most exciting summer I spent as a kid and from that point on there was no question about what I was going to do. I was going to design jewelry.
School or good grades where never a strong point with me given my tendency to be more interested in what ever project I was working on at home. So there were some tense moments when it came time to apply to college. Thankfully, and not because of my grades, I was admitted to the prestigious School for The American Crafts at Rochester Institute of Technology. It was there, studying under some of the greatest artist/craftsmen of our time that I honed my skills. It was at RIT that my love of design, and my passion for jewelry, grew to become the obsession they are today. I graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Jewelry Design and Metalsmithing in 1983.
But, I was already on the road to jewelry heaven. Back in 1982, my junior year at RIT, I co-founded, along with my good friend John Keim, my first company, Richards and West, the name coming from our two middle names. We slaved over our designs in John’s basement and in July of 1984 I had my professional debut. I presented as a designer at the New Designers Room at the Jewelers of America trade show in New York, which at that time was the premier jewelry show in the industry.
The very next year, 1985, I won the esteemed DeBeers Diamonds Today Award for a pair of onyx and diamond cufflinks I had designed. What could be more exciting than that? To me? Nothing.
Over the next eight years, with a lot of hard work, the company grew into, and still is today, a highly regarded manufacturer of fine jewelry, with a client list that includes major jewelry retailers as well as other jewelry manufacturers and jewelry designers.
As time went by and the company grew, I was less and less able to do what I loved the most; the designing and crafting limited production fine jewelry as well as one of kind pieces for individual clients. I knew it was time to move on.
For a brief time I was a designer for Reeds Jewelers out of Buffalo, but I do not do well in a corporate world – I always have to do things, especially when it comes to jewelry, my own way. So, I had my sights set on a store of my own.
While I was at Reeds I felt the need to expand my technical knowledge of all the wonderful gems I so loved to work with. I started taking gemology courses with the Gemological Institute of America. In 1993, I received my degree in gemology. This was just the beginning…
In October of 1991, I opened the fine jewelry store I own today, West & Company Jewelers, in the village of Webster, New York. Back then, it was a tiny store, with only about three hundred square feet, most of which was taken up by my shop. We had only two display cases and almost no inventory (and even less customers!). I had spent my career up to this point in the wholesale side of the business, where my reputation was fairly well known; the public however, had no idea who I was.
Along with the tireless help of my wife, JoAnne, we built the business one client at a time, and we grew. Our first major expansion was in the summer of 1994 when we moved to a much larger space in a strip plaza in West Webster, NY. We hired our first employees, worked very hard and the store grew as the word spread.
In 1998 I was invited to start the long application process to become a member of the American Gem Society. The AGS is the most prestigious and restrictive organization in the jewelry industry. Membership is reserved to only the very best, professional, ethical and knowledgeable jewelers (less than 1500 stores in the US). Members must not only be tested on their gemological knowledge yearly, but they must always maintain the highest ethical standards in the industry and always put the customer’s best interest first. It was with great pride that I was admitted into the society in 1999. I am very proud to hold my titles of Registered Jeweler, Certified Gemologist, and Certified Gemologist Appraiser, thru the American Gem Society.
In 2000, I was one of the very first jewelers in the country to start working with the emerging CAD (computer aided design) and CAM (computer aided machine) technology that is poised to revolutionize the jewelry industry.
In 2002 we expanded again and built a free standing, 3300 square foot store not far from our old location. Today we not only have customers from the greater Rochester, NY region, western and central New York State, but thanks to the internet, customers from all over the country.
I love jewelry, diamonds, gemstones, platinum gold and silver. I could not and would not change careers. I owe my continued success to working in an industry I love, and to my unwavering commitment to the craft of designing fine jewelry of the highest quality.