For a full century, Gesswein has been supplying precision tools and equipment to the jewelry industry and beyond. While the company has continuously freshened its stock along the way, some things never change, including after-sale service and attention to detail. A century of customer satisfaction goes a long way, and today Gesswein offers tools to the global manufacturing community.
Gesswein kicked off its year of celebration in Bangkok, where a recent open house for customers and industry leaders also included a salute to GessweinSiam’s 25th year and a significant expansion of its offices and showroom. Celebrations are planned later in the year for operations in Connecticut, Toronto and India.
“Certainly things have changed over the years,” says Chairman Roger Gesswein Jr., grandson of founder Paul Gesswein, who achieved the classic American dream after immigrating to the United States from Germany. “There have been vast changes with computers and all, even since the 1950s or ’60s. But some of the products we sell are virtually identical to what was sold back in the 1800s.”
The company, with 100 employees and well over 10,000 products, is living up to its founder’s vision of striving “not only to serve our existing customers, but also to win the trust of new ones.”
Turn of the Century in NYC
In the 1800s, Paul Gesswein was working in hardware for his uncle, Frederick, or F.W. Gesswein, in New York when he recognized that local craftsmen were looking for precision tools. He was inspired to start his own business, incorporating P.H. Gesswein & Co. in 1914. Importing tools from Europe, Paul soon expanded out of the city, traveling by steamer to Boston and leaving his Uncle Frederick behind.
“Frederick Gesswein had a large tool supply business with big machines as well as small items - polishing brushes, buffs, etc.,” says Roger Gesswein Jr. “I was looking through an old catalog from 1895, and there were all sorts of machines that would run with belts and pulleys. Factories in those days didn’t have electrical motors that would run each machine. Instead, they would have one big motor, and the overhead rods would be turning from that motor. Various machines would be attached to these overhead rods by belts. So there were all kinds of machines with no motors, but wheels and belts that would go up to the ceiling that would drive the machines. It’s fascinating.
“There was also a felt ring buff, which is used today as it has been for 100 years,” Roger says. “The buff is a wooden center covered with felt, put on a rotating spindle and then used to polish the inside of rings. F.W. Gesswein had a patent on it, which long ago expired, but the product is still being used just as it was. We had saw blades, piercing saws, products that cut a ring to size it... all that stuff is the same. A lot of products that were used 100 years ago are still used today.”
On the other hand, Roger notes, vast improvements such as Rapid Prototyping Modelmaking Machines are now sold by Gesswein, aiding computer-savvy jewelers in altering designs or creating new, exclusive ones.
The Next Generations
When World War II started, Paul’s son Roger Sr. had taken the helm and was finding it harder to import tools from Europe. He began cultivating sources in the United States, and after the war ended, Gesswein’s one-room store on Maiden Lane in Lower Manhattan expanded. In the early 1950s, Gesswein had 10 employees, 1,000 items, and a lot of customers who appreciated the company’s way of doing business. A line of abrasives was added that in turn led to another line of tools and a new catalog.
Roger remembers going to work with his father when he was young. “Sometimes I’d go on weekends, holidays, when I was maybe 14, and would play around the office,” he says. “When I turned 16, the legal age, I was hired and could do a little work such as getting coffee, going to the post office, unpacking bulk materials to sell in smaller quantities, and filling orders. As the years went by, I worked during vacations from school and summers.”
After Roger graduated from the University of Connecticut, where he majored in political science, he wasted no time returning to his roots. “I was happy to go into the family business, and it has worked out well,” he says.
In 1963, the company moved to lower Park Avenue, to a much larger space. After the third generation of Gessweins took charge, the business outgrew its space yet again and in 1978 decided to build in Connecticut. Just a few years later, Gesswein acquired two other adjacent properties.
“In the decade of the 2000s, business was up and down,” Roger says. “By 2007, things took a turn for the worse for the economy in general. We were able to consolidate into the one larger building and sell off the other two buildings. That, along with the foreign operations, has accommodated our growth.”
Gesswein today offers a broad range of products, “everything a jeweler would need in terms of tools and equipment,” Roger says, from tweezers and loupes to CAD/CAM and Rapid Prototyping Modelmaking Machines to new offerings such as ultrasonic handpieces that cut or polish jewelry pieces at amazing speeds.
The company’s 2014 catalog, with over 600 pages, features most of the their products. “We’re constantly adding new products, and we’re very active on the web with a new marketing chief (Ken Geriak),” Roger says. “All of our products are on our interactive website so jewelers can check prices, order online and thumb through the pages of our catalog online.”
Gesswein is known for its customer service, including same-day shipping, a large selection of products and high quality – “as opposed to companies that might cater to the home craftsman who wants a $3 pair of pliers,” Roger says. “We have some low-cost pliers, but we also offer very high-quality products that may cost 10 times that amount. Those are big sellers because people in our industry really want quality. We do a nice business with schools and large factories, including the biggest in the world that require proper pricing, proper quality and proper delivery. We excel in those areas.
“Thank goodness, business is good,” adds Roger, whose three young-adult children “may or may not” end up working for the company full-time. His nephews also work in the business, including Greg Gesswein, vice president in charge of industrial sales.
“It seems the business will stay in the family awhile,” he says. “We intend for it to.”