Like many top-tier jewelers, Perry’s Diamonds and Estate Jewelry of Charlotte, N.C., grew exponentially from modest roots: in this case, a humble Toyota station wagon.
Ernie Perry and wife Priscilla got their start in the 1970s fundraising for charities, driving all over central North Carolina to pick up donated jewelry and sell it at flea markets. One of their clients was the Jerry Lewis Telethon, which would feature the offerings on camera.
“We thought that Toyota was our Cadillac limousine,” Perry recalls. “We were having fun with costume jewelry, and flea marketing was a fun event.”
Forty-plus years later, Perry’s operates from a storefront of about 12,000 square feet and employs 34 people, including 10 GIA Graduate Gemologists. With Priscilla semi-retired, daughter Hadley Perry shares leadership as chief operations officer, concentrating heavily on marketing. Esteemed appraiser Jennifer MacLeod oversees some 2,000 square feet of dedicated appraisal space in the form of three private offices with state-of-the-art equipment.
Ernie Perry got his start in jewelry in the 1960s by taking a two-year management training program in Greensboro at Carlyle & Co., which operated the course and a chain of Jewel Box stores before closing and selling in 2015.
By 1978, the Perrys decided to park their jewelry-toting car and open a stationary storefront. Their first retail home was in an office building on Independence Boulevard before opening in Charlotte’s SouthPark mall, where they enjoyed their unique status as independent jewelers in a world where malls mostly hosted chain stores.
Positive experience aside, Perry’s eventually outgrew its space in the mall, which Hadley recalls as being less than 1,000 square feet and unable to accommodate the burgeoning need for office, shop, and appraisal space as well as a larger showroom.
The “new” store, about 10 years old now, commands a highly visible front-facing space in a large office building across from the mall, with plenty of close parking and ample interior elbow room.
Hadley, who left her successful practice as an insurance defense attorney to join the business around the time of the move, says the new dedicated appraisal space, completed about a year ago, further strengthens Perry’s dominance in the jewelry marketplace.
“I don’t know of anyone in Charlotte who does this much appraisal business,” she says.
MacLeod agrees: “It really sets us apart. It’s very private, high-end.”
A Fellow of the Gemmological Association of Great Britain and an active member of the American Society of Jewelry Historians, MacLeod has worked with such agencies as the Department of Homeland Security and the Drug Enforcement Agency as well as The Fine Art Group, which advises art financiers and collectors internationally.
While her work for The Fine Art Group entails travel around the Southeast, MacLeod appraises jewelry for a large clientele base at the store that includes banks, attorneys, and estate executors.
With Hadley handling the daily operations of the business and MacLeod the appraisal operation, Ernie coordinates the antique and estate division, his “real love” from the start.
“You think you’ve seen everything, and then another lot comes in and you see what unimaginable pieces people buy,” he says. The store has built an impressive business taking center stones from estate jewelry and refashioning them into more-contemporary pieces while keeping items with historical significance intact.
MacLeod and the Perrys recently attended the JCK Show in Las Vegas and came back inspired to build on the education and connections they made.
“Anything I can learn – I’m like a sponge,” says MacLeod. “If it’s a gemology course, I soak it up. I go to seminars, conferences. You have to keep learning all the time, it’s the only way to stay on top.”
Hadley expects to parlay the experience into the acquisition of some one-of-a-kind couture pieces and build upon the event-based marketing ideas implemented before the pandemic started.
“We’re getting ourselves well-positioned for a generational shift in wealth – a big shift from the Baby Boom to the younger generation,” Hadley says.
Ernie agrees: “The biggest transfer of wealth in history is about to happen.”