Flying “under the radar” has worked well for JB, owner of JB Fine Jewelry in Tampa, Florida. For 35 years he’s been content using his talents to please customers and keep his employers’ stores on track with their busy repair schedules. He’s trained under master jewelers, dabbled in just about every stone or metal and has found tremendous satisfaction from putting life back into heirloom pieces that everyone else had given up on.
But over the last 10 years he’s started branching out; as in opening his own retail store and moving away from baguette and princess cut diamonds to the beauty of Ethiopian opals. JB is putting aside the “sweat shop” mentality of mass repair that honed his skills and taught him so much and is, in this phase of his career, sharing his unique, custom made designs for which he’s become so well known.
For a guy who’s been designing since his freshman year in high school, JB has kept a pretty low profile in the industry. Not one to submit his pieces for award consideration, his customers and clients are his judges and seem impressed, pleased and sometimes overwhelmed with the beauty of his custom designs.
You won’t find a CAD system in JB’s store. You won’t see laser fabricated products. JB is a staunch proponent of creating jewelry by hand with a torch, a hammer and files and he’s discovering people are interested in every step of the process.
“I look at today’s designs and so much is done on the computer with AutoCAD, but I still use a torch, not a laser, and I carve my waxes by hand with files,” he explains. “I handcraft the wire work by melting it into an ingot and then pull it into wire, and people love that.”
But talent and passion alone don’t make a business successful. As JB Fine Jewelry celebrates its 10th anniversary in business, the seasoned veteran looks back on the first few years recalling the difficulty his young store faced when the 2007 recession hit. Open only a year, the new store owner had to do what many retailers did, buy back gold.
“We opened in 2006 and the recession hit in 2007 and my partner pulled out around the same time. It was a rough time. I also had a very large 10-piece custom line fall through after nearly 10 months of work. I got by doing repairs for a major chain which meant driving all over town and working on a very tight deadline. I truly thought I’d lose my house or have to shut my doors. But then I had an investor talk me into buying gold and it kept me in business,” recalls JB.
Making it through those tough times earned the store a reputation for being honest, fair and caring. Many times customers came in asking for a redesign of badly worn pieces only to have JB work a little magic to make the piece look like new for little to no cost.
But his design talent didn’t go unnoticed. Carrying only custom pieces (no vendor lines appear in his store), JB’s customers have grown to love the talent and ability of the man behind the counter.
“I’ve been handcrafting custom pieces for 35 years, and have done everything from a custom pendant with 150 pavé diamonds for a Denver Bronco’s player, to a complete refurbishment of a 1930s wedding ring for a 96 year old woman. Her husband had been dead for 10 years, and we did more than just hand her the ring. We made a huge production of bringing her into the store and sitting her down and putting the ring back on her finger. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.”
Until recently JB’s designs centered mostly around colored gems and diamonds. But when a customer sold him Australian opal rough for the first time his opal obsession began. Carving opals became like buying a lottery ticket, as he watched the color and fire appear like magic. Today, the passion in his voice is evident when he speaks of Ethiopian opal, his latest “winning ticket.”
|JB’s latest passion is handcrafting beautiful pieces using Ethiopian and Australian opal.|
“I exhibited at a coin show with seven of my first opal pieces and sold every one of them. That’s when I discovered Ethiopian opal and now I have many more pieces in the works.”
When asked where his design ideas come from, he’s quick to point up explaining, “I get my ideas from the rough. It’s whatever the Lord leaves for me. That’s how I decide what shape the stone will be. Whether it’s my design talent or musical ability, everything I do is from Him.”