As a jewelry designer and seller, Thomas Jones of Jones & Jones Jewelers knows a thing or two about value. And he's contemplating his own after 40 years working in the industry around Portland's downtown and southwest neighborhoods.
Jones says he doesn't feel like it's been nearly half a century since he started his business in a small gallery mall in downtown Portland.
"It's gone by very quickly, actually," he says. "Things have changed tremendously since then, but it's gone by very quickly."
He's thrived as a small-business owner, he says, through a combination of hard work and "trying to do the best job you can to make sure the value is there."
Jones initially became interested in the industry when he was asked to sell jewelry on behalf of one of his father's banking clients on campus at his alma mater, the University of Oregon in Eugene. Though he "didn't sell very many rings" and never took much of a liking to the retail aspect, he very much enjoyed the idea of designing and working with his hands.
Jones ended up apprenticing in the Portland area with an established jeweler of French descent, who was known as "Frenchie."
"That's where I learned my trade," Jones says. "It was quite a good experience, because I learned the old way of how to make things."
Though technology in the industry has advanced tremendously since he started out — most jewelers now employ the use of computer programs to mock up a design — Jones still prefers the old way.
"It's kind of moved away from a lot of the hand type of thing," he says. "It was a lot more individual as far as the craftsman. Now the big design houses or diamond houses are selling stone-holders rather than nice design."
Because jewelry makers like him aren't the norm, Jones sometimes wonders if the average customer will not understand the importance of his hand-crafted designs and high-quality gem cuts — both of which increase price points.
"If you have a diamond that's cut properly," he explains, retrieving a diagram with different diamond cuts on it and pointing to a flatter option, "they're more expensive because it takes longer to do…The difference between those two stones can be as much as 50 percent, if everything else is the same."
Jones has a number of clients who are dealing with a piece that's come apart due to quality issues.
"They're not engineered very well and what's happening is a lot of those little stones are coming out because there's not enough metal to hold them," he says.
Similarly, a big aspect of Jones' business involves refashioning and restoring pieces customers bring in to him.
"We do a lot of repair for people. But our main focus has been, especially here in the Village, when somebody has stones they have to reset, then we try to redesign and reset their stones into something they're more comfortable with," he says."The designs have definitely changed."
He would know, having seen trends come and go over four decades.
Finding a place in the Village
During Jones' apprenticeship, he met a man who would eventually become his partner in his first business. They called the company Element 79 — a reference to the atomic number for gold — and moved into the Couch Street Gallery in Old Town in 1977.
Jones eventually branched out on his own and made it a family business; the second Jones in the title is his wife, Janet. He bounced around downtown over the years, moving four more times before relocating to the Village in 2011.
"The difference between downtown and the Village has been, for me personally, just a whole lot better," Jones says. "Downtown, I just didn't feel like — I felt kind of isolated."
Jones says that though he had a strong customer following downtown, he didn't feel the community support he feels in the Village.
"We had our store there, but we didn't really know any of the other store owners," he says. "Here, I know most of the store owners. I've met a lot of the neighbors that are in the area as far as, they've come in and supported us."
"My wife and I had been wanting to move out to the Village for a long time," Jones says, adding that he has no plans to leave.
Like they do every year, Jones will be celebrating his anniversary with a party that includes a cake with one gem hidden inside.
From 12-4 on Sunday, May 7 at their Multnomah Village location (7858 S.W. Capitol Highway), the celebration will also include 25 percent off finished pieces.
Doing what he loves, his way
Jones is a true tinkerer.
During a recent visit, I asked him about a piece of my own: an old ring my mother bought years ago in Arizona that now has a loose stone in its center. He inspected it, held it up to his ear and rattled the stone around.
Seconds later, he was in his back office at his desk and explaining that, with a ring like this, the stone — which has a natural, lopsided shape — was set with some glue or maybe a little tobacco. Over time, that adhesive settles and sometimes detaches stone from metal.
As Jones began carefully tightening the ribbon of metal around the small stone, I listened to the classical flute music playing from a desktop computer and my eyes wandered across his work station.
Plyers, tubing, tweezers, countless piles of what looked like various-sized nails, odds and ends of pieces in different stages of completion all littered the space. Though the workspace appeared cluttered, Jones says he knows where everything goes.
He told me the flute is his favorite instrument, and that he even plays a bit. When things get too "intense" while working on a piece, he says he'll pull out his flute to let off steam. He demonstrated by reaching into a slot in his desk, untucking a matte black cylinder from its home and playing a few notes of Irish music.
About three minutes later, he handed my ring back to me, its stone tight in its setting.