It's been nearly a decade since the last jewelry shop in downtown shut its doors and headed westward. All that remained was a sign and a $350 bejeweled martini offered by the new tenant, Sapphire, a Modern Bar and Grill. They even took the Hope Clock with them—a stately public timepiece that had called Gay Street its home since Hope Brothers Jewelry erected it in the 1890s.
And that's a sad lapse in history because, except for the previous indecorous decade, in the last 140 years or so there's been a nearly continuous line of jewelers that operated downtown. Benjamin Diftler and Max Friedman opened a store on Gay Street in 1923 in a building that still stands, although it's now an office and private residence. Eventually, Diftler moved on to start his own operation on Market Street from 1964 until 1997. Kimball's Jewelers, which moved west in 2004, opened its doors on Gay in 1933 after taking over Hope Brothers' business, founded in 1868.
Happily, the jeweler's line was restored in November when Rick Terry Jewelry Designs headed eastward from its stores in Farragut and Lenoir City to settle in the Arcade Building downtown (618 S Gay St.).
It's somehow appropriate that Rick Terry and his family have picked up the downtown legacy. "Nathan Diftler was my mentor," he says. "I ran a trade shop when I was younger. On Thursdays Mr. Diftler would visit and we would sit and talk." Terry's face lights up when he mentions the Diftler connection and turns to indicate a huge safe sitting in the corner. "It's a 1922 Moser safe that came to downtown in 1923. It's been painted, but if you look closely you can still see that it says Diftler's Jewelry."
While the safe and Terry's connection to the Diftler family certainly establish a connection to downtown, Terry's interest in the community is much more personal. When his son and daughter-in-law, Blake and Rachel, decided to leave Chicago and return home, "They wanted to live downtown. They were used to an urban lifestyle, so we started helping them look for a place. The more we came downtown, the more we loved it." Noting the growth of the area, Terry wondered why there was no jewelry store in the community. His son's homecoming allowed him the opportunity to fill that void.
Blake, whose training and degree are from the authoritative Gemological Institute of America, leads the new business downtown. He spent his time in Chicago working in the diamond industry. His return to Knoxville and landing downtown allows him to share a significant expertise in his field.
Rick Terry's interest and love of community is bedrock of his business. When he utters his slogan, "I want to be your jeweler," he means it. In fact, he's so earnest that you almost feel bad if you don't have a burning desire for a custom-crafted ring or even a bracelet clasp or a watch that needs fixing.
Terry emphasizes that there's a big difference between a jeweler and a regular old jewelry store. In many cases, a jewelry store is simply a merchandiser of goods. They may or may not be interested in or able to handle simple tasks like repairs or even watch battery replacement. He makes it a point of pride that he and his family can do that work: "We offer service, that's what distinguishes our business. We're craftsmen—we're tool junkies."
It's not just the element of craftsmanship that makes Rick Terry Jewelry Designs such an important part of the community; it's also the level of skill and counsel that he and his family and staff bring to the table. Of course they can fix things, but they're also able to help their clients decide when it's time to replace or upgrade a jewel setting. "We try to give good advice," Terry says, "when fittings are worn out or tired. Should we fix it or remount it and breath some new life into old jewelry?"
And if you are in fact looking for custom designed jewelry, Rick Terry is the guy to see. His younger son Matt is trained to operate a CAD/cam milling machine—a blend of computer, technology, and raw material that can take a design and start turning it into jewelry in what seems like no time at all for such beautiful things. They really do want to be your jeweler.