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Custom Jeweler Specializes in Gemstones and Client Connections

Retailer Judith Arnell says all jewelry sales stem from passion.

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Custom Jeweler Specializes in Gemstones and Client Connections

Jeweler Judith Arnell ran eight marathons in 18 months after taking up running at age 70. She did it to support the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society after her daughter Andrea was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. “I love it. It made me believe that anybody can do anything if they just put their mind to it.” Arnell began her jewelry career in Chicago, opening her own business on Michigan Avenue in 1976. Now she owns and operates Judith Arnell Jewelers in Portland, OR, on the 14th floor of an o ice tower with a view of Mount St. Helens and the city; Andrea manages the Chicago location

WHY RETIRE? People say, “Why don’t you retire?” Why would I? I’m passionate about the industry and I love the gemstones. I keep on plugging away because I can’t imagine not doing it.

CUSTOM CONSULTATIONS. I’m not a typical store. I spend an hour to two hours with every client. I want to make sure they’re getting exactly what they need.

PAST LIVES. Jewelry is all I wanted to do since I was very young. I was reincarnated! My parents said, “You can’t be an art major!” But I said I want to learn how to make jewelry. I got a degree in fine arts and advertising.

ADVENTURE BOUND. I love to travel internationally at least once a year. And I scuba dive. I spend a lot of time under water. I also snowboard, I run, I enjoy rafting and hiking, I like to be outdoors. But during the week, I’m working.

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ONLINE EXTRA: Q&A with Judith Arnell

How did you get into jewelry to begin with?

I was reincarnated. That’s all I always wanted to do since I was very young. My parents said, “You can’t be an art major,” but I said I want to learn how to make jewelry. I got a degree in fine arts and advertising. I’m happy I went that route. When I graduated, I got an apprenticeship at a shop and learned how to build jewelry properly. The first apprenticeship was carving waxes and casting. The second was building jewelry completely by hand. After that I opened my own shop and built my business.

What motivates you to continue?

People say, “Why don’t you retire?” Why would I? I love what I do. I’m passionate about the industry and I love the gemstones. I keep on plugging away because I can’t imagine not doing it.

How has your move from street level retail in Portland’s Pearl District to the 14th floor of an office tower changed how you do business?

It’s appointment only now. I like it, my customers like it. I don’t have the business I used to have. There are no walk-ins at all. But I can eliminate some employees, which is a good cost savings. Everyone wants to come in and see me. The disadvantage is I have a huge inventory, and people are coming in for custom pieces. Since each piece is unique or individual, I don’t want to put a price tag on it for e-commerce because it needs explanation. I show samples on the website and we do the transaction by Zoom calls or by them coming in.

Where does your inspiration for jewelry design come from?

I generally buy the stones first. I study the stone and think about it. Every mounting has to enhance the stone. The stone is the most important. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it and put it into action. I do go to all the shows and see what’s important in the industry. I like to read jewelers magazines to see what direction designers are going in. I want to be current, but I am very classic. I’m not into the crazy artsy things. In the early 2000s everybody wanted an old mine cut engagement ring and I collected quite a few pieces.

What is the secret to your rave reviews and testimonials?

I’m not a typical store. I spend an hour to two hours with every client. I want to make sure they’re getting exactly what they need. They’ll tell me, “I’ve been to four different jewelers and I just didn’t feel it. You’ve made me feel comfortable and I’m hugely happy.” When I was in the street level location and had more employees, my employees didn’t always have the same passion. I couldn’t sleep at night thinking of that. Every small or large purchase needs special attention. They were so anxious to make a sale, they were there for the paycheck. While I was there for the love of the industry.

Did selling custom come naturally to you?

I’m extremely outgoing. I stop people on the street and talk to them. My parents were amazing and taught me the value of a relationship and how every person is important. That’s the way I’ve been my entire life. I truly in my heart believe it. I want to please people, and it does show.

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What do you personally like?

I made a beautiful sapphire ring with fantasy square cut diamonds going down the shank. It’s such a classy piece, I decided I couldn’t sell it. I’m especially attracted to sapphires, and I have a pretty large collection of rings and jewelry plus loose stones.

What advice do you have for fledgling jewelry designers?

If you don’t have a passion for the jewelry, don’t bother. All the sales come from the passion that you show for your customers. Start with going to the GIA and knowing the stones before you get into it. Know what you’re getting into. Study gemology. See what’s current, see what you like. And you need the passion.

Why did you take up running at age 70?

I ran eight marathons in 18 months for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society after my daughter, Andrea, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Prior to that I had never run a step in my life. I started to train at age 70 and ran my first marathon in 2018. I love it. It made me believe that anybody can do anything if they just put their mind to it. I raised more than $20,000. My daughter is fine now, but I still worry.

What do you enjoy when you’re not working?

I love to travel, internationally at least once a year. And I scuba dive. I spend a lot of time under water. I was in Honduras a couple months ago for a dive trip. I usually go on one of those every year, an Intensive diving experience. I also snowboard, I run, I enjoy rafting, hiking, I like to be outdoors. But during the week, I’m working.

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