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Eileen McClelland

Longtime Jeweler Eases Into Retirement but Still Loves ‘Placing Beautiful Things With the Right People’

Jo Rosenblum King prepares to auction a treasured collection.

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Jo’s parents, Earle and Isobel and Jo Rosenblum King

JO ROSENBLUM KING is one of the first jewelers I got to know after I joined INSTORE in 2007. I met her at the Houston Jewelers Breakfast, a group that generously took me under their wing, and she helped me embark on assembling a fine jewelry wardrobe by selling me my first strand of pearls, which, true to her clienteling super powers, she remembers 12 years later.

Jo and her local “competitors” taught me that jewelers who cooperate can learn a great deal from each other. It was inspiring to see that collaboration in action as they traded advice, jokes and gems over waffles or scrambled eggs at the crack of dawn. It helped me understand, too, how INSTORE was a type of jewelers’ breakfast for retailers who might otherwise feel isolated.

Jo told me this week that although she did more or less retire a few years ago, she still has jewelry in her vault that she plans to auction. She wants to get the word out about that, because she wants each cherished piece to find the right home.

Since she joined her family’s business as an adult, her favorite part of selling jewelry was placing her favorite pieces in nice homes. “I began to feel like an adoption agency,” she says. She made sure they were presented in the best light possible, too, once packaging a charm bracelet of baby shoes (one for each of seven children) in a doll house. “Sometimes you had to go all out with certain customers and buy things to create a magnificent giftwrap,” she says.

Jo grew up knowing the value of personalized customer service.

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Her parents, Earle E. and Isobel (Billie) Rosenblum opened a mom and pop store in a downtown Houston office building in 1955 when downtown was still the center of the city’s commerce and populated with well-heeled oil-industry types. One of those Houston clients, a rancher, had bought a new Cadillac and wanted CZs set in the fins. They took on the job, but had to make frequent repairs because every time they visited the gas station, some CZs would wind up missing.

Earle and Isobel expected all of their children to work in the family business when they were growing up.

“We wrapped gifts to earn money,” she says. “We all spent summers and Christmas working in the store. My brother, my sisters, we all had to wait on customers. But as an adult I never had anything to do with it until they asked me to come help with the jewelry store when someone was on vacation.”

Suddenly, retail jewelry became a calling and not a chore.

“How bad can it be when you’re surrounded by beautiful things?” Jo says.

Earle died in 1996 and Jo bought Isobel’s share of the business in 1999 and moved into a retail space at the Hilton Houston Post Oak in Houston’s Uptown neighborhood.

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The space was tiny and narrow but Jo loved to fill it with hand-picked treasures and enjoyed meeting hotel guests from all over the world while continuing to nurture local relationships.

Her customers always appreciated her honesty about what looked good on them, or not so good.

And she enjoyed expanding their horizons and their appreciation of fine jewelry.

“Expanding their expectations was my favorite thing,” she says. “They’d come in with a little bitty earring and I’d bump them up and up to larger sizes. I liked finding things that looked good on them. I do have a good eye for that. I miss going to shows and picking out things that my customers would like.”

Jo doesn’t recommend retiring “cold turkey” and so she has continued to meet with long-term clients as a jewelry consultant since she closed her retail doors four years ago, while appreciating being able to sleep later.

Things had changed in the jewelry business at that point and competition had become incredible. “Everyone who ever managed a jewelry store would go out and open their own. There were so many jewelry stores,” she says. “When my dad first started there were a handful and Houston wasn’t half as large. But customers would trust you, they would assume you gave them a good price because you had been their jeweler forever. Now they want to buy it online and then see what you think of it, because they trust you.”

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“It was a nice career and a lovely business, placing beautiful things with the right people.”

Now she’s decided it’s time to sell the remaining jewelry from her collection, those special pieces still looking for just the right home.

For more information about Jo’s Fine, Fabulous and Funky Jewelry & Gift Sale, which goes live on Nov. 1, visit liveauctioneers.com.

Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.

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Wilkerson Helped This Jeweler to Navigate His Retirement Sale Despite a Pandemic

Hosting a going-out-of-business sale when the coronavirus pandemic hit wasn’t a part of Bob Smith’s game plan for his retirement. Smith, the owner of E.M. Smith Jewelers in Chillicothe, Ohio, says the governor closed the state mid-way through. But Smith chose Wilkerson, and Wilkerson handled it like a champ, says Smith. And when it was time for the state to reopen, the sale continued like nothing had ever happened. “I’d recommend Wilkerson,” he says. “They do business the way we do business.”

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