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Heart attack. Bankruptcy. Divorce. Jeweler David Nygaard has “learned to see beauty,” even in failure.

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David Nygaard’s 2018 win of a Virginia Beach City Council seat represented the closest race ever in the city’s history. He won by 163 votes, a margin so slim it triggered a recount. It also represented a new direction after Nygaard had a heart attack two years ago. “I coded in the ambulance and decided, after a time of reflection, that I wanted to have a greater purpose, and I’ve always been passionate about issues and politics,” he says. “I want to spend the last years of my life on social justice.”

He had hoped to run for a U.S. Congress seat, but when he didn’t qualify for the primary ballot, he shifted his focus to city council, running as a Democrat, another change. The final straw for his conversion from Republican to Democrat came with President Donald Trump’s tax bill, which Nygaard says hurt small businesses and people who were already struggling economically.

He also sought to live a more authentic personal life, and so he publicly came out as gay.

It’s just the latest chapter in the life of a jeweler that has taken a roller-coaster route in the past decade.

In 2008, Nygaard had already been a public figure in Virginia Beach, running a high profile multi-million dollar business. So when the bank seized his home and his seven jewelry stores, along with his inventory, it was big news in the community. He also went through a difficult divorce at the time.

But because he was well regarded, his fall from grace wasn’t as debilitating as it might have been. “Because we did a lot of charitable work in the community, a lot of people supported us,” he recalls. “The local media for the most part was supportive and helpful. And most customers were, too.”

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“You have to be upfront and own whatever problems you bring to the table,” Nygaard says. “One of the first things we did was work to protect the interests of our clients.” He refused to turn over any inventory belonging to his clients, if it had been paid for or if it was in his possession for repair. “We stood firm when they demanded customers’ items.” He brought those items to the one store he was able to reopen and gave refunds to anyone who was unhappy. “Things we were able to deliver, we delivered,” he says. “We took care of our responsibility and they supported us.”

The next thing he did was devise a new business model.

“When the inventory was seized, all I had was two software keys of Matrix and some old brass and glass samples, and I used those two pieces to create a new business model. I rebuilt a supply chain, and in some cases, we were able to work on the relationships with the same suppliers to do business again.”

Nygaard, who has an MBA and is also a certified gemologist appraiser, rebuilt his local reputation with one custom job after another and specialized in engagement rings, using 3D printing and CAD modeling.

After losing his multi-store business, David Nygaard rebuilt as a personal jeweler.

“Whenever you have death, you have life,” he says. “Bankruptcy was a death of sorts, but it forced me to come into a new business model that focused on new technology, 3D printing and CAD design. Virtual inventory without the high investment in inventory. We can make exactly what the client asks for with surprisingly affordable pricing. We make one ring for one person one at a time, but exactly the ring that they want so they don’t have to sacrifice in style or design things that they don’t like.”

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So, by 2016, he felt his life had stabilized when he was rocked to his foundation again by the heart attack.

He changed business models again when he began to seek public office, giving up his store in February 2018 and becoming an appointment-only jeweler. “I go to people’s houses, or they can come into my office in my home.” Ultimately, he plans to spend about a third of his time on his jewelry business, but currently his role as councilman is eating up most of his time.

Nygaard ran on a platform of creating local jobs, incubating small businesses and giving opportunities to small minority-owned businesses. “I’m an entrepreneur at heart, and I’m looking for creative solutions.”

As for the jewelry business, Nygaard’s advice to retailers is to be nimble and flexible. “I would be careful not to be too tied up with a business model that may be on the way out,” he says. “It seems to me that many aspects of a traditional jewelry business model are becoming obsolete. We must find new ways to bring value to our clients.”

And when it comes to his own experience, he says he had no choice but to keep trying.

“At the end of the day, you have to keep going,” he says. “The only time you fail is when you stop trying. I learned to see beauty in each aspect of life, whether it’s failure, or great success, or everything in between.”

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If his life hadn’t turned some unexpected corners, in some ways Nygaard says he would’ve been more comfortable. “But perhaps comfort is overrated. I certainly have had a much more exciting life.”

UPDATE: Unfortunately, Nygaard’s ups and downs continue. Just before press time, it was announced that his city council win was overturned as judges ruled he did not live in the district he represented. Nygaard is asking the city council to appoint him to the seat until a special election can be held. “I followed the rules the registrar gave me,” Nygaard told Norfolk’s WTKR.

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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