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Town Hopes to Immortalize Local Jeweler and Watchmaker with Sculpture

This Virginia jeweler had an amazing impact on his community.

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EACH YEAR, OUR DECEMBER Real Deal tells a story that helps bring to mind the amazing privilege afforded us by our industry, and that reminds us why we do what we do. This year, we are honored to share the story of Stanley Caulkins, a Leesburg, VA jeweler and watchmaker, and the amazing impact he had on the people in his community of Loudoun County.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual jewelry businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at [email protected]

We’ve all heard the story — many of us firsthand from fathers, grandfathers or uncles. It’s the story of the dedicated American hero who fought valiantly for our country in World War II, came home, and with the benefit of the GI Bill, learned a trade that would become a vocation, a livelihood, and in some cases, a hometown institution. Such is the story of Stanley Caulkins — aviator, jeweler, watchmaker, civic activist, icon of humility and true community leader.

Stanley was born in 1925 into a Baptist preacher’s family in Maine. At the age of 12, the family — including Stanley and his three brothers — moved to Leesburg, VA, the home of his father’s new church. He quickly became a familiar face in his new hometown, working to earn spending money through high school as a bellhop at the local hotel. While Stanley’s brothers went off to college (eventually becoming a surgeon, an engineer and a preacher), the self-described “black sheep of the family” chose a different path.

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Five days after his 17th birthday in 1942, Stanley enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He became a radioman, assigned to the 96 Bomb Group, 338th Bomb Squadron and spent a good part of his time during World War II flying food drop missions over the Netherlands. During an emotional 2012 video interview for Loudoun Laurels, a tearful Stanley recounted that time in his life, adding, “I have had ladies in my store who told me they were eating grass till we started dropping food there.”

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), with Caulkins at a Veterans Day event in 2015.

After the war, Stanley returned to Leesburg with the goal of learning a trade. He chose to follow the path taken by his maternal grandfather, who had been a watchmaker and goldsmith in Brunswick, ME. With the help of the GI Bill, Stanley enrolled at Peter’s School of Horology in Washington, DC, and began laying the foundation for a Virginia retail institution. After his training, he returned to Leesburg and went to work as a watchmaker in a small shop in the back of a local clothing store. In 1956, when a spot around the corner became available, he went out on his own, opening Caulkins Jewelers in the downtown Leesburg location he would operate for decades. His brother Roger — the engineer — joined Stanley in the business in 1970, making Caulkins a true family affair.

When asked about the secret to his long-term success, Stanley said, “There’s nobody that works for me that I wouldn’t give the keys to. I have trust. I have people who love me and I love them.”
Diane Canney, owner of Sunset Hills Vineyard in nearby Purcellville, VA, and friend and customer of Caulkins for over 20 years, says, “The old question is, ‘Who could you trust with your mother’s wedding ring?’ Stanley was my sure answer. Also, he had time to talk. You could come into Stanley’s shop six times, not select anything, and he wouldn’t chase you out.”

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While operating the store, Stanley took a leadership role in a wide range of community groups and civic activities. According to a Loudoun Progress blog post, Stanley was a “member of the local VFW Post, the Leesburg Town Council, an active Rotarian, a source of ‘reliable gossip,’ a voice of reason and man of action in local affairs.” He was a founding member of the Leesburg Airport Commission, and in 1962 helped lead the push to build the original Leesburg Airport. Later, Caulkins helped establish the currently used larger facility, where the terminal building today bears his name. “We built it with blood, sweat and tears,” Caulkins recalled of the effort. “I saw it as an economic tool for the town, the county and the region,” he said. “I was just a dumb watchmaker — but we built it.”

In 2015, a fire forced the Caulkins brothers to move their operation to a new location in the Virginia Village Shopping Center. Roger’s death and Stanley’s health challenges precipitated the store’s closing in the summer of 2017, after 61 years of operation. In the months that followed, Stanley crossed items off his bucket list at a pace few people half his age would contemplate. He spent time on the firing range, toured the Loudoun countryside in a motorcycle sidecar, took flights over the county, and hosted a constant stream of daily visitors and well-wishers at his home. With accomplishments that could easily have filled three lifetimes, Stanley Caulkins passed away Jan. 12, 2018, just three months past his 92nd birthday.

Sculptor Jeff Hall works on the life-sized clay bust of jeweler Stanley Caulkins.

The news of Stanley’s passing left many throughout Leesburg and Loudoun County feeling the sting of grief and loss. For Diane Canney, that loss felt very personal. She began looking for a way to honor the man who had touched her life and the lives of so many and who helped build a community. On the day before a public memorial service, Diane had an idea. She put pen to paper and began to sketch what she believed would be a fitting memorial. Her sketch depicted a bronze sculpture of the Stanley everybody knew sitting on a bench near his original store, with room for others to sit beside him. “Stanley would always make the time to sit and talk with people,” says Canney. It seemed like the ideal way to memorialize a man who did so much for so many.

Canney brought the sketch with her to Caulkins’ memorial service and showed it to his many friends. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and the idea came to life. The next challenge was to find a sculptor worthy of the undertaking. Friends of Leesburg Public Arts, a local non-profit organization, connected Canney with Lovettsville, VA-based artist Jeff Hall, a world-renowned sculptor. Hall apprenticed at the National Cathedral with sculptor Frederick Hart and has made his mark with works found in the Cathedral, at the U.S. Capitol and in other notable public and private spaces. He began the project by crafting a life-sized clay bust created from photographs, and a small clay model of Stanley seated. Hall will work these clay elements into a finished ensemble that will be cast in bronze at a foundry.

Hall has worked hard to incorporate different elements that were important in Stanley’s life into the bronze sculpture, including his signature jeweler’s loupe and penny loafers. He will hold a pocket watch to symbolize his beginnings as a watchmaker, an airplane in his lap for his work forming the Leesburg Executive Airport, and emblems representing his military service, the VFW and Rotary Club. A plaque on the bench will share Stanley’s life story, from his service in World War II to his stint as a Leesburg councilman.
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The last challenge to the Stanley Caulkins Memorial Project is securing the balance of funds needed to complete the sculpture. “We have raised a fair amount of funds to make this happen, but need more,” says Canney. The jewelry industry is the one large component of Stanley’s life that has not yet weighed in. For more information on the sculpture project and to donate via PayPal, go to leesburgpublicarts.org. Checks may also be made out to FOLPA and mailed to Stanley Caulkins Memorial Project, 312-F East Market St., Leesburg, VA 20176. Donations are tax deductible.

Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at [email protected].

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