Last Friday Chatham Jewelers, Inc. celebrated its 65th anniversary—a noteworthy milestone for the family-run business.
Jewelry is, of course, often given as a gift to mark an occasion—an engagement, marriage, birth, birthday – or even to remember a special place, such as Chatham. Jewelry promotes romance, nostalgia, happy feelings.
“That’s what we’re in—the business of sentiment,” says Scott Hamilton, president and manager of the company. Today, to celebrate the anniversary, a platter of colorful butter cookies has been placed on the front counter next to a display of items evoking 1951. That’s the year Hamilton’s in-laws, Walter and Pota Meier, opened the store. On a stand is a picture book describing the world in 1951 and next to that is a photograph of the Meiers looking radiant on opening day. Walter Meier, who grew up in Switzerland and is now 91, still works at the store each day, behind the scenes rather than out front. Pota Meier, always a friendly face to customers, passed away in 2013.
The Meiers timed the opening of their store at 532 Main St. to capture the Christmas season. Due to construction delays, they opened the doors to the new store in the new building only two weeks and three days before Christmas day. The original jewelry store was half the size of what it is today, and the couple lived in the apartment upstairs where they raised their three children: Kathy, Walter and Martha. Pota’s father owned the building and business next door, the Epicure in Chatham, where he sold S.S. Pierce products.
Zoom forward to 1993. Hamilton, a native of Iowa, and Kathy had met through a Christian drama company and were living in California with their daughter Emily and with their second child, Matthew, soon due. Hamilton enrolled in classes at the Gemological Institute of America and was credentialed as a graduate gemologist. The pair moved east and into the apartment over the store where Kathy had grown up. And so the second generation entered the family business 42 years after it opened. Today Kathy Hamilton serves as secretary of the corporation. Kathy’s sister Martha also worked in the business before retiring from it about five years ago.
In the early days, brides chose sterling silver patterns. Chatham Jewelers started young women off with a gift of a sterling silver spoon when they graduated from high school in Chatham, Harwich and Orleans. That was back when sales were seasonal and Chatham was a seasonal town.
Sitting behind a counter in what was the original store—the store’s size was doubled in the 1970s by knocking a wall down inside the building—Hamilton talks about the business today. Around him jewelry is displayed in lighted display cabinets; a steady stream of customers walks across the red carpet to the front counter to replace batteries in watches and ask for assistance in choosing jewelry.
“We’re a full-service, independent fine jeweler,” Hamilton says. “We’re not looking to be the discount house—that has not changed a bit” since 1951. The company is among the 5 percent of jewelers to belong to the prestigious American Gem Society.
Something new in recent years, though, is the internet, which Hamilton says has altered all retail.
While you might be able to safely buy knitting needles or books online, “fine gem stones are not something that you can get a real feel for unless you can feel them in person,” Hamilton says. “The central thing is how pleasing it is to your eye. What is appealing to one person might not be appropriate to the next.”
One way Chatham Jewelers will always win out over impersonal online sales is through the counseling it offers. Let’s say you are a man who comes in to buy your prospective fiancée a ring. While Hamilton suggests you ascertain your girlfriend’s taste—after all, she will be wearing this ring for decades, if the marriage goes well—Hamilton has workarounds if that is not possible. Buy the best stone you can afford, within your budget. Set it in a simple solitaire that can be altered later. And if an heirloom ring is to be used, “sometimes it’s best to take that ring out of whatever Aunt Ethel had it in in 1920.”
Other assets of the store include a goldsmith shop where the store makes its own proprietary lines of jewelry such as “Chatham-centric” items. One is a 14K Cape Cod shell ring—bands of scallop shells with a mounted stone. The store makes shell, starfish, port and starboard lanterns and sand dollar charms for bracelets. It offers watches that say Chatham Jewelers on their faces. Nantucket baskets with tiny scrimshawed lids are available. One exclusive diamond ring appears in the 2016 film “Year by the Sea,” set in and filmed largely in Chatham.
With four gemologists on staff, the store appraises heirloom jewelry in its accredited gem lab. The store strings beads and pearls. It repairs watches, clocks and jewelry. It handles estate items. And, of course, it sells a wide variety of jewelry made of precious metals.
The store offers “fine jewelry when you want it to be right,” Hamilton says. “When you want it to be something special.”
For more information call the store at 508-945-0690 or visit www.chatgems.com.