Jeweler follows in father's footsteps

Published on Sunday, 11 May 2014 19:14 - Written by Casey Murphy, cmurphy@tylerpaper.com

 

Robert Johnson recalls the grand opening of his father’s jewelry store in downtown Tyler when he was 5.

Johnson’s Jewelers opened in 1953 in the W.C. Square, at the corner of Bonner Avenue and Front Street, and moved to Bergfeld Center a few years later.

Johnson, 66, started working for his father, C.F. Johnson, while in junior high school, polishing silver and brass and cleaning the shop.

“I knew early on I enjoyed it,” he said of the business.

When he was old enough to drive, he began making deliveries. His father’s was more like a department store and was the place to go for bridal and other gifts, such as China, crystal and silver. His dad retired in 1981, and two years later, Johnson opened R.J.’s Jewelers one door down from where his father’s store had been.

“It’s like home,” Johnson said of being in Bergfeld Center. “I grew up around this area. … I’ve probably spent more time up here than I have at home. It’s like family.”

Johnson said throughout the years, the business has had its ups and downs just like any other.

“I think we’re in the best place we could be,” he said.

Johnson said some of his customers are the children of his father’s customers. They get a lot of business from out of town, including people who have moved away from Tyler and now live in Austin, Houston, Dallas and Little Rock, he said.

Johnson moved to Dallas for about five years in the 1970s, where he continued working in jewelry, and was trained at the Gemological Institute of America in Santa Monica, Calif. before returning home and opening his own shop.

In his mid-20s, he began designing jewelry.

“I just kind of grew into that,” he said.

At R.J.’s Jewelers, he focusing on selling jewelry but has since expanded to gift items for wedding, baby, anniversary, graduation and other occasions. He offers free gift wrapping and delivery, as well as watch and jewelry repair and engraving.

At R.J.’s Jewelers, they have a bench jeweler who does the bulk of the repairs.

Johnson said they sell fine jewelry, including gold, platinum and sterling silver, as well as diamonds, pearls and colored stones. They also offer fashion jewelry, such as handcrafted vintage European glass and semi-precious gemstone jewelry designed by Patrice.

“We cover the gamut; all price ranges,” he said.

Johnson enjoys designing jewelry and the creativity that comes along with it. He has been designing wedding jewelry for more than 40 years. At the store, he also oversees sales and design and does a little bit of everything, he said.

His wife, Sandy Johnson, said customers bring in their family heirlooms for Johnson to repair or take pieces from to create new custom jewelry. She said they know a lot of their repeat customers by name, as well as their likes and their families.

Mrs. Johnson, 64, grew up in Tyler and met Johnson while they were both in their early teens. They went their separate ways and didn’t see each other for about 20 years. Soon after she moved back to Tyler from Dallas, they bumped into each other in town and dated for about 10 years before marrying 10 years ago.

Mrs. Johnson works as a paralegal for a local attorney during the day and helps out at R.J.’s Jewelers in the evenings and weekends.

“It’s just such a difference in my worlds; it’s nice,” she said of working at the business. She said people come in to the jewelry store happy because they are buying a luxury item that will make them or someone else happy.

They deal with occasions in people’s lives, she added.

“Men trust Robert completely,” Mrs. Johnson said, adding that they tell him what they want for their wife and trust him to pick out the best piece for the best price.

Johnson said they also offer men’s gifts, such as cufflinks, money clips, pens and key chains that can be engraved.

They also offer Seiko clocks and a personalized brand of watches, R.J.’s Watches; pewter, cast iron and sterling silver baby items, dishes and collegiate gifts; as well as crystal.

Joe Landers and Mary Kay Lust work at the store in sales.

Ms. Lust began working there part-time in October after working about 30 years for another retail business. She was at R.L. Davis and The Christmas Store from 1982 and stayed there through the business becoming Cole & Co. She retired three years ago until Johnson brought her back to work.

“It’s a happy business,” she said. “People like to come in and they’re happy when they leave.”