At The Jeweler’s Bench on Carteret Street, the word “yes” is the most popular accessory. No matter what piece a customer is looking for, David and Gwen Kinard are determined to make it happen for them.
A native of Fairfax, S.C., David, who is called Pat, attended the Art Institute, studying advertising and design, and graduated second in his class. Although he worked in political and collegiate advertising after college, Kinard felt that he wasn’t following the path he was meant to.
“I was out jogging one day, and talking to God, and I thought, ‘Hey, one day, I’d like a dog, and a house, and a wife, and a car, and I just need a career to get me there, something well-thought out and unique.’” Luckily, fortune smiled on Kinard.
Kinard’s father met a man who was liquidating a jewelry store in Hampton, called Kaiser’s Gifts. “He told me about it, and I just thought, ‘That’s it,’ ” said Kinard, “I bought the store from him about a week before Christmas in 1980.”
From there, Kinard’s business grew. At first, Kinard sold pre-designed jewelry, and had his repairs outsourced to other companies that would do them within a few weeks and send them back. However, Kinard and his wife found the wait to be an inexpensive and time-consuming ordeal.
“One of my suppliers sold the tools for repairs, and offered a class on it in Little Rock, Arkansas, and I decided that I could do it,” said Kinard.
Driving 24 hours each way, Kinard enrolled in a weeklong class, which taught him the skills to set stones, and resize rings. A few weeks later, the tools they had ordered to start their own repair business arrived, and the Kinards began doing their own in-house repairs.
“Experience is the best teacher,” Kinard says, “You do it once, and if you see that it needs work, you go back, sit back down, and fix it, the way you would if you were setting a ring for your mom.”
It’s this customer-oriented outlook that sets the Jeweler’s Bench apart from their competitors, in Pat Kinard’s eyes. “There are people that care, and people that don’t care. Some people have skill, and care, and some have skills and don’t care. You want to be the person that everyone knows has skills and cares about their work.”
The Kinard’s level of care has prompted them to completely reconsider their store’s business model. The Jeweler’s Bench, which at one time had 10 showcases of pre-designed jewelry, now features only one showcase and an ‘open-air’ jewelry workshop, where they repair and design pieces for their clients.
“When we had the 10 big showcases, people would come in saying, ‘I want a ruby ring,’ ” said Pat, “We’d have 24 ruby rings, and they wouldn’t see one they liked. They’d say, ‘I like that stone, but in this metal, with these diamonds around it,’ and I’d say, ‘Hey, I can do that.’ ”
Pat’s can-do attitude prompted the Kinards to dive into the world of custom-jewelry making. Using a program called Counter Sketch Studio, the Kinards can not only help a customer design the piece of jewelry they have envisioned, but also let the customers themselves design the jewelry over the counter.
“It’s like an ice cream store,” explains Pat, “When I was young, we had three flavors of ice cream: chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. Then Baskin Robbins came along, with 32 flavors, and that was mind-boggling. But now, Cold Stone Creamery can mix any ice cream flavors you want, and add in nuts and gummy bears, and serve it to you in a cone, cup, or whatever you want. We like to believe we’re like Cold Stone.”
Aside from the ability to help a customer create the jewelry of their dreams, The Jeweler’s Bench also boasts another unique element: Mrs. Gwen Kinard is two-thirds of the way through completing her gemology certification.
“Each gem is it’s own course,” she said, “We just finished a diamond grading lab last year, and we’re getting ready to start the lab on colored stones as well.”
Less than 5 percent of jewelers in the United States have finished their entire gemology certification, which puts Gwen Kinard in a very exclusive category.
The artistic design and craftsmanship that the Kinards pour into their business is evident in every aspect of their work. While they primarily work with jewelry, they admit that people bring them objects of all types to be repaired, and they do their best to please their customers.
“We like to think that we answer the phone, and the first word out of our mouths will be yes,” said Pat Kinard, “Anything you need, as far as jewelry goes, we think we can do.”