As Valentine’s Day quickly approaches, thoughts of enchantment and romance swirl about. Flowers, quiet dinners and jewelry are all popular and beloved and cherished. We interviewed Rhett Outten of Croghan’s Jewel Box , the oldest family owned jewelry store in town, for the inside scoop on sparkly gifts to give your Valentine this year.
Croghan’s Jewel Box has such a storied legacy. Please tell us about the history of the store.
My grandfather, William Croghan, started Croghan’s Jewel Box just before World War I and when the War broke out, he closed up shop to be a foot solider! He was trained at the Philadelphia School of Horology as a hand engraver and apprenticed in jewelry repair and bench manufacturing. The beginning of Croghan’s consisted mostly of my grandfather taking in and performing jobs at his bench. My mother graduated from the College of Charleston with a degree in Journalism and wanted to be a writer. my grandfather asked her to come help a little bit in the store after graduation and she never left. She created the atmosphere that exists today with an interesting collection of jewelry, estate finds and gifts. We are still known for our hand engraving and have four bench jewelers in a studio on the second floor where we do repairs and create custom made pieces by hand. My sister, Mariana and I are the third generation to operate the store and my nieces, Kathleen and Mariana (Mini) have just joined the business. It is so thrilling to have youth, enthusiasm and knowledge that the fourth generation brings to the table!
Croghan’s has been in business for more than 100 years. What do you think endears shoppers to your store?
We are truly a family business. We grew up with our customers as my mother and grandfather did. Back in the day, Papa used to close up for 2:00 dinner and as he left the shop he would take whoever was there home for a proper lunch a few blocks away on Church Street (think postman, customer, visitor to Charleston, salesman!). Our mother taught us how important it is to contribute to this community that we love so much. We are deeply involved in many city activities and non-profit organizations. With the surge of visitors to Charleston, we find ourselves often playing the part of concierge , as advice of a local is cherished. We have made restaurant reservations, booked tours and even given people rides back to their hotel if their bags are too big to carry or if its raining! We truly want people visiting to love Charleston as much as we do. We feel lucky to have grown up in this magical place and we like to share that with people.
The Jewelers Circular Keystone Magazine reports that over 981 jewelry stores nationwide closed in 2016. So often visitors do not have a family owned store in their hometown where an owner is present and has a passion for their graft. 48 percent of our business consists of out of town customers. We find that exciting! We get to be a part of the most meaningful events in people’s lives… engagements, weddings, christenings, graduations, anniversaries! It’s an honor to have served four generations during such occasions. Of course a Social Media presence and website have brought us into this century and make it easy to stay in touch with customers.
You are known for your estate collection. What makes it special and how do you curate it?
We love estate jewelry and silver. We like to say it has a soul. It is special because so often the techniques used to create it are no longer used in the industry. Like diamonds are no longer cut by hand ad rarely do you see hand filigree work on the inside of a ring. Plique de jour is a French application that looks like colorful class but there are very few people in the world who can create this now. We have each piece of estate jewelry examined by one of our four gemologists on staff before it goes in the case! We literally shop the world for our inventory. We have wonderful contacts in London, the far east and all over the country that we have partnered with for generations.
It seems that estate and vintage pieces are very much in demand – why? And what should a buyer look for?
Estate Jewelry is very often one of a kind! It is for the person who wants a special piece of jewelry that they will not see on anyone else! It is also for the sentimental customer who has happy memories of seeing antique jewelry on their grandmother or the history buff who has a thirst for everything Georgian. Antique jewelry is unique, and it is fun to sell in a jewelry store that is more than 100 years old and set in a 1790’s Charleston building. People who visit here usually love history and the charm of estate jewelry is usually appealing. In terms of what to look for you have to be careful because this jewelry has usually been worn and “loved” as we like to say. So you need to be sure that clasps work properly and prongs have been checked so that stones stay secure.
Every day you help select gifts for special occasions. Which piece or pieces would you recommend for Valentine’s Day?
Anything engraved on Valentine’s Day make a gift extra special! And of course we have beautiful heart lockets and charms as well as crystal amulets by Temple St. Clair.
What items or collections are you most excited about right now?
We have just refilled our estate case after the holiday season. Our selection of antique diamond rings is fabulous and includes lots of enameling and filigree settings. We also have a whole new lot of estate gold lockets that are unusual. These start as low as $200.00! Also… our Goldbug collection is so fun and exciting! My niece’s collection of gilded palmetto bugs has taken us all by storm!
What is your ideal romantic evening in Charleston?
I like things pretty simple! After all of the parties and hard work involved over the holidays at Croghan’s, a quiet easy dinner at home, or if its good weather, something grilled outside in the courtyard sounds ideal to me! I just helped a client plan a 30th wedding anniversary dinner though, which included a horse drawn carriage ride to champagne awaiting them in a cupola atop one of our beautiful historic buildings at sunset and a dinner at one of our wonderful restaurants… which happens to be in a courtyard as well. There is something about hidden spots in Charleston behind historic brick walls and iron gates that is so very romantic! Don’t you think?
Learn more of our exclusive Valentine’s package that will bring the bling.