At Ron George Jewelers' workshop, father and son work together to design anything from family crests to engagement rings.
This is what Ron George planned in 2014, when he closed his Severna Park storefront to focus on custom jewelry making at his Annapolis shop. He also wanted to teach the trade to his sons, John, 26 and Sam, 31. Now John is a master goldsmith and Sam handles the store's photography and social media efforts.
"Annapolis' jewelry makers is what we call ourselves," owner and master goldsmith Ron George says. He has six children. "You have to design a ring for the finger. You want it to complement the hand. You don't want it to look like something is growing off the hand."
Both Sam and John started working in the jewelry shop as high school students, and then their responsibilities expanded.
For Sam, that meant serving as manager for the Annapolis and Severna Park locations.
"Jewelry is one of the hardest things to photograph because you have metals and stones that reflect everything," Sam says. "Jewelry has to come to life in the photograph."
John studied business and entrepreneurship at Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina. Now his tasks include taking into consideration a woman's finger, the shape of her finger, the color of the metal and type of metal she wants before creating a custom piece.
"People think rings are rings and they just go on fingers," John says. "They're all different. There are different styles that look better or worse on different people."
Grooms do their homework on Main Street
George's shop is one of four jewelers on Annapolis' Main Street, including Zachary's, WR Chance and La Belle Cezanne.
WR Chance's Parke Flournoy has been a jeweler for 40 years. He uses the CAD/CAM computer program to create the custom designs, "Or I'll take them into the diamond room and we'll sit down and draw some stuff," he says. These days, sapphires continue to be hot for colored stones. A lot of the preferred designs for engagement rings are halos and the store is seeing a lot more customers lean toward platinum. Often, the grooms have already studied the trends.
"Every now and then they'll bring in the fiancee and get an opinion, but most of the time (the men) select it themselves. So you've got a lot of male shoppers now," Flournoy says. "A lot of them have done their homework. They've gone out with their fiance without her knowing what was happening and gotten her opinion."
Custom design is also craved by customers of Zachary's Jewelers, which also offers personalized jewelry.
"What we found is that the gentlemen who are buying engagement rings for their future wives are getting more involved in the design of the rings, so our custom design department has really grown in the last three to five years," Zachary's owner Steve Samaras says.
"They're not getting just a cookie cutter style that anyone else can have, They're getting something that's special to them and one of a kind."
At Ron George Jewelers, many clients are out of state purchasers who use the store website. To ensure each custom ring complements the wearer, the store requests a photo of the wearer's hand.
"The biggest part of our business is the design work we do," George says. "Customers are looking for people who really can do it."
A 'right of passage'
After studying jewelry making and design at Bowman Technical School in Lancaster, PA, Ron George started his career in the 1980s when he landed a job repairing jewelry and watches.
In 1991, he opened Ron George Jewelers, a custom jewelry and repair shop on Main Street in Annapolis. A Severna Park storefront was launched in 2007.
Sam studied digital photography at Harrington College of Design in Chicago before returning to Maryland to work with his family. Now he's able to contribute to the family business with his photography and assortment of marketing related skills.
"It feels like a right of passage for us," Sam says."There's never been any pressure for us to come do it. It's a fun business. We all love each other and we all get along."
John often wanted to go to work with his father on the weekends, but George thought it was mainly for double cheeseburgers at nearby Chick & Ruth's Delly.
"I always did enjoy being here," John says. "It didn't really dawn on me that this was my career until I came back from school and started working full time."
John recently created a necklace using a platinum bracelet that belonged to the customer's mother. The customer didn't wear a lot of bracelets and John felt the necklace's yellow gold base took away from the platinum. The finished product was an add-a-link necklace.
"We created a design that was tailored to her neck," John says. "It flowed nicely and sat correctly to her collar bone."