By Nora Heston Tarte
Business Journal Writer
STOCKTON — About 30 years ago, a couple walked into Kevin Schimke’s jewelry shop on Miracle Mile with a request. They were in search of a custom wedding set; one wedding band engraved with a golden waterfall cascading down the side, and the other featuring an etch of Half Dome, to commemorate their wedding ceremony in Yosemite Valley.
Schimke, at his shop Kevin Schimke Jewelers, met the couple’s request, and to this day the custom jewelry designer remembers it as one of the most interesting pieces he has ever created.
“It’s just what we do,” Schimke remarked, adding it was not the most intricate piece he’s designed during his 38 years in business.
“I don’t mind working because I love what I do and I enjoy my customers,” he said. “It’s not a drudgery going to work, it’s a pleasure.”
There is no average day in the jewelry business, according to Schimke. Each work day starts and ends the same, pulling inventory from a safe in the back to display, and then completing the reverse in the evenings before closing up shop. But everything that happens in between is an uncertainty.
“It’s whoever shows up, whoever walks through the door. That’s what makes it interesting,” Schimke said. “The average day in the jewelry business is actually fairly quiet.”
The small store offers an intimate setting. One that is often home to nervous grooms-to-be and couples in love shopping for engagement rings.
“Those customers are usually in a good mood … We try and make the couple feel comfortable because not everybody is comfortable shopping for engagement rings,” Schimke said. The Schimke family shares their diamond knowledge on cut, color, size and clarity. “For the young couple coming in, most of them haven’t experienced that before.”
Schimke’s shop has always been on Stockton’s Miracle Mile, though 15 years ago they moved to a different building. They purchased the building so they’d never have to relocate or deal with rising rents again.
It was the geography of the city that first brought Schimke and his family to Stockton. Located equal distances between the beach and the mountains, it was a good setting for Schimke and his wife to raise their two children.
“We knew we didn’t want to live in Los Angeles or the Bay Area so we just kind of threw a dart … and ended up in Stockton,” he explained.
Today, Schimke and his wife Bella run the business along with their daughter Erika Reese, who is currently studying to become a certified gemologist like her father.
“She’s an integral part,” Schimke said. “She puts a lot of energy into the business.”
And she isn’t the only family member helping out. Their son assists in the store often, although he has another career to focus on.
“It’s all family,” Schimke said, adding the four family members reside in Stockton.
The business is 35 percent custom designing, 55 percent jewelry sales and 10 percent repairs.
“We do every phase of custom designing right here in our shop,” Schimke said. That includes hand-carving a design, sculpting a ring out of wax, furnacing the piece, melting the gold and casting it.”
Schimke’s gemologist certification took about six months to complete as a full-time student at the Gemological Institute in San Diego. His path to becoming a gemologist, however, started much earlier. Schimke has early childhood memories playing in his father’s jewelry shop in El Cerrito, California and by the time he was a junior in high school Schimke was performing jewelry repairs through an apprenticeship role at his father’s store and working full-time there during summer.
Reese, who is completing the course remotely while running a household, will take a bit longer, but she’s already on her way, having passed her diamond certification.
“Not all jewelers are gemologists,” Schimke explained, adding that it is recognized as the highest title in the fine jewelry business.
The biggest obstacle the Schimke’s have faced is theft, a commonality among many jewelry shops. He’s never experienced a theft so big that it shook the business, but it has happened.
“Sometimes we’ve been taken,” he said. “I don’t really want to dwell on it too much. I have a tendency to want to trust everyone.”
Schimke’s customers definitely show trust in the business.
“I have a one-of-a-kind piece of Kevin Schimke jewelry,” said Stockton resident, Susan Robbins. “He custom cast a beautiful ring for me out of my grandmother’s bracelet [that had become unwearable].”
Finding Kevin Schimke’s Jewelers was a dream come true for Robbins, who moved from Southern California to Northern California nine years ago. Before meeting Kevin and Bella through a mutual friend, Robbins hadn’t found a family jeweler since relocating.
“Kevin’s work is above reproach,” she said. “[Kevin and Bella] are lovely people in whom you can place absolute trust.”