Craig’s Jewelry Repair

Craig at the jewelry bench.

Craig at the jewelry bench.

Craig’s Jewelry Repair was the first real business that I owned and operated. It was also the thing that got me through college without student loans, and mostly financed my first stint in Israel. Becoming a jeweler, though, was not the fulfillment of a childhood dream or the natural result of an interest in creative design. Rather, it was simply God’s providential provision for me … for that season of life. Don’t misunderstand; I thoroughly enjoyed the craft and could happily go back to the bench if I had to get a “regular” job.

This story begins in the fall of 1984. I spent the summer of 1984 working at a camp just north of Colorado Springs and then returned to school for the fall semester. That same semester, Dave Wolfenbarger came from Tennessee to enroll at ABC. In Tennessee, Dave had worked as a jeweler, and was able to hire on with H. J. Wilson, a now defunct catalog showroom, at the Forum 303 Mall.

As Christmas approached, Dave convinced his boss to allow him to hire an apprentice to get through the rush. Initially, Dave asked a couple other students if they were interested; both were interested, but neither passed the polygraph test. Finally, knowing I needed a job, he approached me: “Hey Dunning, you want a job? I know you can pass the polygraph.” That was the beginning.

I had no specific interest in jewelry work, I simply needed a job. So, I said, “yeah, I’ll give it a try.” I passed the polygraph and was very quickly hired on as a jeweler’s apprentice.

Dave set up my first week as a bit of a test to see if I could cut it in a jeweler’s workshop. When I arrived at the store for my first day on the job, Dave showed me how to enter the jewelry area (there was a “secret” button), introduced me to the watchmaker, then showed me to my workbench. On the bench was a golf ball size bundle of gold chains (necklaces and bracelets) that were tangled in a giant knot. “Your first project is to untangle those chains,” he said. Both Dave and Jim, the watchmaker, thought this would be a good test to see if I had the patience and temperament to eventually make it as a jeweler.

Dave gave me a brief intro on how to untangle gold chains, then turned me loose. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he and Jim were watching me pretty closely, trying to measure my interest and commitment level. Their initial assessment was that I would quit pretty quickly because I didn’t show any real interest or excitement about becoming a jeweler. Although their conclusion was wrong, their assessment of my interest in becoming a jeweler was mostly correct. I hired into this particular job because I needed a job and because Dave was confident I could pass the polygraph. I think Dave was a little disappointed that I didn’t share his long interest and excitement in being a jeweler. The upside of taking the job only because I needed a job likely made it easier to walk away when it was time, even though I grew to enjoy, perhaps love working at the bench.

Suddenly working full-time and going to school full-time was a shock to the system. My school work suffered because of the time and energy required to work in jewelry during the Christmas rush, which lasted through the end of January. At that time, I expected that my hours would be cut back and I could get back on a more regular track for my studies. Instead, I had to adjust to do my school work with consideration to working a full-time job. The learning curve in the shop was increasing because Dave was making plans to open his own jewelry shop. And, after six months of on-the-job-training, I was on my own.

Dave had taught me a lot, but there was still so much yet to learn. Now with Dave gone, much of my learning was by trial and error, which would have been quite disconcerting for the customers had they known. Thankfully, I had access to the jeweler at the Irving store who was both experienced and generous. Also, Dave was still available for help, too. This set up was great: I received a salary while learning, I had access to experienced jewelers when I needed help, and any mistakes I made (yes, you can break a diamond!) were paid for by the store. I also learned to work quickly due to the volume of work coming across my bench.

After Dave had been on his own about one year, he encouraged me to follow in his footsteps and open my own shop. By that point, I had begun to take on side work for Arlington Gold and Silver Exchange (an account Dave had, but passed on to me because his business had grown). He also offered to help me get an account with Kay Jewelers, which would provide a location for me to start my own business.

Eventually, Dave persuaded me to take the plunge. However, I didn’t make a sudden break with Service Merchandise; I moonlighted two evenings a week at Kay Jewelers at North Hills Mall in North Richland Hills. This meant I was going to school full-time, working at Service Merchandise 35-40 hours per week, and commuting to my own shop for about 6 hours per week.

The schedule was crazy, but I was making money hand over fist. Kay Jewelers had been without a jeweler for a few months and had an unbelievable backlog of jobs. And, because I had learned to work fast due to the work load at Service Merchandise, in a couple hours at my own shop I could match or surpass the money I made working full-time at Service Merchandise. This went on for a few months before the load became too much to bear. And, after two years at Wilson’s/Service Merchandise, I launched out on my own with two solid accounts, Arlington Gold and Silver Exchange and Kay Jewelers at North Hills Mall. Craig’s Jewelry Repair opened and I was a business owner.

The setup at Kay’s was great: I was an independent contractor, but in exchange for being on premises they provided me a shop area and utilities (I even used their phone). My only overhead was the cost of my equipment and work supplies. Kay only asked that I establish set hours during which I would be at the shop because they advertised “Jeweler on Premises,” which was an important sales tactic they employed well. Having a jeweler on premises meant they could offer to have your new ring sized while you wait so “you can wear it home tonight!” They could also generate another revenue stream via repairs. Both were good for me because I made money on every piece that came across my bench.

Once I left Service Merchandise, I agreed to be on premises at Kay’s for two hours, three evenings per week. After the first year of this arrangement, the district manager pressured the store manager to pressure me to add days and hours. I refused more days, but agreed to bump up to three hours, three times per week. Then, four hours, three times per week.

Having committed my life to vocational ministry, I always guarded against getting “stuck” in jewelry. Don’t get me wrong, by this point, I certainly loved my work. Not just the money either, which was really good … in fact, as good as I was willing to make it. I thoroughly enjoyed the craft and looked forward to going to work. But, I knew I would not sit at a jewelers bench the rest of my life. Thus, I intentionally, did not succumb to the pressure to work more days and hours per week regardless of the fact that I could “make a lot more money.” Making more money was always the carrot the store manager held in front of me as he tried to pressure me to commit to more time in the shop. He would throw out big numbers, even using the amount of money jewelers at other Kay stores were making, to persuade me. But, I never took the bait. And he never understood why.

Neither did I buy more equipment – large or small. I didn’t want to get “stuck” on the bench because I had lots of equipment to pay off. My shop was bare bones; I had the bare necessities, and learned to do things with the tools I had on hand. Jeweler friends that came by my shop were always amazed. “Where are your tools?” they would ask, knowing that I couldn’t get by with so little equipment. But I did. There were rare occasions that I didn’t have sufficient equipment for a particular job, but God took care of that problem. By “chance” I had become friends with a wholesale jewelry shop nearby that had every tool and piece of equipment available. There was nothing – whether specialty pliers or casting and tumbling equipment – they didn’t have, and they gave me free access.

Along the way, I had a few mishaps. I broke a few stones, had a customer’s ring stolen from my dorm room at ABC,  and didn’t make a deadline a few times. But mostly, I just had a great time being a jeweler, or more accurately, a jewelry repairman. Although I could and did manufacture, I didn’t enjoy that aspect. I never viewed myself as a true jewelry craftsman because I didn’t have a creative eye. If a customer brought in a loose stone and asked, what would this look good in? I usually didn’t know … I didn’t have that type of imagination. However, if a customer brought in a piece of broken jewelry, I almost always could figure out a way to fix it and get it back to new (0r near new) condition.

I was interested in becoming GIA certified in diamonds and colored stones, but the time and money were too much. I say that because I knew jewelry wasn’t where I was going in life. I wanted to be in vocational ministry, and I spent my last two years on the bench for the purpose of saving money to go to school in Israel. I wanted to be able to pay for my master’s degree without taking student loans and Craig’s Jewelry Repair made that possible.

Overall, working at a jewelry bench was great! I still enjoy peeking into a shop and looking at the bench and tools. And, I’ve always said, “If I ever have to take a ‘regular’ job, I would be happy to go back to the bench.”






  1. Ms. Jerre Gaddy Beal says

    Loved this article, Craig! It is so interesting to follow your ‘adult’ career! I know my mom, Betty Gaddy, would be very proud of you, having been your 1st grade teacher! I just wish she were still around to read about your life. I was ‘shocked’ into reality yesterday, when I flipped my calendar to December, and realized that in 27 more days, it would be ONE YEAR since I lost my beloved mother. I am comforted to know that she is with the Lord, and, reunited with my dad, Jerrel Gaddy, the love of her life.

    Thanks for sharing your life, Craig!
    jerre gaddy beal
    Simpsonville, SC

  2. I absolutely love reading these. I am so proud of you.

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