Susan Harrison has had a life long passion for jewelry. As a child she remembers taking out all of her mother's jewelry and arranging displays, under supervision of course. While attending Colorado State University she got her first job behind a department store jewelry counter and now, at 63 years of age she’s the 30 at the helm of her very own jewelry store, Jewelry Emporium, and has yet to fall out of love with the business. “Every day I come in to work and put the key in the door and I’m excited,” Harrison tells of her persisting joy in the jewelry business. Harrison initially started working at Jewelry Emporium as a manager and buyer when they first opened in 1979 and bought the store from Russ Kates, the stores’ original owner, in 1990. Since the business first opened in Fort Collins’ old town square they’ve moved several times and are now located in a strip of the Foothills Mall complex on the east side of College Avenue.
From the moment you step into her store that energy and lifelong passion for jewelry becomes apparent in a comfortable yet elegant atmosphere where shoppers are encouraged to look through display cases filled with pieces for every person's taste. From simple rings, bracelets and necklaces to extravagant, jewel encrusted designs, Harrison has made a point of providing a diverse array of options for her customers. “I like jewelry as a wearable artform, people can express their uniqueness by wearing something really individual, unique and different,” Harrison says of her wide-ranging and ever-changing selection. To that same end she carries the work of roughly 50 different jewelry designers from around the world in the shop, something that immediately sets her store apart from the big-box retailers that carry the same selection across all of their locations. The store also hosts regular events where customers can meet artists and peruse an even broader selection of their pieces. Harrison is also proud to boast that she is the only retailer in Northern Colorado to carry the popular Pandora line of diamond jewelry.
In an effort to provide the best possible service to her customers Harrison has also spent the last ten years making regular trips to Antwerp, Belgium’s centuries-old Diamond District to purchase stones not only for her store but also as a personal liaison for customers who are looking for something especially specific and unique. Harrison is able to make these trips and visit Antwerps’ world renowned diamond cutters because of her status as an Independent Jewelers Organization Master Jeweler and says her customers, many of whom affectionately refer to her as ‘Diamond Sue,’ regularly take advantage of the opportunity to have a personal shopper in the diamond capital of the world.
While hers may not be the most affordable jewelry retailer in town, Harrison says an important aspect of what she offers her customers is a guarantee of quality in the stones and pieces and she provides regular care and maintenance for all of the jewelry she sells, even going so far as to replace stones lost from damaged rings. Harrison says it boils down to her being particular about her products, an important quality for a jeweler. Whether it’s swapping stories of romance and her almost-thirty-year marriage with couples or talking about shared passions for travel, photography, and gardening, Harrison brings that same particularity to her customer care. “A lot of retail experiences can feel empty,” she explains, “and I just want people to feel welcome and taken care of.” Coffee and tea are always readily available for visiting customers and she frequently gives betrothed couples a bottle of wine to celebrate their taking such a big step in their relationship.
Jewelry Emporium also brags having highly qualified employees. Melinda Handgen, the stores’ newest employee, is a Gemology Institute of America certified Gemologist as well as a licensed jewelry appraiser, two qualifications you’re not guaranteed to find in every jewelry shop. A year into her position at Jewelry Emporium, Handgen says she’s loved working there and getting to hear people's stories about their jewelry and enjoys working with a motivated staff. “Susan and all of us are going to go above and beyond and do whatever we can to find the right stone, find the right ring, custom make a ring, whatever is going to make their jewelry dreams come true,” Handgen says of the team's dedication to their customers.
While the onset of COVID-19 has put her regular diamond buying travel plans on hold, business has so far remained steady in spite of the pandemic. Masked or not, her loyal customers have continued to visit the store for the one of a kind jewelry buying experience they’ve come to expect. Harrison even launched an ad campaign reminding customers that even if their summer travel plans had been canceled they could still give the gift of jewelry to their loved ones. “My customers are the best,” Harrison says of their ability to weather this particular storm, “all of my friends are people I’ve met in this store.”
No matter what trials the future may bring, Harrison seems up to the challenge. “As long as it still remains fun, enjoyable and I think I’m doing a good job I’ll do it,” Harrison says of her future in the business. While her husband has retired from his career in dentistry, Harrison is not yet ready to shed the mantle of ‘Diamond Sue’ and settle into that lifestyle herself.