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Kent Jewelry Downtown Kirkwood

Featured Article

Remarkably Authentic. Refreshingly Local.

A conversation with Zach Woolsey, owner of Kent Jewelry in Downtown Kirkwood

Article by Beth Glennon

Photography by Kent Jewelry - Downtown Kirkwood

Originally published in Kirkwood City Lifestyle

What drew you to purchasing the original store, in Rolla? 

I’m from Rolla and my wife, Sarah, is from St. Louis being an Ursuline alum. We met at Missouri S&T in Rolla. After graduation, we realized we wanted to diverge from our degrees. My wife wanted to create something with her hands, and I wanted to run a community-focused small business, preferably in a downtown space. Kent Bagnall owned a jewelry store in Rolla, and in addition to being an excellent jeweler, he had a remarkable reputation as a pillar in the community. It was his volunteerism within the community and how he ran his business with a real hands-on approach that inspired me to purchase his business after he retired. Similarly, Jim Durbin [the former Kirkwood jeweler] ran his business the same way. Moreover, the business really fits our backgrounds and passions with plenty of technical problems to solve! Particularly, changes in software and eCommerce have opened new avenues in addition to better processes for how we make jewelry. We enjoy solving these problems, and Sarah enjoys learning how to handcraft fine jewelry. After purchasing Kent Jewelry, we quickly realized that we had an opportunity to make vast changes to how the business runs. I later brought my friend, Nate, on as a business partner who has been an integral component in these changes. We were childhood friends and went to college together. His background is in mechanical engineering and having worked for a large corporation, he found that lifestyle wasn’t for him. Nate has taken the lead on the higher-end, technically designed pieces. He is now one of the few people in the region who understands the intricacies of goldsmithing and casting on a professional level.

How did you decide to expand to Kirkwood? 

When the Durbin’s were retiring, we saw it as a fantastic opportunity for us. James Durbin’s business model was similar to Kent’s, and people don’t realize how rare that is. Most jewelry stores look the same, but what goes on behind the scenes is vastly different. When Jim and Martha Durbin allowed us to be part of their retirement sale, we saw the relationships and the sense of community they had been a part of. We immediately knew it was something we wanted to be a part of. Sarah’s family is from the area, so being closer to our kid’s grandparents was a huge factor. Coincidentally, our building in Rolla has a mural, and this building in Kirkwood has a mural which we joke about as being a sign that it was meant to be! We were even able to keep one of Durbin’s jewelers as a part of our new team, so it’s a great mix of wisdom, innovation, and collaboration. 

What has been a particularly memorable custom piece you’ve created? 

We have a client whose girlfriend is a civil engineer. There is a uniquely designed bridge in England that inspired her to become an engineer. Our client wanted us to make an engagement ring that incorporated the design of that bridge. It was quite a challenge and extremely complicated. Nate designed the gallery of the engagement ring to look precisely like that bridge. The ring turned out better than he envisioned, and our client loved it. He later proposed to his girlfriend on a bridge in St. Louis that she helped design. It was an extremely rewarding project. We embrace the creativity our clients bring to custom pieces and challenge of creating something so personal. 

Do people understand how accessible custom jewelry is? 

They truly don’t. We have spent the past few years trying to make fine jewelry accessible to everyone. When people hear the word ‘custom,’ they often think of something like custom cabinetry which is expensive. You may be able to save money by going with something pre-designed or out of the case, but it’s usually only a 15% savings. When we begin the design process with a client, we make sure to have a conversation about budget. Our staff is trained to educate, not to sell. Typically, custom projects start at a price point of around $1,500 to $2,000. Beyond that, particularly if you want something specific, it’s usually more economical to let us design it. 

What makes Kent Jewelry different?

Quite a bit! We are the only jeweler in Missouri certified to sell Fair-mined gold. Specifically, our gold comes from small, artisanal mines with ethical working practices in Peru, Mongolia, and Columbia. Many gold mines belong to giant corporations that pay their workers less than a living wage and have no regard for their health or safety. This is an issue we are passionate about, and we ensure all our jewelry is made with materials that are ethically and sustainably sourced. More recently, we began encouraging customers to recycle their own gold. Many people have heirloom or vintage jewelry that sits in a drawer. Maybe it doesn’t quite fit their style or is missing stones, but the sentimental value is still there. We can help find a way to bring it back to life. From repairs, alterations, or recycling the components to create a new piece, the possibilities are endless. Recycling a well-loved piece to create something new can help lower costs and allow the customer to honor the family member who originally wore the piece. We also educate people on lab-grown diamonds. Lab-grown diamonds tend to be controversial in the industry. In fact, many jewelers won’t even sell lab-grown stones. We want to educate our clients on the history and facts of lab-grown diamonds and let them make the decision. We think both lab and mined diamonds have their place in the industry. Lab-grown has been around for decades, but they were far from gem-quality until about the last 20 years. Lab-grown diamonds are still 100% carbon, but carry a price tag 40-50% less than their mined counterparts. From a sustainability standpoint, diamond mining is extremely hard on the earth – the lab-grown don’t require anywhere near the kind of energy to generate. Everything about this industry is about education and conversation.

What’s trending in jewelry? 

Modern minimalist pieces, particularly in yellow gold, are trending right now. We have a lot of jewelry made of only metal - no stones. As society is becoming increasingly casual, having a collection of understated, everyday pieces is more practical. Layering jewelry is extremely popular, whether with stackable rings or varying chain styles. Our customers also like unique pieces with a hand-finished look or an artistic feel.

The store has a noticeable “cool” vibe. 

When we designed the space, we wanted to stay true to our brand rather than copy the stereotypical jewelry store. We infuse the store with scents that complement the season, feel-good music, plants along the windows, and a water fountain in the background. Too often, fine jewelry stores feel inaccessible, and we want everyone to feel welcome when they walk in. Our staff tries to foster relationships instead of transactions. We have found a perfect balance between professionalism and enjoying what we do. We are fortunate to have young but highly educated staff, combined with a few veterans with decades of experience. Mark [one of the Kirkwood bench jewelers] has been in the industry for over 40 years. We’ll say something totally off the wall and instead of shooting us down, he gives us things to consider while still trying to make it work. It’s a dynamic you don’t often see in most workplaces.

Page 1 Quote

"We are the only jeweler in Missouri certified to sell Fair-mined gold. This is an issue we are passionate about, and we ensure all our jewelry is made with materials that are ethically and sustainably sourced."

Page 2 Quote

"We embrace the creativity our clients bring to custom pieces and challenge of creating something so personal. If you want something specific, it’s usually more economical to let us design it." 

  • Zach Woolsey with his team.
  • Kent Jewelry Downtown Kirkwood

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