Kit Heffern couldn’t tell you exactly when the last time his Clayton jewelry shop held a sale. But suffice it to say, it’s a pretty rare event.
“It’s been a long time,” said the owner of Elleard Heffern. “We’ve never done anything like this before.”
He was referring to the “century sale” the store is holding for a week, starting today, in honor of his business’ 100th anniversary. The shop is discounting more than a thousand items between 10 and 75 percent off.
“Being a century is pretty special,” he said. “We thought of having a party, but our office is kind of small, so we can’t handle too many people. So we thought, well, the nicest way to say thank you to our clients is to have a sale.”
The business, which caters to many of region’s more well-off residents, was founded by his grandfather, Samuel Heffern, along with his brother-in-law in 1913.
The shop first opened at 805 Locust Street downtown as Heffern-Neuhoff Jewelry Co. Kit Heffern’s father, Elleard, ran the shop for many years, too.
In 1972, the store moved to Clayton to be closer to where many of their clients reside.
Today, the shop, located at 101 South Hanley Road, specializes in loose gemstones, cultured pearls, estate jewelry, bridal rings and designer jewelry. It has a number of high-priced items, including a five-carat diamond for about $150,000.
While it continues to carry luxurious lines, the store has also added some more moderately priced fashion lines in the last few years amid the tough economic times.
Over the years, Heffern has seen plenty of trends come and go, including the recent resurrection in fashion of yellow and rose gold.
And the people doing the buying has changed a lot, too. It wasn’t so long ago that young men would bring in their mothers to pick out an engagement ring for their sweetheart.
“You’d get the ring your mother-in-law thought you had to have,” he said. “That has changed. That doesn’t happen very often anymore.”
He recently sat down with the Post-Dispatch to reflect on the company’s past and where it was heading into the future.
Has the fine-jewelry business changed a lot in the last 100 years?
Some things haven’t changed at all. Technology has changed. Where gemstones come from as mines open and others close has changed. But what really hasn’t changed that much is how you treat people. And that’s one of the things my father was particularly conscious about and good at was a respect for people. He always tried to service the client so the client would be happy.
We’re very fortunate because we’re in a happy business. People come here because they are celebrating some occasion and they want to have something as a memento, and they want a special gift for that special person. So that part hasn’t changed.
You have a website, but do you sell your jewelry online yet? Is that coming next?
You have to call us. We don’t have an e-commerce store. It’s something we’re looking at. Fine jewelry is a lot more available online than it used to be. But we want to make sure we maintain a high level of service. And when you buy online, particularly a piece of jewelry, you can’t see scale. You see it only in two dimensions. It’s very difficult.
So are you finding that the younger generation is as interested in fine jewelry?
I think one of the biggest differences is 40 years ago, men and women married in their early 20s. Now they are in the late 20s to their early 30s, particularly for the guys. So when they get married, they are in a different place than they were before. The two of them have been working whereas before they were right out of college and starting from scratch. So the dynamics of that has changed a lot.
And I think that as you get older, in your 40s, just to pick a number, it obviously varies from person to person, but I think you like to have nicer jewelry.
Is the fourth generation going to be involved in Elleard Heffern?
Probably not. They’re in their 20s. I’ve got two sons and they’re both in science. But it’s as someone once said to me, ‘Once you’re out in the real world, the family business starts to look really good.’ (He laughed.) So we don’t know yet.
Do you know what your biggest sale has been? More than $150,000?
Oh, way more. Way more.