Photo by Emily Rose Imagery
By Marji Wisniewski
Lucinda Unger and Libby Newman are two of the key expert jewelry advisors at Lewis Jewelers in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They’re like your favorite aunts who you always look forward to visiting. They’ll greet you with a warm hug, a sparkling cocktail, and ask you all about your life.
I met with them to discuss why they love working at Lewis Jewelers and what makes their team so special. Despite their cloth masks, their smiles radiated from their faces. With over 75 years of combined experience in the jewelry industry, these ladies are the go-to experts for all things that sparkle and shine — just as they do.
AN A2 LOVE STORY
Lucinda: Jewelry is as unique as the people who wear it. It’s also as unique as the city it’s sold in. I’ve been fortunate to sell jewelry in a few different cities over my career, and there isn’t a place like Ann Arbor. The Ann Arbor area is such an amazing melting pot of people thanks to the University of Michigan, the hospitals, the tech and start-up companies, as well as all the amazing restaurants. People land here from all over the world, sometimes for a short while, sometimes for the rest of their lives. Each day brings in clients with many different backgrounds, lifestyles, and needs, allowing us to play a small role in their story.
The story of Lewis Jewelers is one nearly 100 years in the making. The original store in Detroit opened in 1921. Then, 50 years ago, the family moved the store to the west side of Ann Arbor, and Lewis Jewelers became a cornerstone of the community.
We have since outgrown our current space at 2000 W. Stadium and plan to move to a new location in the summer of 2021, as part of our centennial celebration. The new site is the former Quarter Bistro restaurant, at 300 S. Maple in the Westgate Shopping Plaza. It’ll be a dazzling 10,000 square-foot space — over four times the size of our current location. This will allow us to expand jewelry lines and display more pieces. Being close to Starbucks and TJ Maxx won’t a bad thing either! We extend a heartfelt thanks to each client, without whom none of these transformations would be possible.
A FAMILY AFFAIR
Libby: I agree with Lucinda — our clients are what inspire me to come to work every day. I’ve thrived in the industry for as long as I have because this job is really just about making people happy. Selling jewelry almost always lightens the mood of a space, so I get to interact with people who are pleasant and friendly. Sometimes I think we’re like therapists; our clients can open up to and tell us part of their life’s story.
Lucinda: That’s a special part of our jobs, that voluntary emotional intimacy — what clients are willing to share with you about them. The decision-making process of a jewelry purchase lets you really read deeply into people’s emotions. We are here to help clients in their happiest times, but occasionally in sad or bittersweet times too. I’ve worked with clients to help them get engaged and now their children are coming to me to find an engagement ring. It’s something you can’t capture in words. I look at them and think, “This is something that I helped start.” It’s a whole family affair.
I credit that family feeling to the owners, the Lewis family. I started here when David Lewis and his dad were still working together. They set forth a culture of teamwork by empowering their employees to offer the best customer experience.
Libby: This one-of-a-kind experience can be achieved because we don’t work on commission. It’s all about getting the right specialist aligned with the client, even if we get multiple team advisors involved. We want to give you a stress-free shopping experience for the just the right gift.
Lucinda: True, we all help each other out. If Libby helps someone find the perfect gift, I’m there to wrap it. We never ask each other to do something we would not do ourselves. Everyone pitches in, all the way up to the owner. Are we perfect every day? No. But that’s what it means to be a family, and we grow from the challenges we face.
Libby: Like real family dynamics, we each have our own talents and expertise to contribute. We have three GIA-certified gemologists, four Hearts On Fire National Champions, a Swiss Watch Ambassador, four in-house goldsmiths and diamond setters, an AGS-certified appraiser — and we cannot forget our security specialists. We’re proud to have earned the status of becoming an AGS laboratory store by adhering to strict ethical standards and policies.
We are a full-service store, and over the years we’ve helped with many interesting projects daily. We’ve restored an old brass statue, fixed silverware, repaired Swarovski Crystal eyeglasses, and even engraved a firearm. Even when it seems like a unique request, we try to help. We don’t like telling our clients no.
OUR SERVICES: (Callout box)
Old jewelry purchase (antique or vintage)
Gift wish-lists (for your own use or to share with a loved one)
PATHS DOWN A ROAD LESS TRAVELED
Lucinda: It wasn’t an instant “yes” for me when I was first approached to sell jewelry. I was living in Illinois at the time. During one of my frequent shopping trips at the local jewelry store, the owner struck up a conversation with me. She asked me if I would consider a sales position in the store. I thought she was crazy! I didn’t think I knew anything about jewelry, until she reminded me that I was in there buying it all the time. I was only 18 years old and doing some modeling. So, I started at the store part-time. I enjoyed it so much that I changed my career, and I’ve been doing this ever since.
Libby: I also started out doing something completely different. I worked in a jewelry store to help pay my way through nursing school. Along the way, I decided nursing just wasn’t for me. I went back to school to get my gemology degree and have been a gemologist for over 28 years. That’s not something that every jewelry store staff can say they have.
Lucinda: Right. It’s not a career that gets a lot of attention, but just a few months back, I had a client come into our store. She said to me, “I was in here about 12 years ago with my daughter. I just wanted you to know that you inspired her all those years ago, and now she’s chosen a profession in jewelry.”
That was an immensely proud moment for me. I thought “Hey, I must be doing something right.”
Libby: Yes, it’s special to have influenced someone’s life in that way. I think it’s also unique that we’re both Hearts On Fire National Champions (see the Hearts on Fire box!).
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A GIA GRADUATE GEMOLOGIST?
The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) is widely considered the most prestigious professional gemology school in the world. The graduate gemologist (GG) designation is earned along with a diploma from GIA. The prestigious institution teaches jewelers all they need to know to work with diamonds and other colored stones. The diploma program covers scientific and technical aspects of identifying and grading diamonds, and is intended to give graduates a comprehensive knowledge that is needed to succeed in the jewelry industry. Graduate Gemologists are certified to:
Have in-depth knowledge of the 4 C’s and thorough understanding of the diamond grading system, and judge diamonds based on the 4 C’s
Effectively utilize gemological equipment
Identify imitation diamonds and diamonds that have been synthetically treated
Effectively identify more than 60 types of gemstones, along with gemstone characteristics and treatments
Recognize and determine how various gem and market factors affect gem value
Understand the process of mining, fashioning, and transporting diamonds and other gems
If you’re looking for jewelry repair or expert advice, or hoping to purchase a diamond, work with someone who has a GIA GG certification. They will have the education necessary to help you make an informed buying decision.
Lewis Jewelers not only has three graduate gemologists on staff, but is also certified by the American Gem Society (AGS). AGS is dedicated to upholding the highest standards of ethics and integrity in the diamond and jewelry industries.
ABOUT HEARTS ON FIRE
In 1996, founders Glenn and Susan Rothman created the world’s first branded diamond with Hearts on Fire. Their patented cut increases a diamond’s surface area, and light is reflected through the top for a brilliant fire effect. Visible perfection demands high standards. Only a tiny fraction of one percent of the planet’s diamonds can be cut in the Hearts on Fire style. As if that wasn’t steep enough, the brand chooses to only use conflict-free diamonds. Few artisans are qualified to cut a Hearts on Fire diamond, and those who are must use a 100x magnification process for extreme precision.
Libby: Hearts On Fire tracks sales numbers worldwide, and Lewis Jewelers has four running Champions from the last five years (Lucinda, Sara, Shawn, and me). I attribute this to teamwork, our education, and customer service. We’ve always ranked among the top 20 jewelers in the country, which is a major accomplishment for a company with just one store versus others that are larger or have multiple locations.
Lucinda: We could not have achieved what we have without our fabulous clients. We love how many customer relationships have turned into friendships over time. We see some clients on a weekly basis who want their jewelry cleaned or polished, or just to browse for their next purchase. We think a key part of gaining and keeping successful client partnerships is having a laid-back, welcoming atmosphere. We’re open to helping people any way we know how. We let customers take photos, see copies of certifications, and write down the info that they need. We support people getting second opinions because we stand behind our products.
We realize a jewelry store can be intimidating to people. Even I get intimidated in some of the Las Vegas stores I visit! So, we encourage customers to just come in and speak with us. There’s not an expectation to buy anything; we’re just here to help.
Libby: It’s true we keep to a more relaxed atmosphere than other jewelers in our space. We don’t wear tuxes and gowns. However, we do wear face masks right now. But we’re smiling underneath them and still helping to create new cherished moments. If we weren’t still in the middle of a pandemic, we would serve drinks and snacks.
Lucinda: Speaking of the pandemic, we’ve actually been busier lately. We’re so grateful to our customers for that. Many people aren’t spending money on vacations this year, so they’re finding other ways to make memories.
In early spring, we shut down with everyone else for about two months. We transitioned to curbside service, and now we’re safely open inside our store. We’re performing daily employee wellness/temperature checks and following (and exceeding) CDC safety protocols like wearing masks, social distancing, and sanitizing the jewelry before and after it’s tried on. Again, we’re thankful for our clients who have come in during this time.
TIPS ON HOW TO SANITIZE YOUR JEWELRY
Rubbing alcohol or Windex will sanitize most items. DO NOT USE on pearls or emeralds!
You can make your own cleaner at home using three parts water, two parts rubbing alcohol, and a dash of dish soap
DO NOT USE toothpaste to clean jewelry; it’s too abrasive!
Please don’t lick your fingers when you remove your rings; it’s not sanitary!
Lewis Jewelers offers a free jar of jewelry cleaner to everyone who comes into our store
If you’re not sure how to clean your pieces, please bring them in or call us
Libby: One positive of the pandemic was being at home with my husband. The first day I went back to work, he told me how much he missed me.
Lucinda: Yes! My husband was really supportive during this time as well. He told me that he wished we had that time together again. Unfortunately, I lost my sister early on in the pandemic, so his support and love has meant the world to me as I grieved. It was an exceedingly difficult time, but I was thankful to be with him.
Libby: The owner, David, really stepped up and showed the employees great respect during this challenging time. He genuinely cares about our families and their well-being. He didn’t lay anyone off and found ways to support each of us.
Lucinda: That’s just how David is. He doesn’t like to talk about it much, so we will. The focus on community and philanthropy was a major factor that drew me to the Lewis family business. They give back to our community in so many different ways. Here are just a few of the community organizations Lewis Jewelers supports:
GrieveWell (formerly the Kite Network) — an organization that provides resources and support to promote healthy grieving and healing.
Ele’s Place — a non-profit, community-based organization dedicated to creating awareness of and support for grieving children and their families.
The ChadTough Foundation — inspires and funds game-changing research to discover effective treatments for pediatric brain cancer, with an emphasis on diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG).
The Event on Main — supports Mott Children’s Hospital.
The St. Joe’s Charity Ball — supports life-changing and life-saving programs at St. Joe’s Hospital.
University of Michigan — supports as an athletics partner.
Ann Arbor Public Schools and other local school districts’ different fundraisers.
OUR ROLE IN OUR CUSTOMERS’ STORIES
Libby: About 60% of our clients come from the Ann Arbor area, but we have a few who visit us from as far as Grand Rapids, Traverse City, or even out of state. A lot of our watch clients come to us from all over the country. It’s a lot fun to see parents and students commemorate their son or daughter’s time here in Ann Arbor at the University. We have created custom one-of-a-kind pieces and sold simple Block M silver bracelets starting at $30.
Lucinda: It’s enjoyable to see families come in together, especially when they just start school here. We play a small role in so many monumental occasions that it’s hard to pick just one favorite client story; there have been many special moments. As we’ve said, we have regular customers who come in once or twice a week who have become our friends. We know their stories and they know ours.
It’s touching that way. We’re fortunate to connect with people in our line of work. We’ve had proposals happen right in the store. We’ve cried with people and celebrated with them. Recently, a couple came into the store to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, and the husband got down on one knee right in the middle of the store to re-propose to his bride.
If we had to choose our favorite client or character in our story, we would simply say Ann Arbor. We love our community and the role it has played in Lewis Jewelers these last 50 years.
I often say that jewelry is a photograph of a memory, and when you can capture that memory, it becomes a story — a story that lives forever. The art of jewelry is touching and sentimental in every way. It’s always capturing important moments — the good occasions, and even a few sad ones. Jewelry is something that gets passed down through generations, and we’re happy to help write that history and also craft the future.
Since 1921, Lewis Jewelers has been building a reputation of integrity, excellent customer service, and quality products. The family-owned, full-service jewelry store offers repairs, engravings, custom creations, and access to all worldwide major brands. Whether you’re in the market for engagement rings, wedding bands, diamonds, or gold pieces, their non-commissioned expert advisors are ready to provide their professional experience, advice, and jewelry solutions. Visit www.lewisjewelers.com to see their collections.