by RENEE PATRICK Cascade Business News Feature Writer
Elyse Douglas has always been a jeweler. From building her rock collection at a young age to watching her father experiment with metals in his workshop, her life has closely followed her passion. The “epiphany” came during a non-credit intro to jewelry making class in college, and her excitement for gems has only grown over the years, much to the credit of her determination and strong work ethic.
Through a number of positions in rock shops, jewelry stores and classes at the Gemological Institute of America, Douglas honed her skills. She attributes most of her learning to on-the-job training: learning wax carving at a shop in Sacramento, sautering work in Petaluma, and “bench” work in Sonoma.
“I was driven to figure this thing out. I thought one of these days I am going to be valuable to someone,” Douglas commented. “Little by little I acquired more skills and after working at the vineyard jewelers in Sonoma as their repair person, they were open to me designing jewelry, and that is where I met Steve, my husband.”
Steve Douglas has been a life-long jeweler like Elyse. He developed his expertise starting with a high school class in jewelry metals, a jewelry/arts and crafts education in college and various jobs in jewelry manufacturing.
After getting married and having a few babies, the couple embraced the idea of opening a retail store. “We didn’t know anything about business; we are artists,” Douglas said. When the family moved to Bend 23 years ago, there were only two jewelry stores. “I got a job at Saxons and Steve got a job with Marty Smith. Even though I had bench jeweler experience, they only wanted me as a sales person. I went from a crafts person to an upfront sales person. That was good thing because I couldn’t have opened a store without that background; working with people and talking about custom designs was the next step.”
While the couple worked for other jewelers in the area, they took business courses and made connections with the Small Business Development Center. “They helped us with the business plan, it brought a little reality to this thing that we talked about doing and helped us figure out financing,” she said. With a loan from the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council, Douglas Fine Jewelry opened in 2001 in the Old Mill District.
“We opened our business just after 9/11 and were biting our nails constantly wondering if we could make it work.” After two years, the couple decided to transition to St. Clair Place on Minnesota Street in Downtown Bend.
“The parking garage wasn’t here, or The Oxford; it was just a vacant lot on that end, and it has been non-stop construction. We were wondering if it would ever end, but finally we feel like we are in a nice and permanent spot with plenty of potential. The Oxford has helped to turn Minnesota into a beautiful retail street.”
While learning the business side of the operation was difficult, the Douglases have persevered. “There was challenge after challenge, we are so unique, it makes us different from any store out there. We make everything we sell and that means no down time. When we are not selling, we are making and working six or seven days a week. It’s a huge commitment, but we feel like that is what sets us apart, and that is what has kept our doors open all those years. Our growth has been approximately 12 percent each year since opening.”
As of this year, the Douglases are 100 percent committed to selling their own work. “Now after all these years of trying to sell other people’s work, we are selling only our custom jewelry,” Elyse said. “We have synthesized what we do to three things: custom designs, bridal jewelry and repair work. The Oregon Sunstone is very popular. We mine the gem in Eastern Oregon and make all the jewelry on the premises in the shop just above the showroom.
“I love custom designing jewelry for other people, it is incredibly fulfilling….Every time someone comes in the door, it’s something new they bring to the table that inspires me. They come in with these really fun ideas and unique parameters…then I get to put my design cap on and start doing sketches,” she said. “We never stop working in new directions.”
The addition of two staff has helped to keep Douglas Jewelry up-to-date. Staff member Adam Mendel is completely redesigning their website, and soon the store will have a shopping cart feature, enabling online sales.
“If we could expose our custom designs to a broader market, maybe we could sell enough outside of Bend to even out some rough spots; we can have tremendous highs and lows depending on the tourist seasons,” Douglas explained. “Right now we are just having fun and making the store work better, making it more efficient, and exploring how to get our Oregon Sunstone out there.