Jeweler finds hospitable market in Carson City

Where once couples tied the knot, they can now browse for rings.

Goldsmith and jewelry designer Tim Rubsam remodeled over the former court offices of Justice of the Peace Robey Willis at Carson and Telegraph streets to create a larger home for his Jewelry Bench.

The summer project prepared the third home, all within a block of each other, for Rubsam's business since he set up shop in Carson four years ago.

The first was the Mercantile and Jewelry Bench across Carson Street on East Telegraph, where he started off in 1995 working with a gift shop operator. He soon took over the jewelry end of the business as his own to create Tim Rubsam's Jewelry Bench in the small space.

In 1997, Rubsam and wife Penny expanded into the Main Street Atrium behind B'Sghetti's. The larger space allowed better displays and lighting to highlight the fine gems and precious metals. Penny began offering the unique gift items she found in her travels, both real-world and via the Internet.

Two more years and the popularity of Rubsam's designs and service meant it was time to move again.

The new location and larger store allowed Penny and Tim to bring in a sales person, Pat Walsh. And demand for repairs, resettings and other jewelry work prompted the hiring of another jeweler, Leslie Baskett, in October.

Penny said the store is twice as large as the Atrium location, but it looks even larger. The more rectangular shape has allowed much better use of the display area and Penny has many more of her one-of-a-kind on the shelves.

"When people come looking for gifts here, they'll find antiques and unique pieces they won't find at any other store in town," Penny said. "We offer a difference from the limited edition collectibles other stores offer."

Rubsam's office is the former JP's; the remaining space was remodeled. If the Jewelry Bench needs to expand again, Rubsam said, it won't mean another relocation - the former courtroom area is vacant behind the store and he can just knock out a wall this time.

Shoppers will see cases displaying a wide selection of rings, necklaces, earrings and other quality items. What they rarely displayed is Rubsam's original work - that's usually sold before it can be displayed.

But seeing Rubsam's custom work on the hands, throats and ears of Carson Country residents is what drives the goldsmithing end of his business, he said.

"The word of mouth, people seeing my rings, it's been tremendous," he said. "Someone comes in with some repair work, wanting a new setting, wanting something made - they feel they already can trust me because of that."

Rubsam said his custom work focuses on the higher quality end of the market. For instance, he prefers to use 18-carat gold for his creations, while mass-marketed jewelry is often 14-carat.

"The 18-carat gold is nicer, heavier, more malleable than 14-carat," he said.

A custom designed piece can offer more value than one from a retail jeweler, Rubsam said. A retail piece starts at a manufacturer, goes through a distributor, gets purchased by a retailer and can set in stock for a long period before purchase. That means several businesses are taking a profit along the way and capital is tied up, not earning anything until the purchase, which may not even happen thanks to the vagaries of fashion.

"When I do a piece, I know it's sold, so I'm not having to compensate in the price for any risk. There's no middleman needing to make another profit, either," he said.

"And, if a large manufacturer who is making thousands of a design can cut a corner to save a pennyweight's worth of gold on a piece, that's thousands of pennyweights saved.

"For me, saving a pennyweight would only mean about 2 percent off the cost of that one piece. We'll put that extra pennyweight into making a nicer ring."

Rubsam showed how he will make the shank of a ring heavier to counterbalance the weight of the mounting needed for a larger stone. The balancing keeps the ring from tending to rotate because of gravity.

When a customer wants to order a Rubsam piece, he or Penny pull out photos of his work and other catalogs to help develop a design. Rubsam makes a sketch, then a wax version for the customer's approval and, when it's right, casts the piece in his workshop right in the store.

"Already this morning I designed two pieces - I'll probably do some more yet today," he said. "Most of the time I end up designing all day, then make the pieces after closing."

Penny said there is still plenty of time to have a special gift created for the holidays, but that it is always a good idea to order as soon as possible.

Platinum is becoming more popular for his custom settings, Rubsam said.

The heavy, pure material was the metal of choice for "white" jewelry for years, but it was outlawed for jewelry purposes early in the century when it was declared a strategic material and reserved for national defense purposes. White gold has largely filled the demand since then, he said.

"A platinum setting will cost three times what the same piece in 14-carat gold would," Rubsam said, "but it will last many times as long."

The long life of platinum had created a strong market for antique jewelry that predates the ban, he said.

Platinum has dominated the demand for white jewelry in coastal markets for a few years and that popularity is now being reflected by local customers, he said.

"If its popular in Los Angeles or San Francisco, then we know it will be here in a couple years," Rubsam said.

That gives him time to prepare and lets the market fluctuations settle down before he purchases his working stock of precious metals.

Another area where Rubsam watches the market closely is in buying gemstones.

"The motto is true - diamonds are forever. They do not wear. I deal in the secondary market, where the prices are not controlled by DeBeers the Dutch diamond monopoly that dominates distribution of 'new' diamonds," the jeweler explained.

"Sometimes customers ask if their stones are new. I want to say that, to the best of my knowledge, they're all millions of years old."

The Jewelry Bench always has a wide variety of precious and semiprecious gemstones for mounting in Rubsam's designs or stock settings.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment