James â€œJimmyâ€ Davis learned the jewelerâ€™s arts back when F.D.R. was in the White House, Seabiscuit was the horse to bet on, and plans were being made to build an airport bigger than Bowman Field.
â€œMy brother, Ben, bought Buschemeyerâ€™s Jewelers in 1938,â€ he said. â€œI was a junior at the University of Louisville. After class, Iâ€™d work for him and got $3 a week. On Saturdays, I got an extra dollar.â€
A lot has changed since then, of course, including wages, but Jimmy, now 94, is still at Buschemeyerâ€™s, chatting with customers and sharing his expertise with the storeâ€™s half-dozen employees. The address has changed â€“ itâ€™s now 2216 Dundee Road â€“ but not the high standards and skills that have made Buschemeyerâ€™s a jewelry store of the first water.
The business was founded in 1865 by one August Rees, who started out repairing jewelry in a rooming house. He soon gained so many customers, he was able to open a real store, complete with employees.
â€œPeople started saying, â€˜Take it to Buschemeyerâ€™s; theyâ€™ll mend it.â€™ Then they branched out into making jewelry by hand,â€ Jimmy said. â€œAt one time, they had about two dozen sitting jewelers â€“ engravers, polishers, setters. Everybody had a different specialty; that was before mass production.â€
William J. Buschemeyer later purchased the store. Toward the end of the 19th century, it became known for a 19-diamond brooch, featuring elaborate filigree, called the Buschemeyer Kentucky Cluster.
In 1949, Jimmy and his late wife, Miriam, a fine jeweler in her own right (â€œShe could make anythingâ€), purchased the business. They kept the Buschemeyer name because the public knew and respected it, and added the matching of silverware patterns to the services they offered.
â€œIf someone lost or damaged a knife, fork or spoon, we would try to mend it. If we couldnâ€™t, weâ€™d find a replacement. We were known for keeping track of peopleâ€™s patterns, and sending a notice when we got in some of their pieces,â€ Jimmy said. â€œIt used to be that when girls graduated from high school, they were given a silver spoon and added pieces later.â€
Jimmy retired in 1983 but remains the owner, with several relatives as partners. He delights in waiting on multiple generations of families he has served.
â€œA lady came in recently with her daughter and her little granddaughter. I had known her father, so thatâ€™s four generations,â€ he said. â€œI believe people are coming back to family businesses. They want to go where people run the business themselves and talk to the jeweler whoâ€™ll be making their wedding ring or necklace. Thatâ€™s the fun of it.â€
After more than a century downtown, Buschemeyerâ€™s moved to the Douglass Loop in time to open on May 1. The location, next to CafÃ© Lou Lou, used to be a bank. The store makes good use of its leftover vault.
â€œThe Loop is a little communityâ€”thatâ€™s what we like about it,â€ Jimmy said. â€œItâ€™s sort of a meeting place, with the Twig and Leaf, Fat Jimmyâ€™s, Graeterâ€™s, Heine Brothers and other great places. I wish we had moved here 30 years ago.â€
Buschemeyerâ€™s still welcomes repair jobs that other jewelers wonâ€™t attempt. The store also evaluates, buys and sells coins (â€œDonâ€™t clean them, because that affects their value,â€ Jimmy warned), redesigns jewelry, and makes one-of-a-kind pieces from scratch.
Master bench jeweler Ned Gavin, who trained in New York, enjoys the challenge of turning a hard wax cylinder into a unique wedding ring or other treasure. In a process that takes about three weeks, he pares a portion of the cylinder into a basic ring form, then painstakingly carves the final shape. A plaster cast hardens around that wax model; and when it is heated, the wax melts, leaving a precise cavity ready to be filled with molten gold. After the plaster is washed away, the cooled ring is cleaned, polished and set with stones.
â€œWe prefer making a one-of-a-kind piece, because no one else is going to have it. If we were to do a rubber mold for a generic piece, which is what most companies do, there would be thousands of people wearing it, so it wouldnâ€™t feel that special,â€ he said. â€œWe are among the few people in this entire area who can do this level of customization.â€
Now that Buschemeyerâ€™s has settled into its new home, Jimmy makes sure that he is on hand for as many meet-and-greets as possible.
â€œI come in and help the staff. They like it because Iâ€™m not on the payroll,â€ he joked. â€œI love seeing the people and doing things for them. We have a lot of good, loyal customers. Thatâ€™s what keeps us going.â€
Buschemeyerâ€™s Jewelers, 2216 Dundee Road, is open 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. For more information, visit www.buschemeyer.com or phone 502.587.0621.