James “Jimmy” Davis learned the jeweler’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.
“My brother, Ben, bought Buschemeyer’s Jewelers in 1938,” he said. “I was a junior at the University of Louisville. After class, I’d work for him and got $3 a week. On Saturdays, I got an extra dollar.”
A lot has changed since then, of course, including wages, but Jimmy, now 94, is still at Buschemeyer’s, chatting with customers and sharing his expertise with the store’s half-dozen employees. The address has changed – it’s now 2216 Dundee Road – but not the high standards and skills that have made Buschemeyer’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.
“People started saying, ‘Take it to Buschemeyer’s; they’ll mend it.’ Then they branched out into making jewelry by hand,” Jimmy said. “At one time, they had about two dozen sitting jewelers – engravers, polishers, setters. Everybody had a different specialty; that was before mass production.”
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 (“She could make anything”), 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.
“If someone lost or damaged a knife, fork or spoon, we would try to mend it. If we couldn’t, we’d find a replacement. We were known for keeping track of people’s patterns, and sending a notice when we got in some of their pieces,” Jimmy said. “It used to be that when girls graduated from high school, they were given a silver spoon and added pieces later.”
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.
“A lady came in recently with her daughter and her little granddaughter. I had known her father, so that’s four generations,” he said. “I believe people are coming back to family businesses. They want to go where people run the business themselves and talk to the jeweler who’ll be making their wedding ring or necklace. That’s the fun of it.”
After more than a century downtown, Buschemeyer’s moved to the Douglass Loop in time to open on May 1. The location, next to Café Lou Lou, used to be a bank. The store makes good use of its leftover vault.
“The Loop is a little community—that’s what we like about it,” Jimmy said. “It’s sort of a meeting place, with the Twig and Leaf, Fat Jimmy’s, Graeter’s, Heine Brothers and other great places. I wish we had moved here 30 years ago.”
Buschemeyer’s still welcomes repair jobs that other jewelers won’t attempt. The store also evaluates, buys and sells coins (“Don’t clean them, because that affects their value,” 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.
“We 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 wouldn’t feel that special,” he said. “We are among the few people in this entire area who can do this level of customization.”
Now that Buschemeyer’s has settled into its new home, Jimmy makes sure that he is on hand for as many meet-and-greets as possible.
“I come in and help the staff. They like it because I’m not on the payroll,” he joked. “I love seeing the people and doing things for them. We have a lot of good, loyal customers. That’s what keeps us going.”
Buschemeyer’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.