The week before Thanksgiving, Ben Gordon—known to Houston residents as the “Jewelry Judge”—celebrated 60 years in the appraisal business. But make no mistake: This was in no way a retirement party. “I’m still active and don’t plan to retire,” said Gordon, who turned 77 on Dec. 26. “It’s a new beginning. I’m celebrating the next 60 years. I don’t feel old. I feel good. As long as I’m healthy, why not?”
Gordon, who grew up playing stickball in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, got his start in the jewelry business in 1953 like many New Yorkers: working on 47th Street as a runner between manufacturers, casters, polishers, and setters. It was a time when doctors made house calls for $2 a pop, gold was $35 an ounce, and minimum wage was 75 cents an hour. He met his wife, Linda, on Coney Island in 1958, got an MBA at New York University, and worked his way up in the industry to become a production manager and buyer.
In 1966, he answered an ad by Gordon’s Jewelers—although no relation, Gordon coincidentally “had the right name”—and was asked to move from New York City to Houston. “‘Where’s Houston, Texas?’” Gordon recalls wondering. “Anything west of the George Washington Bridge was the provinces.”
Houston turned out to be a good fit for the New Yorker; while at Gordon’s Jewelers, he rose through the ranks, becoming vice president of merchandising for its fine jewelry division. By 1975, however, Gordon found that the community needed an independent jewelry appraiser more than they needed a merchandising exec and ventured out on his own. “I was a buyer and so I had all the knowledge, but within two years I was making more money doing appraising work than working for the corporation,” he says. “The community needed it and they haven’t disappointed me.”
Gordon has developed a mix of art, science, and technology to give customers a full range of services. While they wait, clients get their jewelry reviewed, digitally photographed, and steam-cleaned. A report is then emailed to them and their insurance company. “We don’t buy or sell,” he says of the pieces he evaluates. “We have to be able to be independent to the consumer so that we can be trustworthy.”
Linda and Ben Gordon
A spot check of the Houston Yellow Pages turns up rave reviews: “Ben is the best,” wrote one customer. “I went in with a bunch of estate stuff (basically didn’t know what I had) and Ben went through all of it and efficiently separated the things with value from the trash. He treated every piece like it belonged with the crown jewels. The customer service is over the top. Would definitely go back in the future.”
Gordon says he can recount “8 million” stories like these. “I give them a circa—their grandmother’s ring was made in 1922,” he said. “It makes it exciting. I love it. I come into work every day. What else would I do? Watch the grass grow?”