America’s 10 Oldest Jewelers: Saboe Jewelry

Saboe Jewelry

Since 1854

102 S. Vine St.
West Union, Iowa

Saboe Jewelry has been a fixture on the main street of West Union, Iowa, for more than 150 years. Originally opened by a man named William Parrott in 1854, the store has seen several changes of ownership and was taken over by Orville Saboe, the father of current owner Ron Saboe, in 1949. After working at the store in high school and taking a career detour in industrial engineering to design rock crushers, Ron returned to the business, buying out his father in 1983. He’s been there ever since, and, despite competition from the Internet and big-box stores, enjoys a steadfast loyalty from generations of Iowans. —Martha C. White

“If I can sketch it, we can get it made.”

—Ron Saboe

Repair work is less flashy, but it’s dependable—and a skill worth having.
“I went to watchmaking school in St. Paul, [Minn.], and graduated No. 1 in my class, then became a certified
master watchmaker. I’ve always been a fixer. There are always repairs—it’s not hard to be busy.”

The Internet can’t replace high-touch customer service. 
“Sometimes people come in and want a custom ring. If I can sketch it, we can get it made. You’ve got to listen and figure out what they want—what shape of a diamond and what kind of mounting—and give them a quality stone. The thing that people don’t realize is just because you got a certified diamond online, that doesn’t tell you a thing about the quality. I try and provide what good information I can, whether I get the sale or not.”

Know who your customers are and what they love.
“People who come in, don’t know what they want, and buy something on an impulse—they’re going to be tired with that ring down the line. We take the time and show them that if you put some thought into what you actually like, you’ll always come back to that. Dad always said you didn’t have to like it to sell it, but it helps. I just like to provide good products, and I’m probably not quite as fad-oriented with some of the new styles. I try and stick more or less to the basics.” 

Stay true to your roots and to your community.
“I grew up in West Union; my dad grew up in West Union. The original Saboe that came from Norway in 1851—he was the first Norwegian immigrant in Fayette County. So we’ve been here a long time. For the most part, people come in because they want to buy from me.” 

Like heirlooms, loyalty is an investment in the future passed down through the generations.
“We’ve just had a lot of people through the years—we sell to them, their kids go off to college, and then we’re selling jewelry to their grown children. They tell me, ‘You treated us the most respectfully and the price was just fair.’ We’ve been here for so long, when people need something, they just come in and expect that they’re going to get a better diamond at a fair price by coming here.” 

Top: owner Ron Saboe at the counter; inset: Ron’s dad, Orville Saboe, in the ’60s, and Saboe in 1949

Next: Nelson Coleman Jewelers

More of America’s 10 Oldest Retailers:

Bixler’s Jewelers

Shreve, Crump & Low

Black, Starr & Frost

Merkley Kendrick Jewelers


Randolph Jewelers

Shreve & Co.

Kuhn’s Jewelers

Nelson Coleman Jewelers

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