On the Road in Albuquerque

The central New Mexico city of Albuquerque has a wealth of natural beauty, a moderate climate, and many of the challenges of larger metropolitan regions throughout the United States. At approximately 5,000 feet, it has one of the highest altitudes of any major U.S. city.

Its population growth is more reflective of recent migration trends than of the area’s indigenous origins. Émigrés are attracted to its moderate climate (snow and temperatures of 100 degrees are rare), natural resources, and casual lifestyle. Its military bases and its distinction as a center of nuclear research also make the region home to a large population of “army brats.”

The majority of fine retail jewelers interviewed by JCK are located in the northwest quadrant of the city, known as “Uptown,” which serves as the city’s major shopping district and home to some of its more affluent residents. The retailers have traditional full-service jewelry operations and often work to distinguish themselves by the lines of popular jewelry and watches they sell. Quality service, value, repeat business (in some cases generational), and catering to the structured tastes of their customers are all hallmarks of doing business in this city.

“Albuquerque is not like any other market in the region,” explains Mary Reich, gemologist and certified appraiser at Shelton Jewelers. “The jewelry market is divided distinctly between Indian jewelry and fine jewelry. Albuquerque is a little more conservative. Coastal trends just don’t make it here. It’s a more casual area. Their tastes are understated and elegant.”

Shelton Jewelers

Shelton Jewelers is similar to many fine jewelry establishments in Albuquerque. The family-run business has operated for about 22 years and employs approximately 15 people. It provides custom-design services, repairs, and appraisals and tries to find its niche by being the exclusive or near-exclusive seller of several well-known and high-quality brands. John Hardy and Mikimoto are among its featured lines. Hearts On Fire may be the most-promoted brand in the store. The entire rear of the store is dedicated to the brand and includes a constantly running video display. “You can’t beat Hearts On Fire,” Reich says.

Dark woods and low display cases with chairs provide privacy and comfort for shoppers. Appraisers and bench jewelers work in an area visible to customers. All employees receive a great deal of education and are trained to service customers’ needs. “We have the goal of providing excellent customer service,” Reich explains. “And we like to back it up and support all of our clients’ needs.”

Along with the brand names, the store also stocks less-expensive silver jewelry—often sold as add-ons—which does well. “It’s a great look,” Reich says of the silver lines. “Fashion is very good for us.”

The store also tries to take the lead in establishing trends and recently added colored gems to its mix. “We added color last year,” Reich says. “We just wanted something different. We’re hoping it’s time that Albuquerque is ready for color.”

Reich says she’s hoping suppliers will help provide some trend inspiration. “It’s time for designers and manufacturers to come out with something different,” she says. “We’re looking for what’s new.”

Beauchamp & Co.

Whether telling a sales rep that her product line may not be the right fit for his store or helping a new customer with a watch appraisal, Ron Beauchamp, president of Beauchamp & Co., exhibits the smooth, self-assured, and polite manner of someone who has grown up in the business. His father founded the business 55 years ago. His grandfather was a watchmaker. “We’ve endured,” he says.

“We have a long-standing reputation here,” he says. “The niche we carved for ourselves is that we provide the finest quality, design names, fashion, custom work, and estate and antique jewelry.”

He and his 11 employees, including three bench jewelers and a watchmaker, focus on customer service. “We want to take care of everybody who walks into the store,” he adds. “We service a little bit of everything. We help them any way we can. We try to have price points that reflect that.”

The diversity of his inventory in his well-organized 800-square-foot showroom ranges from a 5.50 ct. platinum ring to $50 merchandise. Beauchamp & Co. was the first store in the city to carry Rolex watches. It also carries Cartier, David Yurman, and Roberto Coin. Beauchamp hosts bench shows, an annual colored-stone event, and other events to keep his customers abreast of trends.

Roberto Coin jewelry and diamond items are among his best sellers, he says. Brand names and traditional jewelry, such as three-stone diamond studs, are a mainstay for his customers. “I think they prefer these items because they’re timeless,” he says. “They never go out of fashion.”

The rest of his 1,765-square-foot store is used as office space and for his bench jewelers and watchmaker. “It’s a tiny store so we try to utilize space the best we can,” he explains. “It’s quite an efficient operation.”

Beauchamp is a proud Albuquerque resident who openly praises his city while being realistic about its challenges. “We’re right at the bottom of the barrel,” he says, referring to the state’s economic woes. “It’s not something we’re proud of, but it’s a reality.”

He quickly adds, “Albuquerque is a beautiful place to live. It has great weather and a conducive climate for a healthy lifestyle.”

Rocky Mountain Gold & Silver Exchange

Another person who shares Beauchamp’s enthusiasm for living in Albuquerque is Tess Conti, owner of Rocky Mountain Gold & Silver Exchange, a business that specializes in antique and estate jewelry that she founded 16 years ago.

“We have customers here for as long as it’s been opened,” says the self-confessed army brat, who has lived in nearly every state in the union. “There are a half-million people here, but it’s a small town. I don’t go anywhere where I don’t see at least six people I know.”

She speaks as enthusiastically about her business as she does about her city. Her business and her background are different from the other jewelers interviewed. There were no jewelers in her family. Her first career choice was photography, but she gained knowledge in precious metals and gemstones through other jobs, including a stint at nearby Academy Corp., a precious-metal refinery. She happily traded her camera for a storefront. “It’s such a blessing to love what you do,” she says. “I am excited about going to work. That’s a great thing.”

Her store has lines of new jewelry, but her passion is the antique jewelry she receives from others. She says her average price point is around $1,000, but she also gets items that run hundreds of thousands of dollars. “We really love vintage jewelry,” she says. “I probably wouldn’t be in the business if we were just a regular jewelry store. The best treasures we have are things that come into the store.”

Conti shares her space with gemologist Ed Karler, who specializes in vintage jewelry and appraisals. He moved into the store 10 years ago, and they often work together when buying and selling.

During JCK‘s visit they displayed a platinum Cartier necklace with diamonds and blue enamel, circa 1890s, that they’re planning to sell at auction at Sotheby’s. “It’s a real beautiful example of that time period when they first started using platinum,” Karler says. “Until then, they were using silver.”

Conti notes that one drawback of Albuquerque is the inability to sell some of the items they get. They are members of the International Watch & Jewelry Guild and use their various networks to search for buyers all over the world. “We have pieces where there is no possibility that they could be sold in this town,” she says.

Conti and Karler specialize in diamond and custom jewelry but say pearls and gold are big sellers among their older customers, and white gold and platinum jewelry are popular among younger customers.

“People 55 and older will have no part of it [white gold and platinum],” she says. “Ten years ago, 90 percent of our business was yellow gold. Now it’s 75 percent white.”

While Albuquerque is a poor city, there is a group of billionaires who live just outside the city. Those people often supply Conti with high-quality jewelry. “As poor as this city is, the amount of billionaires here is astronomical,” she says.

Butterfield Jewelers

One of the oldest family jewelers in Albuquerque is Butterfield Jewelers. The business was founded 78 years ago in Illinois, and the family moved to Albuquerque in 1945. The bustling store is a community fixture. Customers come in telling stories to Ernest Bernard Butterfield Jr. about their first memories of being in the store with their parents. At 78 years old, “Bernie” is also a community fixture.

They’ve accomplished this status through aggressive marketing and public relations campaigns that include radio advertising and strong support of community organizations. Among their beneficiaries are the University of New Mexico and the annual New Mexico Symphony Ball. They even sponsor three Legend race cars (5/8-scale replicas of American automobiles from the 1930s and 1940s that race on modified tracks) and a sprint race car (small, high-powered race cars designed to run on short dirt or paved tracks).

The store maintains its success by providing good customer service, supplying many branded merchandise lines, and through their strong relationship with the American Gem Society.

Butterfield sells two branded lines of diamonds, HeartStar and Gabrielle. Its watch brands include Accutron, Bulova, and Omega, and jewelry lines include Armadani, Diana Classic, and Scott Kay.

Bernie Butterfield maintains that even though the city and the local industry have changed over the years, the business operates in much the same way as it always did. “It’s still a family business,” he says. “Still a personal business. There are so many repeat customers, it’s hard to believe. But we’re working at nurturing the younger crowd. That’s where it is.”

Bernie Butterfield is still active while in the store. When he’s not waiting on customers, he’s talking to people about the old days, maintaining the grandfather clock in the store, and even playing a tune on the baby grand piano in the showroom.

Despite such a busy operation, he says the company has no plans to expand. “We have all the business we can really handle,” he says. “We’ve considered it and probably missed the boat. Albuquerque is growing in leaps and bounds.”