2439 Times Blvd., Houston
Joseph Keith Ronquillo started young. By age 15, he’d learned to silversmith at his father’s downtown Houston store. By 17, Ronquillo, a third-generation jeweler and first-generation American, decided to design his own line and open his own store. Ten years later, he did—in Rice Village, Houston’s tree-shaded pedestrian shopping center known for its independent retailers and strategic location near the world’s largest medical center and prestigious Rice University. The 1,280-square-foot Joseph Keith boutique stands out with his own handcrafted wares, plus a few dazzlers by his father, Renato, and a smattering of private-label platinum pieces.
In Ronquillo lore, Joseph is a late bloomer. Father Renato L. Ronquillo apprenticed at age 14 in his own father’s jewelry shop in Manila, the Philippines. The sole certified Jewelers of America Master Bench Jeweler in Houston and southeast Texas, Renato emigrated to Houston at 21, and eventually opened Renato Jewelers in 1976. Joseph inherited not only the family passion but also his father’s work ethic. (As a teenager, his favorite accessory was a sketch pad filled with designs.) Eager to expand his skills and horizons, he studied the trade for five years at various universities, including New York City’s Fashion Institute of Technology. Joseph then worked for his father for a year—“learning the ins and outs of running a store,” he explains—and in sales at Tiffany & Co. in Houston for two years. “Each was a stepping stone to where I am now,” he says. “I always knew I wanted the freedom to be my own boss, selling my own line.”
With fashion jeweler Kendra Scott less than a block away—plus the silver-focused J. Landa and designer-heavy Chardé Jewelers nearby—Joseph figured out quickly that being a lifestyle store (he sold handbags and soy candles at one point) wasn’t going to work. So he honed in on what he does best: jewelry, handmade and original. “Each store has its own taste and approach,” Joseph says. “Everything we sell is one-of-a-kind, not brand names.” An airy white showroom flaunts his pendants, rings, and bracelets in textured, oxidized sterling silver and 18k gold, adorned with labradorite, pearls, turquoise, or raw diamonds. “I design everyday pieces that are meant to be layered,” he says. The prices are pretty everyday too, from $50 to $1,500.
Thirty percent of Joseph’s work is custom: anniversary presents, cocktail rings, or diamond and platinum engagement rings, often made from recycled jewelry and costing up to $10,000. “It becomes an eco-friendly tribute,” says Joseph, who sometimes invites clients to sketch their ideas. “I love collaborating with customers.” And Joseph’s father has his own ideas for exceptional pieces. Two showstoppers we spotted on our visit: a $15,000 platinum and 18k gold pendant studded with diamonds, spessartite garnets, and sapphires, and a $10,000 18k gold and akoya pearl brooch.
Transparent blue vases, antique jewelry boxes, and rocks scattered within the cases echo Joseph Keith’s nature-inspired collections. Etched aluminum wall hangings reflect the textured wares. “I want it to feel like an art gallery, but cozy.” Like its contents, the store is an ever-evolving work of art. Noting a strong recent uptick in men’s sales and a dearth of masculine, edgy yet professional jewelry, Ronquillo’s next focus is enlarging his men’s collection: “I love the adrenaline of building something…whether it’s fabricating a piece of jewelry or expanding my business.”
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