In this column, members of the jewelry industry can state their views, wax poetic or otherwise pen their thoughts in slightly longer form than the traditional letter to the editor. We welcome your submissions. Please send them to P.J. Donahue, JCK, One Chilton Way, Radnor, PA 19089; fax (610) 964-4481, e-mail pdonahue@ chilton.net.
HAROLD CHANEY, A GREAT JEWELER
by Charles Warren Wintersville, Ohio
In all of my career in the jewelry trade, there has been one shining light who embodied the true meaning of a master jeweler: Harold Chaney. He has done nothing but serve his community and asked nothing in return.
I first met Mr. Chaney in 1973 in my hometown of Brazil, Ind. I was an overweight kid with glasses and without much confidence in myself. I was prompted to visit his store because of a school test intended to enlighten kids on what to do for a living. I had been there a few times to look around and to buy Krementz gifts for my mother, but I had never considered working there. Mrs. Chaney asked if she could help me and I very sheepishly said I wanted to know how to become a jeweler. “Let me let you talk to my husband,” she said with a chuckle.
She led me behind the counter and into a darkened room. In one corner was a bench with a torch and a jumble of stuff. The man at the bench was concentrating on his work so intensely I couldn’t tell whether he was breathing. After a while, he put down his torch, lifted his visor like a Knight of the Round Table and smiled.
“Why do want to become a jeweler?” he asked.
“I’ve always liked jewelry and I love art and I feel that I would really enjoy it,” I said.
“That’s the right answer.”
For weeks, I visited to watch him work. Soon, I was offered a job.
Mr. Chaney started his own apprenticeship before the Great Depression, working for free. He walked 10 miles or sneaked on a trolley that wound its way between his grandfather’s farm, where he lived, to the store. He worked six days a week, 12 hours a day. All this he did for an education in a trade he loves. When the four-year apprenticeship ended, he received a new suit and a trip to the Chicago World’s Fair before leaving for Indianapolis.
His skills were still raw, but he knew enough to go into several factories working at different positions. Eventually, he would move on, all the while observing more of his craft.
He met and married his wife, Mildred, and they started their own store in 1940. Times in the Midwest were still very rough. Mrs. Chaney recalls times when they paid their help, then went home with nothing for themselves. Times were so tough, in fact, the school directors reported the Chaneys because they sent their children to school with holes in their shoes. But then he started to work evenings with a WPA program teaching people how to make simple jewelry for themselves. [Editor’s note: The Works Progress Administration (WPA) program was part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal that provided jobs during the Depression.]
Mr. Chaney always strove for perfection, encouraging me to do things correctly so they didn’t have to be done again. “You’re not a real jeweler until you can fix all your mistakes,” he said. “A customer won’t always notice that you polished a piece of jewelry, but he will always notice when you didn’t.”
The Chaneys practically adopted me, taking me on buying trips to Indianapolis and taking me home for lunch. I learned how to eat my vegetables sitting in their kitchen. Swearing was not tolerated and honesty was required.
Mr. Chaney would not work on a set due date, especially on custom work. People would wait for two and three years for a piece of his jewelry. And what jewelry it is! He enjoys the classic designs of filigree and the Victorian flair. One customer, for example, brought in a beautiful 14k white gold and diamond watch with a ruined movement and asked to have something else made from it.
Mr. Chaney designed an exquisite 14k yellow gold hinged bangle bracelet. For many weeks I watched and assisted in the process, which started by making the bracelet itself with a concave florentine finish, wide at the top and tapering in the back. The sides were pierced and hand-engraved with delicate intertwining vines and leaves. The white gold watch case was installed in the center to create a white gold sunburst filigree grid with a pear-shaped demantoid garnet in the center. Whatever it took, whether it was casting, fabricating, die work or lapidary work, we could do it at Chaneys.
One evening, Mr. Chaney was reading the paper at home and Mrs. Chaney was at a church function. Two men broke into the back of the house, grabbed him from behind and asked when his wife would be home. When he didn’t answer, they threatened to tie him up. He told them to take what they wanted, “but you’re not going to tie me up.” One man hit him on the head with a gun and, when Mr. Chaney tried to run, they pistol-whipped him then locked him in a closet and fled. Mr. Chaney, then 65, broke out of the closet and, though he had lost quite a bit of blood, staggered down the street to the police station. The perpetrators were never caught, but they got only a few pieces of Mrs. Chaney’s jewelry.
Several years later, the Chaneys were robbed again, this time at the store by a professional con artist. I no longer worked for them, but still they cared enough about our friendship that, despite the robbery, they took time to attend my wedding a few days later.
In addition to being a jeweler, Mr. Chaney is a Methodist pastor. Many Saturdays, we would sit in the back room and eat lunch while he tried out his sermon or went over his Sunday school lesson with me. You can say I picked up more than jewelry skills.
At one time, a man from the Indiana Watch Board wanted to know whether I would like to attend a jewelry repair seminar in Terre Haute. I said no, thank you, but Mr. Chaney wanted me to go and even paid half of the fee. “I want you to go, not to learn very much, but to learn what you already know.” Mr. Chaney was right. I sat through a week’s worth of evening classes with other jewelers who had only possibly a fourth of the knowledge and skills that Mr. Chaney had instilled in me.
It’s hard to bring this tribute to a close because the Chaneys are always on my mind and in my heart. They are two of the most precious jewels in the business today; anyone who has the privilege to know them has gained as much respect for them as I have.
God bless them both.
[Editor’s note: The writer sent a second note shortly after his first to tell us the Chaneys’ store was up for sale and they were retiring from their long careers in the jewelry business.]
COPYRIGHTS & DESIGNERS
Thank you for another great feature article. “The Ownership of Ideas” (JCK, May 1997, p. 84) covered a very important and often ignored subject. I would like to add these two ideas.
Under the Copyright Act of 1976, a freelance designer who is commissioned to do work automatically owns the copyright. A trade shop or artist hired to render a design for a customer of a retail store retains copyrights to the design, not the store or the customer. As a result, “Any businessperson who subcontracts with freelance artists, writers, designers, and others who create “artistic” works must now take special care in crafting appropriate contracts for these subcontractual arrangements.” (West’s Legal Environment of Business, West Pub. Co.)
It is common for these arrangements to exist in our business, especially when craftsmen, individually or in trade shops, are doing custom designs for retail stores. Retailers should take care to clarify the copyright ownership with a contract transferring the ownership to them.
Copyright ownership is an important issue for appraisers. When an appraiser appraises designer or custom-made jewelry, he must value the item at the price the copyright owner sells it. The reason: the copyright owner is the only one who can legitimately replace the jewelry. The challenge for appraisers is to recognize copyright jewelry items and find the copyright owner. Thorough knowledge of trademarks and patents is very important to expert appraisers.
James S Britton G.G., ISA via e-mail
JCK ON-LINE KUDOS
Your Web site is wonderful! I truly enjoy being able to access old articles, and your search engine does a good job. Thanks.
Caroline Stanley Platinum Guild International Newport Beach, Cal.
A RING WANTING TO GO HOME
Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. A second-generation customer and his fiancée, who live near Santa Monica, Cal., asked me to design and make their wedding rings. Because I’m in Scottsdale, Ariz., we spent some time on the telephone, on e-mail and in real mail exchanging ideas. The customers and I feel that jewelry, especially wedding rings, should become a part of their personality. After we agreed on the designs, the customer said he had found a gold ring and wanted it to be used in the casting. I explained that because of Federal Trade Commission rules on trademarking and karat identification, he would be given credit for the gold content but it would not be used in the castings. With that understanding, the ring was sent to the young man’s father who lives near my shop and agreed to deliver the ring.
Unfortunately, the father lost the ring before he could bring it in to the store. The ring was later found in the parking lot of an upscale grocery store the father had visited. When he went to pick it up, no one could find it in the office. The manager called later to say he had hidden the ring for safekeeping. At last the ring was in my hands.
That’s when the real fun began. The blank was a normal one, but it had been carefully and artfully engraved by hand with a French motto. The ring also had the name of a company, and a search of business telephone numbers and addresses revealed only three similar names in the whole country. Having gone this far, it was worth spending a dollar’s worth of stamps.
One letter was returned for insufficient address. A jeweler in Montana replied it wasn’t his ring. Then a jeweler in Conroe, Tex., identified the ring by giving the correct size and the translation of the French motto. (My letter hadn’t given the size, the French motto or the translation, which is “You and None Other”). This jeweler really did make the ring. In fact, he made it for his brother-in-law, who lives in the Los Angeles area. It had been found in Santa Monica, so my customers agreed wholeheartedly with returning the ring to its owner.
The ring was shipped to Conroe for cleaning and repolishing and now happily resides on the finger of the original owner. My customers are happy to have participated in this strange tale of the ring that wanted to be reunited with its owner. And that’s a good way to start a marriage.
Ivan R. Saddler Gems by Ivan Scottsdale, Ariz.