(ERLANGER, Ky.) - Founded in 1947 by Earl Wesdorp in the attic of his Ludlow, Kentucky detached garage, and now operated and managed by the third generation of the Wesdorp family, Jewel-Craft, Inc. celebrates its 65th Anniversary this year. Currently headquartered in Erlanger, Kentucky, Jewel-Craft is a full-service operation that provides comprehensive jewelry trade shop services to retail jewelry stores, designers, and other trade shops nationwide.
All stages of design, manufacturing, repair, and restoration are performed inside the company’s 30,000-square-foot facility, which the company built in 1990 and expanded in 2005. Today the firm employs more than 150 people - including designers, expert jewelers, setters, and finishers - several of whom have been with Jewel-Craft for decades.Founder Earl Wesdorp learned the jewelry trade from his father, Charles Wesdorp, a master jeweler who retired from Litwin’s Jewelers in Cincinnati. Earl’s son Robert (Bob), joined the company in 1949, a year before his father died from injuries he sustained while riding a motorcycle. Earl was struck by a car as he was making a rush delivery of a resized ring to a customer in Covington, Kentucky.
“I knew very little about the jewelry business then,” Bob Wesdorp recalls. “I worked with Macy’s Jewelers, a small independent store in Covington, to learn more, and I re-opened Jewel-Craft with my wife Dorothy (Dot) in 1953.”
Bob and Dot Wesdorp ran the business from the basement of their Newport, Kentucky home until 1957, when they moved both home and company to a new house they built in Fort Wright, Kentucky. They had planned for a single room in the basement to be the boundaries of the business, but it quickly expanded to fill the entire space.
Although Bob handled all the bench work at that time, he gives complete credit for the growth of the company to his wife.
“Dot booked in all the work, and when I finished, she polished, washed, inspected, and wrapped each piece. She got so efficient at all of those steps that I bought her an engraving machine,” recalls Bob Wesdorp. “At the time she was caring for our children Karen, Gary, and Benet, plus taking care of the house, doing all the cooking and shopping, and working with me.”
Continued demand for their services prompted the Wesdorps to start hiring help from outside their family. By 1977 the company had grown to 11 employees. One of those employees, Mike Martin joined the company in 1972 and celebrates his 40th anniversary with Jewel-Craft this year.
“What I remember the most about those days was that when we’d come in to work in the morning, Bob and Dot would already be working, and they’d still be working when we left at the end of the day,” recalls Martin. “This company has grown, not by luck or by someone being in the right place at the right time, but because of the hard work and dedication of Bob and Dot.”
That growth prompted two subsequent moves from Bob and Dot’s Fort Wright basement into larger facilities: First in 1977 to a building in Crescent Springs, Kentucky, and in 1990 to their current Erlanger location. Bob and Dot slowly eased out of the business in the mid-1980s, turning over management to sons Gary and Benet.
“We are really proud of our history as a family-owned business,” agrees Gary Wesdorp, president and CFO of Jewel-Craft. “Our parents worked extremely long, hard hours to build the foundation for the success and expansion of our company.”
Today, Gary Wesdorp, shares corporate leadership duties with his brother, Benet Wesdorp, president and COO. Three of Gary’s children, Benet’s son, and Gary’s son-in-law are currently employed with the company, learning the business as their father and grandfather did - from the ground up.
“Gary started working with me when he was 13 years old,” recalls Bob Wesdorp. “He was also the first employee who ever quit on me! He took his senior year of high school off to have some fun, but he came back, obviously.”
Bob Wesdorp continues: “Benet came on board in 1970 when he was 12 years old. When we were still working from the basement in Fort Wright, he once complained to me that he wasn’t making as much money as the other employees, even though the quality of his work was better. He was right. I made both of my sons pay their dues, big time. They had to earn the business.”
Employees who are not members of the Wesdorp family appreciate the family atmosphere the company has created, so much so that many of them have recommended members of their own families for employment with Jewel-Craft.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to be part of a family here, and it’s kind of funny to see how many of us are related to other employees here,” says Mike Clark. “It’s nice to see that there is a family business that stays true to families.”
“I started here in 1976, and I’ve had the opportunity to continue to learn with this company,” agrees Greg Garcia. “Benet and Gary have been the catalyst that has really pushed Jewel-Craft’s growth nationwide. And, they have not only given me the ability to provide for my family, but also enabled the other employees to provide for their own loved ones. I have a lot of respect and admiration for the Wesdorp family; it’s been wonderful to work for them.”
Key to Jewel-Craft’s success, says Paul Rolfes, Jewel-Craft’s IT Consultant, has been the Wesdorps’ aggressive investment in the latest technologies. “Particularly under Gary and Benet’s leadership, Jewel-Craft has taken advantage of technology, not just with computers and job tracking software, but also in jewelry manufacturing,” he says. “They invested in laser welders, CAD/CAM (computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing) software, and CNC machinery. It’s been amazing to see the business move from carving wax molds to growing wax molds. For Gary and Benet, it’s always been about ‘what makes our business better?’ and it’s really neat to see how they’ve used technology to move this business forward.”
For more information about Jewel-Craft, Inc. or the company’s 65 years of history, visit www.jewel-craft.com or call 859-282-2400 or 800-525-5482.
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