Behind every vintage or estate piece of jewelry is a story waiting to be told.
One of the best parts of Elissa Belenke’s job as an antiques specialist is the research she dedicates to every necklace, bracelet, or ring that ends up at Ted Blum Jewelers, a longtime downtown boutique.
“I could spend all day getting lost in these tracks,” Belenke said. “Each piece tells a story, from the cut of the diamonds, to the way it was soldered, to the particular design – it all says a lot about the era it belongs to. We had some amazing Victorian pieces.
She recently spent two weeks identifying the artists behind a number of the boutique’s sterling silver turquoise cuffs and the type of turquoise they used. Most were signed with only one or two initials, which led her to scour archives dedicated to identifying Native American silversmiths based on these letters.
“To watch a piece and learn that it was made by this artist who learned from his parents and they do this specific type of inlay – that’s history,” Belenke said. “It’s like working in a museum.”
In the hallway of the well-hidden store in a former bank building on bustling Kiowa Street, she waxes on vintage Tiffany & Co. pieces hung in a glass display case.
And, with an air of complicity, she reveals the gossip of the industry: “They have just been bought by the company that owns Louis Vuitton. I also heard that they put a lot of money into lab-grown diamonds. So vintage Tiffany with natural diamonds is very cool to have.
And what is the dirt on lab-grown diamonds? Belenke does not recommend them. The shop does not buy or sell the yellowish jewelry.
“Once they sell it to you, the value of your ring is the value of gold,” she said. “They don’t have much value like a natural diamond. If the market is flooded with lab-grown products, natural diamonds become rarer.
Life in a jewelry store is a compendium of happy moments. When customers dial into the jewelry service boutique from the outside call booth, get buzzed, and head to the second floor, they usually have something to celebrate: graduations, wedding anniversaries, anniversaries and the common thread – the wedding engagement.
“We sell 100 to 200 engagement rings every year,” said Barry Belenke, showroom manager, diamond buyer and Elissa’s father.
Soft jazz music plays in the cozy space, which Blum opened nearly 30 years ago as a jewelry repair shop. Display cases sparkle with vintage and estate bracelets, necklaces and watches, Native American pieces and a wide range of jeweled rings. There are trinkets for every wallet, from $100 to the $25,000 ring on display. Sometimes they even sell an item for over $50,000.
“There are people here (in town) who love beautiful jewelry,” Barry said. “If you look around and see how many beautiful cars there are, there are cars that are worth more than all the jewelry I have. Anyone can come and find things. We must have gifts for the first birthday and gifts for the 50th birthday. And that’s what makes it fun. When someone comes for a birthday, it’s a great day for them and a great day for us.
A collage of customer photos is pasted on the wall next to the display case. The happy couples in their post-proposal haze show off their sparkling new engagement rings from Blum’s.
“When you can make someone happy once or twice a day, that’s great work,” Barry said. “We celebrate great moments in the lives of our customers, and I use my knowledge and experience to make them happy and do things that are positive for them. It is rewarding.
Belenke, who learned the jewelry business from his father in Florida, arrived in Colorado Springs two decades ago with Elissa and immediately met Blum and his son, Matt Blum, who now owns the boutique.
Ted, who opened the shop in 1995 to do repairs, didn’t have a showroom and asked Belenke to set one up around 2014. He now works alongside his daughter, an aspiring gemologist who takes courses at the Gemological Institute of America.
“There’s a lot of poetry in old jewelry,” Elissa said. “We are romantics ourselves.”
Past the showroom is the boutique, where three men bend over their demanding work of repairs, custom designs and engravings, insurance appraisals and cleaning. One such chef is Matt, who graduated from Palmer High School in 1999. After a few years in college, he started working with his father in 2001. As word of their skills spread, Ted decided to make the store more public. And although he is now semi-retired, he still shows up five days a week.
Matt fell in love with the business and its opportunities to pursue multiple interests.
” There is so much to do. It looks like anything you care about can be tracked,” Matt said. “Business is such a big business. You can be an artist, designer, computer programmer. You can be someone who does metal refining.
Barry and Elissa are here for their love of jewelry and the deep-rooted belief that you can never go wrong with the right piece. “You have a lot of people celebrating accomplishments at work and in life,” Barry said, “and a lot of it is celebrated with a gift of jewelry.”
Her daughter agrees: “When you give someone a piece of jewelry, they will remember that moment forever and they will think of you when they wear it.
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