Jeweler hopes to forge community gem

June 1, 2017

By Sheila Julson 

Last month, Robert Devoe Peter opened The Jewelers Guild, LLC, at 2408 E. St. Francis Ave. The ground level 5,000-square-foot space features a showroom, classroom, and workshop. In addition to jewelry sales and service, the workshop — equipped with benches and tools, can be leased by the day, month, or year. PHOTO Jennifer Kresse

In the not too distant past, the neighborhood jeweler was as common a presence in communities as tailors, milliners, bakers, and butchers. Most of those locally-owned jewelry shops faded away during the past five decades, sending people seeking to purchase jewelry or needing repair and appraisal services to chain store jewelers, often located in sprawling malls.

Bucking the trend, Robert Devoe Peter has established a neighborhood jewelry shop and studio. Last month, he opened his new business, The Jewelers Guild, LLC,  at 2408 E. St. Francis Ave. The ground level 5,000-square-foot space features a showroom, classroom, and workshop. In addition to jewelry sales and service, the workshop — equipped with benches and tools, can be leased by the day, month, or year.

Devoe Peter hopes to teach a new generation the art of making jewelry.

Devoe Peter has been designing and making jewelry for more than 30 years. He’s self-taught and originally began by tinkering with copper, which led to making jewelry that he gave to friends. “Then I found that if I made them better, I could sell them to my friends,” he laughed.

He’s owned six jewelry stores in the Milwaukee and Mequon/Cedarburg areas, including Robert Devoe Peter, formerly located in downtown Milwaukee on Jefferson Street near Cathedral Square. He has also lived in Colorado, but like many, he was affected by the 2008-09 recession. The cost of silver and gold skyrocketed around that time, so he returned to Wisconsin to try to regroup and figure out how to live in a new economy but still make jewelry, a commodity that’s not a necessity.

He said he’s been thinking about his business model for a few years.

With a keen eye for trends, Devoe Peter noted that people in today’s economy lean more toward artistic and simple jewelry pieces versus extravagant diamonds and gemstones that have to be purchased on credit. He has adapted to today’s tastes and is eager to teach others to do the same.

“I had the opportunity to make a living doing this,” he said, “so I want other people to be able to carry on the art and craft of making a living with this. There’s plenty of room for more jewelers,” he said.

Not many people are pursuing jewelry-making, he observed, mostly because it’s a tedious process. It requires costly tools and materials, which can deter beginners. There’s also a lack of resources for people interested in learning the art of jewelry making. He said colleges, Alverno, for example, used to have amazing jewelry departments, but now they’re gone. It’s difficult to learn the craft on the job at jewelry stores where employees more commonly are tasked with polishing pieces and are not taught to cast and set stones.

Robert Devoe Peter PHOTO Jennifer Kresse

Devoe Peter also said the St. Francis location was ideal for jewelry sales and service. With the recent closing of Donn Powers Jewelers in South Milwaukee, jewelers are scarce on the South Side.

“There’s no jewelry store around here for about eight miles, so if you want something fixed or appraised, or even if you need a watch battery, you have to go a long way,” Devoe Peter said. “I think there’s a real need for it, and we have lots of free parking.”

An Idea Made Real

The Jewelers Guild is located in the former Schramka-Rembowski Funeral Home building. Devoe Peter said it was empty for three years before he purchased it and began a nine-month cleaning and renovation process.

When he began searching for a space, he initially planned to lease, but he had difficulty finding space that was affordable in a good location with free parking. Then he happened to drive past the closed funeral home and noticed it was for sale.

The renovation entailed new walls, new lighting, five jewelry cases in the showroom, a stone fountain, and a workshop designed specifically with jewelers’ needs in mind. “Some workshops are dark and dingy, so I wanted this space clean and bright,” he said. The workshop has design elements that incorporate vastu shastra — similar to the Eastern concept of feng shui — with paintings representing water, fire, and earth, the essential elements of jewelry making.

Windows in the walls that separate the showroom from the work area allow people to watch jewelers craft their pieces.

The store’s inventory will include Devoe Peter’s pieces and jewelry crafted by Jewelers Guild members. Prices will be affordable, he said, beginning with some pieces around $20.

“We can make anything. If you can imagine it, we can make it,” Devoe Peter said. He displayed two Milwaukee-themed silver rings he created, one with “MKE” and the other with “414” incorporated in the design. There were also heavy bracelets he created that resemble a large nail. A man who lived in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, gave him the nail and said it was an original bronze spike from the plank of a sunken Spanish galleon.

Devoe Peter said he hopes to offer about 30 different jewelry-making classes for adults and children. Both Jewelers Guild members and nonmembers who wish to teach may rent a classroom that will accommodate 10 people.

Devoe Peter said he has already leased eight workbenches and that eight spots are still available. The daily rate is $65 per day and includes use of tools and equipment. Monthly members pay $455 and receive unlimited use of the space, 24/7 access, and use of all tools and equipment, plus a display case in the store and a page on The Jewelers Guild website.

Robert Devoe Peter created rings based on the design of a bracelet he created using a nail recovered from the plank of a sunken Spanish galleon. PHOTO Jennifer Kresse

“It’s a good deal, since you don’t need insurance, you don’t need to buy your own equipment, and you don’t need to rent a store,” Devoe Peter said. “You can just walk in and start working with big equipment like polishers and grinders (that are) already available.”

Members also have access to a lower level office, bathroom, and break room.

As observed in the old proverb, “necessity is the mother of invention.” Necessity has spawned many gadgets used in all types of industry. Over the past 15 years, Devoe Peter has created tools that make jewelers’ work safer and more efficient. But he’s also created tools for woodworkers, dental technicians, and others that he markets and sells through his other business called Bench Guru.

Three years ago, using a 3D printer, he created the prototype for the Precious Metal Recovery System he invented. The meticulous process of grinding metals not only creates dust particles that can be inhaled by jewelers, but it also wastes precious silver and gold. The Precious Metal Recovery System incorporates a mounted clear-panel shield that provides a barrier between the dust and the jeweler’s nose and mouth. There are LED lights and there’s a vacuum that collects the gold or silver dust so it can be recycled. Devoe Peter still uses the prototype he made on a 3D printer. The Bench Guru tools and equipment are made in the United States and sourced and manufactured as much as possible, he said, in Milwaukee.

Devoe Peter hopes to create a different kind of jewelry experience through The Jewelers Guild. “I’m really excited about doing this and the response so far has been really great,” he said. “I was actually able to make this happen.”

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