WENATCHEE — Phil Colyar doesn’t remember every piece of jewelry he has made in the past 35 years.
“It’s all a blur, when you do so many. It’s in the thousands,” he said.
He knows it when he sees it, though.
“I will see my work on the hand of somebody, in the grocery store, say. I may not recognize the person, but I recognize they have one of my pieces,” he said.
Those signature “old school” Colyar Jewelry items often are links to a family’s history, which Colyar has had a hand in preserving.
“We do a lot of taking customers’ material, whether it’s old wedding bands or gold, and making something beautiful from it,” he said. “There’s a story connected to a lot of it.”
That’s part of the fun the Wenatchee goldsmith and jeweler will miss when he and wife Carrie close the doors on their shop at 23 S. Wenatchee Ave. where they have been located for the past 30 years.
Their last day is Sept. 27, which will be followed by some down time and then, most likely, a trip in the RV.
“We are hoping to travel more,” Phil Colyar said. “We plan to try out the RV lifestyle. Mostly I just tell people we’ll figure it out as we go.” It’s a strategy that has served the Colyars well since they arrived in Wenatchee in 1983.
“My background was in jewelry manufacturing, repairs and custom work,” he said. He had spent more than seven years working as a goldsmith apprentice in Spokane.
His mentor encouraged him to start his own shop.
“He told me, ‘You will always regret it if you don’t try it,’” Colyar said.
The first hurdle was finding a location.
“We wanted to look for an opportunity outside of Spokane. We didn’t want to compete with the people who helped us,” he said.
They considered Montana, Oregon and different parts of Washington. Wenatchee was not on the radar until they drove through on a trip to visit friends and decided to stop. They liked what they saw.
“No one here was doing what we were doing,” he said of the wholesale jewelry manufacturing, doing repairs, ring sizing, stone placements and custom orders for retail outlets. Store managers and owners he contacted said they were mailing out the work and would be interested in getting it done locally.
Still, making the move was daunting.
Their sons were ages 5, 3 and 10 days old when they arrived and they knew just one other family in town.
“Looking back on it, I would never want one of my kids to do what I did,” Colyar said. “But it worked out. I can’t imagine living anywhere else but here. This is home.”
They leased an office on the fifth floor of the Doneen Building to house the wholesale workshop.
Business took off the first week, he said.
“We had a regular pick-up and delivery schedule with the retailers. At our peak, we were doing business with about a dozen different stores, from Moses Lake to Leavenworth,” he said.
Five years into it, they diversified into retail.
“That was a stretch because all my training had been in wholesale,” Colyar said. “But we decided to go for it.”
They signed a five-year lease on the corner space in the Morris Building and have been there since.
They continued doing wholesale work for other jewelers while they built the retail operation.
“It was complicated at first,” Colyar said. “We were discreet that we were doing work for everyone else.”
Their retail customers liked that they could talk to the jeweler, Carrie Colyar said. And it was fun for Colyar Jewelry staff as well.
“You’re actually talking to the customer and seeing their joy at what Phil would make for them — their excitement at picking out an engagement ring, anniversary ring or their daughter’s 16th birthday present, her first piece of nice jewelry,” she said.
As the retail side grew, they moved away from wholesale.
“It took 15 years before we were weaned off wholesale and focused entirely on retail,” Phil Colyar said. “During that time, we had a lot of employees and did a lot of mentoring, taking guys through the apprenticeship process I went through.”
At its height, in addition to the Colyars, the shop had two benchmen, a polisher and a full-time sales person.
Their three boys also were initiated into the business.
“Forced labor,” Phil Colyar joked.
“That’s how they all paid for their car insurance, by polishing,” Carrie Colyar said.
Their oldest son got into the business for a while, but none of the boys kept at it.
“Our goal was to let them find their passion and what they wanted to do in life, not necessarily work here because we did. We’re fine with the way all that worked out. We’re happy for our kids,” Phil Colyar said.
All three sons and their families — nine grandchildren in all — still live in the area.
Talk of retirement started in 2016, about the time they cut back shop hours to three days a week.
“We made the commitment that we would finish out with just the two of us, without employees,” he said. “To get the time off that we wanted, we moved to a reduced schedule. In this type of business, most people realize they need to make an appointment for custom work, so it lent itself to that kind of a model.”
They searched for a buyer.
“The pool of eligible goldsmith technicians has shrunk dramatically,” Colyar said. “It’s hard to find someone with the right skills. We knew that if we didn’t find someone with the right goldsmithing skills and temperament to work with the public, that they wouldn’t succeed. I didn’t want to do that to them or us. So we decided to close it up and start our next adventure.”
They announced the decision to customers Aug. 1 and the “artists at work” sign over the door now reads “artists at play.”
“The graciousness of the customers has been overwhelming. There have been tears and hugs. It’s surprised us,” he said.
Holding to their work ethic, the Colyars are at it until the very end, though, maintaining their 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday schedule until Sept. 27.
“We recommend an appointment for custom work. The next three weeks are crazy,” Phil Colyar said.