James Avery, onetime CU instructor, opens Park Meadows store
By Janet Forgrieve, Rocky Mountain News
July 22, 2005
James Avery was teaching industrial design at the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1951 when he created his first piece of jewelry.
Now he's back in the state with the opening today of his first Colorado jewelry store, at Park Meadows mall. In between, he built a jewelry company that operates 40 stores in four states and still does all the work in-house.
"Denver and Colorado have been a big part of my life," said Avery, who turns 84 this year.
It was here that he recovered his faith, went back to the church and designed and created the silver cross that would start him on his way in business, he said.
From a library book, Avery taught himself the craft of making jewelry.
That first cross hung from a string around his neck and served to remind the former agnostic of the reasons for his return to the church. It also attracted the attention of several friends, who requested pieces of their own.
About two years later, Avery married and moved away. After a winter in Minnesota, Avery and his wife settled in Kerrville, Texas, where he began making jewelry in earnest in the garage.
Avery sold his first piece in August 1954 at a camp in the Texas hill towns, he said. Other sales followed, and new devotees spread the word when they went home to Tulsa, Okla., or Dallas or Houston.
"Pretty soon I started getting a few orders," he said.
In those days, he was selling pieces for $5 or $6, he said.
People would call and request a piece, then ask the price, he said. He would tell them, then add that they needn't send the money until after they received the piece and decided they liked it.
His first year in business, he worked alone and grossed $5,500. Three years later, sales had doubled. By 1968, the company was doing well enough for Avery to build a new workshop and store in Kerrville. Five years later, the jeweler hit the big city, opening its first store in Dallas.
This year, revenue at the privately held company is expected to be about $85 million. James Avery employs 1,300 people, about 450 of them involved in creating the pieces.
James Avery stores still have a large supply of religious jewelry, with plenty of crosses, fish, doves and butterflies.
Increasingly over the years, though, the company has widened its focus to include themes from nature and other cultures, said Howell Rideout, the company's vice president for marketing and development.
All the creating and crafting of the products is done by company employees, and the business even makes the distressed-wood cabinets and doors that go in the stores.
The pieces, crafted in silver or gold, range from $20 to $2,000.
"The whole idea is not to be 'in your face' with the products, but more of an elegant approach, like a living room," Rideout said of the stores.
The mall, which already has seven higher-end jewelry retailers, believes there's also room for Paul Avery, said retail marketing manager Stephanie Jackson.
"They have a very good reputation, and they're a very well-known brand name in the West," she said.
Also, the company comes to town with a ready-made Colorado customer base of about 14,000 who buy from Avery's catalogs and Web site.
Avery's company is mostly owned by the family, said son and company President Chris Avery, who left an anesthesiology practice 13 years ago to help the company formulate a succession plan.
"It was only supposed to be temporary, three or four years at the most," he said. "But by then, I was immersed in the business. And then we had new goals, so I wanted to see if we could achieve those."
His brother Paul, who trained in horticulture, is an executive vice president at the company, and their dad still is chairman and chief executive officer.
And he still designs and creates the jewelry he passionately believes in.
"He's still very creative with a strong sense of design," Chris Avery said. "He just loves his work and his life."