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50 years down, 50 to go

Miller’s celebrates landmark anniversary

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Jewelry store merchandise has changed over the last several decades, according to Charlie Miller, but service-minded values remain constant. 

Fifty years ago, Charlie Miller bought the current-day Miller’s Fine Jewelry. This month, Charlie, wife Julie and son Adam celebrated 50 years in business and looked ahead to the next 50. 

Miller family

Adam, Julie and Charlie Miller celebrate 50 years of business for Miller’s Fine Jewelry in Bolivar on Friday, Feb. 1. Mac the dog is sure to greet every customer, Charlie Miller said. 

Charlie Miller’s background in sales and the automotive industry set him up to interact with people and work with metals when he entered the jewelry industry, he said. 

“When I graduated (college) I received a real nice watch,” he said. “I realized I enjoyed jewelry.”

Enjoyment turned into making a living with jewelry when he bought an existing store from Charles Huntress at 26 years old, Charlie Miller said. 

Charlie Miller

Charlie Miller shows the well-worn tools he regularly uses. 

Much of the initial business at then-Bolivar Jewelry related to watchbands — an area almost extinct now, as watches are not as popular as they once were, he said. Other past merchandise included silver and crystal food service items. 

The business’ mainstay, however, has been service, he said. 

Miller's open flame ring sizing

The Millers use traditional open flames to work on jewelry rather than modern lasers. 

“Consistently 20 percent of the business is what we do with our fingers and hands,” Charlie Miller said, later adding, “If you don’t have a repair department, you won’t stay in business.”

The amount of repairs have gone up as sales went up over the years, he said. Now, the family serves second, third and even fourth generation customers.

Charlie Miller repairs most of the vintage pieces that come in since he remembers what they used to look like, he said. 

“If I had to pick one (favorite) thing, it would be rebuilding something that most people have given up on,” Charlie Miller said. 

The majority of repairs, however, are done by son Adam Miller. 

“By the time he was 15, he was helping me with repairs,” Charlie Miller said. 

Adam and Charlie Miller

Adam Miller, left, and Charlie Miller showcase their intricate tools, many of which date to the 1800’s, according to Adam Miller. 

Adam Miller now has years of experience and is the same age as his father when he entered the business, Charlie Miller said. 

The Millers prefer to service jewelry they sell because they know and trust the workmanship, they said. They will work on items bought online, but sometimes have to “go full discovery” to see how the item was made and what materials were used, he said. 

Although internet sales seem to affect local brick-and-mortar sales, Miller’s Fine Jewelry sales have increased in the last five to 10 years due to local discounts, Charlie Miller said. 

It began with a Bolivar Area Chamber of Commerce “member to member” discount and expanded into a flat percentage discount for any local person, Charlie Miller explained. 

When the discount was extended to Southwest Baptist University students, it put Miller’s “back in the engagement ring business,” he said. 

Diamonds are their niche, Adam Miller explained.

“It kind of works out (that) our logo is the ideal cut diamond, but we can do about anything,” Adam Miller said, adding, “If you want it, we can try to make it.”

Jewelry sales, however, are unique to other sales, Charlie Miller said. 

“Trust factor is the biggest with jewelry,” he said. “(Customers) need to trust the person when they’re buying it, to be what they want it to be.” 

In order to build and keep trust with customers, or friends, as Adam Miller described them, the family focuses on quality. 

Miller's ring

Intricate metal work causes blackened fingers on many days, Charlie Miller says. 

“The physical side needs to be taken care of. Making sure the stones are tight, making sure it’s not just pretty for a week,” Adam Miller explained, is essential to the business, he said. It’s about “doing what’s right, rather than what’s easy.”

Taking care of jewelry, specifically working with gold, is Adam Miller’s favorite part of the jewelry business, he said. 

“On the (work)bench you have to bring it day to day. It’s not like you just do it once a year,” he said. “It’s tomorrow, the next day, you have to consistently bring that. That was probably the biggest lesson from Dad — do it more than just once.”

Miller's custom ring polishing

Charlie Miller built this custom ring with parts from other jewelry in order to achieve what the customer wanted, he says. The customer provided most of the diamonds, while Miller’s furnished the rest. 

Looking ahead

After 50 years under Charlie Miller’s care, Miller’s Fine Jewelry is slowly but surely moving into Adam Miller’s care, he said. 

“The transition is happening. It’s not something we’re planning or scheduling, but it’s happening,” Charlie Miller said. 

The future depends on what people think of the business, as jewelry is not a necessity, he said. 

Community relationships were clear to the Millers during an anniversary reception on Friday, Feb. 1,  they said. 

“It was just phenomenal, the warmth it brought from people,” Charlie Miller said. 

At least 200 people attended the day-long gathering.

The champagne and cake event was just one of several over the years. 

For Julie Miller’s birthday one year, for example, the store hosted a 12-hour long 50 percent off sale, Charlie Miller said. 

Julie Miller performs many roles in the business, Charlie Miller said. His wife not only plans décor, she makes it happen. She is the store’s jewelry buyer, as well as the accountant. 

“She’s the most incredible person,” he said of his wife, smiling to add, “she runs the place.”

All three family members contribute to the business’ success and atmosphere, Charlie Miller said. They feel “crippled” if one family member is missing. 

“People know they’re going to get family when they come in,” he said. 

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