The Fine-Jewelry Business That Has Been in St. Louis for Over 100 Years
Webster Heffern had planned to pursue a career in medicine before ultimately making the choice to work full time at his family’s St. Louis jewelry business, Elleard Heffern, which his great-grandfather co-founded over 100 years ago, in 1913. As a fourth-generation descendant of the original founder, it wasn’t the easiest decision: “I went to grad school and had prepared everything necessary for med-school applications. Then I started to reflect. I thought, ‘If I do this, the company is either going to get sold or liquidated. Is that what I really want?’” he says.
Heffern had grown up working in the back office of the business, calling clients, mailing letters and working on administrative tasks. He saw how the inner workings of the business ultimately thrived by offering timeless, classic pieces inspired by great art and architecture from specialty designers that customers couldn’t often find elsewhere in St. Louis, like Vhernier, Atelier Zobel, Vendorafa, Carelle and Oscar Heyman. Each piece was crafted and sold without pretense, intended to last in a family for generations.
“In medicine, you often work with people at some of the worst times in their lives,” says Heffern. “There’s a special type of person for that. With this, I get to work with people during the best times in their lives—whether it’s an engagement, graduation, Mother’s Day, anniversary, or just because. I love interacting with people during those times.” Keep reading to learn more about this remarkable jewelry business and how they’ve stayed in business for over 100 years.
The fact that Elleard Heffern has been in business in St. Louis for over 100 years says so much. What do you think has been the secret to your longevity?
On the deepest level, I think the secret to our longevity is trust. Both our new clients and those who come to us from their parents or grandparents will see that we really make an effort to be worthy stewards of that multi-generational trust, and we really treasure those relationships. For that to be effective, it has to be matched by the quality of jewelry we carry and treated with the ultimate respect. We are always so touched to have clients come in and share things like a ring that’s been in the family for years they’d like refurbished, or a piece from a relative with stones they’d like reset. Being attentive is also critical, so it doesn’t take multiple visits to get pieces put together and the client knows we aren’t wasting their time.
Many multi-generational businesses that have thrived for years have struggled in the age of social media. How have you handled that challenge and maintained such strong relevance?
The thing we keep coming back to with that part—and what defines us—is our story. Every piece of jewelry a client purchases from us comes along with a note: “This piece came from an independent jeweler who has been in business in St. Louis for over 100 years.” That really means something to people, of all generations. My dad, who has been running the business before me, is also such a unique and incredible storyteller. I hope I’m able to fill those shoes someday and lead the business in a really strong direction.
We also know that we can’t always stay ahead of the social-media game. It’s a very important part of engaging with an audience, but we don’t try to be experts with that. However, we are experts at identifying trends, developing pieces people will like and finding the absolute best materials available, so the product really speaks for itself.
I understand many of the pieces are inspired by art and architecture. How do you maintain architectural and artistic inspiration on the truncated scale that jewelry requires?
With regards to the truncated scale, so much skill goes into making fine jewelry that matches a larger aesthetic; we have a great bench jeweler here in-house, Guy Fietsam, who has made necklaces, bracelets, brooches, earrings and rings for our clients. Guy has more than 25 years of experience with us and uses many classical and modern techniques—from computerized CAD work to laser welding, to more traditional artisanal manipulation of the fine prongs that hold each stone in place.
What are some of your best-selling pieces this season?
Hoop earrings are always a favorite, and dangle earrings have taken a whole new turn this year. We’ve seen longer, mobile-esque designs really catching fire in today’s marketplace. For wedding rings, diamond bands for women are definitely more popular than ever, both for stacking and for the first wedding band. Stacked bangles are also popular, as well as bold colors like pinks and blues. It’s not always easy to tell what people will respond to in the jewelry world, which is why we make an effort to diversify with a really strong variety of pieces available. Who knows—green-jade bead necklaces could be a big hit next week.
What is your ultimate vision for the company?
My vision is to continue as one of St. Louis’ finest jewelry companies. I want us to be known for our style but also for our attention to detail—for our ability to take a specific request and realize it into a precious piece that will mean something to the client for a lifetime to come. Being a multi-generational family business means maintaining a reputation, and it also means building multi-generational relationships—and we value our new clients just as much. We delight in having been your grandparents’ family jeweler, but that doesn’t mean we won’t also be carrying contemporary, modern pieces. We want our offerings to be just as fresh for you now they were for your parents and grandparents when they first shopped with us.
This post has been brought to you in part by the mentioned organization. Thank you for supporting the companies that keep ALIVE growing. All images courtesy of Elleard Heffern.