Professional Jeweler Archive: Barney Jette Jewelry Design

March 2005

The Store | Image


Retail Bench Success Story:
Barney Jette Jewelry Design

Designer builds retail success with self-created products

By Lainie Mann


The Owners: Dynamic Duo with Complementary Skills

Soft-spoken and unassuming, Barney Jette is the big name behind Barney Jette Jewelry Design, Missoula, MT. He designs and creates the models for all the jewelry he and his wife, Nancy Ball, sell at the store. Locally, it’s become a status symbol to own “a Barney,” and his work is readily identifiable. Customers understand the value of his pieces in uniqueness, quality and artistry.

Barney attended college on a basketball scholarship in Great Falls, MT. The metalsmithing classes he attended were taught by a nun whose expertise was in forming, fabricating, fusing and otherwise manipulating metal into chalices, chains and other decorative items. When he transferred after two years to the University of Montana in Missoula, he enrolled in the Metal Arts program and found his life’s work. He immersed himself in painting and other art classes. He attributes his sense of jewelry design and composition to his background in these disciplines.

Selecting the gem material for his jewelry is an important part of the design process. Jette is “one lab and one examination away” from receiving a graduate gemologist diploma from the Gemological Institute of America. Along with his gemological studies, he keeps abreast of manufacturing techniques and applications by attending industry classes and seminars on a continuous basis.

Literally the girl next door, Nancy Ball met her husband and business partner in her backyard. Bright and personable, Ball’s expertise is in business management. Her self-proclaimed role is to “make other people look good.”

In 1989 Ball left her position as executive director of an alternative medical clinic to join Jette full-time in their first jewelry store open to the public. In addition to the accounting for the business, which she had done along with her executive job, Ball took on store management (including hiring and training employees), production scheduling, advertising, marketing and sales. She prepared for her new position by completing GIA’s “Jewelry Essentials” course and becoming a Jewelers of America certified senior management professional.

Ball was accustomed to working with people and orchestrating business operations in her 20-year career, but always behind the scenes. “I didn’t think I would be able to sell on the floor,” she confides. “But Barney makes it easy because I absolutely believe in his work. It is so distinctly beautiful that it’s a joy to promote.”

The Store: Custom-Designed & Focused on Comfort

For the most part, Jette and Ball display the jewelry by category (rings, earrings, etc.), gemstone and color. This allows for continuity in presentation, says Ball. If a customer is interested in blue sapphires, for example, the staff can focus on the presentation without moving around the showcases to find pieces.

A semiprivate sitting area features a microscope where clients look at gemstones, get a bit of an education and relax while the staff discusses design options and other details about the jewelry. Jette and Ball say clients appreciate this service and love being involved in the process, especially with commissioned pieces.

The Location: Carefully & Strategically Selected

For six years, Jette and Ball observed the walk-by traffic near their original store in downtown Missoula and moved to the current location across the street when the opportunity arose.

In addition to promoting Barney Jette Design, the couple are committed to preserving and improving the downtown, where a commercial resurgence is under way. As residents, they take pride in being part of their community and make every effort to support downtown people and businesses.

The Staff: Built for Teamwork

Ball describes the sales style of Barney Jette Design as promotional rather than hard-sell. She is acutely observant of a potential employee’s sales approach and is selective in hiring people who will fit their business philosophy and the dynamics of their existing staff. Sandi Stevens is one of those people.

Ball oversaw Stevens’ training in bookkeeping and sales in the past three years and is quick to say how much she values her as a person and as a member of the store’s staff. Stevens recently completed GIA’s “Jewelry Essentials” course.

Rod Smith has been a bench jeweler for 37 years, with experience in all phases of jewelrymaking. Rod credits his father for his jewelry manufacturing training. Among the newest equipment in his shop (including a Meiji microscope) are numerous modified and self-engineered tools Smith uses in his daily work. Having learned his craft from an ex-Marine, he says, you are conditioned to improvise to get the job done. Jette calls Smith “Merlin” for the seemingly magical work he performs on jewelry.

The Customer Base: Diverse, Loyal & Nationwide

The store benefits from many longtime customers – local and out-of-state – who like to build a collection of Barney Jette pieces. Two definable markets are apparent:

Older clients with the discretionary income to invest in unique, status-symbol designer jewelry.

Men and couples in their late 20s and 30s who buy distinctive jewelry for wedding sets and gifts. They don’t always have as much spending power, but they’re committed to buying quality pieces that aren’t sold everywhere.

Advertising & Marketing: As Creative as the Jewelry

Jette and Ball do the majority of their public relations at the store. They see to the needs of their regular and potential customers, even if it’s just to chat about family, business or downtown happenings.

Ball worked with a video producer to select distinctive jewelry and music for cable TV spots that have drawn a good response. She discovered how effective the choices were when a good customer told her she was in the kitchen when she heard “the music” and rushed to the TV to see Jette’s jewelry.

The Barney Jette Design website, designed and managed by Colin Kulow of Minneapolis, MN, is a valuable sales tool with out-of-state customers, many of whom check the site and then make yearly purchases by phone. It also serves as a design portfolio for interested prospects.

Ball also works with Gayanna Magcosta of Two Muses Marketing in Missoula to develop weekly and monthly advertisements that appear in The Missoulian, a local newspaper. The black-and-white layout has a recognizable dark background and features a different piece of jewelry in each run. Weekly ads appear in the sport or outdoor sections; monthly ads run in the financial section.

The Brand: Created for Individuality

To protect his brand, Jette selects gems of the highest quality, meticulously prepares wax models for each piece and custom-fits the stones. Casting, setting and finishing are all done on the premises.

Included in the inventory are hundreds of articles of jewelry in a variety of price ranges. Fifty percent of the store’s sales are commissioned; the rest are originals sold from the showcases.

Jette and Ball say their greatest accomplishment is operating their dream business in Missoula surrounded by beautiful mountains. Asked about the effect of changes in the industry in the past few years, they say their brand and unique products have protected them from declining margins and ever-emerging discounters. Their immediate goal is to top $1 million in annual sales with a business plan that encompasses public relations, marketing and additional networking.

  • Barney Jette Jewelry Design, barneyjette@montana.com.
  • Two Muses Marketing, (406) 360-9284, twomuses@artdirectors.com.
Barney Jette and his wife, Nancy Ball, have built a retail success story focusing solely on his jewelry designs. The brand they’ve built is recognized throughout the nation, and their reputation is one they’ve earned piece by piece.
Every element of the design and layout of the store complements the quality of the jewelry and focuses on the comfort of the clientele.
Custom-made wall displays and comfortable seating areas highlight featured pieces in a quiet, softly lighted environment of warm wood tones.
This sapphire and diamond white and yellow gold ring was set and finished by Rod Smith, Jette’s shop manager.
Sandi Stevens is a part-time employee whose skill and understanding of the business afford Jette and Ball the freedom to travel on buying trips or take an occasional break from their duties. With Stevens on duty, they know the store is in good hands.
This American freshwater pearl pendant is creatively displayed in a wall showcase. Jette cut and shaped the pearl, and Rod Smith fabricated the pendant, set the pearl and diamond and finished the piece.

Airport Advice

A vacationing CEO passing through Missoula International Airport on his way home to Chicago was drawn to this Barney Jette Jewelry Design display. The display features photos of Barney Jette jewelry, business card and postcard hand-outs, a biography of the store owners, the store’s address and website information. Back in Chicago, the CEO visited the Jette website, selected a ring and called the store to make the $25,000+ purchase.

Two Muses Marketing created this ad featuring Jette’s recent accomplishment of winning two categories in the Montana-Wyoming Jewelers of America Jewelry Design Contest. The winning pieces were made using a new 14k ultrawhite gold alloy that requires no rhodium plating. The alloy is available from Argen Corp., San Diego, CA, and contains gold, copper nickel, zinc and iridium.

Photographs by Mark B. Mann except where noted
Visual Communications, Inc. © 2005

Copyright © 2005 by Bond Communications