Janie and Brian Christoff, owners of Christoff Jewelers in Jacksonville, Fla., are partners in every way. Thirty-one years ago, Janie kicked off her jewelry career with Goldmasters, met her fiancé - who took a liking to her business - and five years later tied the knot.
“They have achieved what many people couldn’t possibly do,” says longtime employee Judy Hickey. “They will be celebrating 26 years of marriage and 31 years in their business together!”
“After getting out of the Navy, I met Janie and started working with her while I was studying mechanical engineering at the University of Florida,” Brian says. “I would come home on weekends and holidays and work at the shop. I use to look over her shoulder and say, ‘That looks easy.’ So one day she called me out and told me to prove it. It was during this time, along with my understanding of the mechanics of metals, that we found that I was quickly picking up the skills necessary to be a good jeweler. So after five years of growing together, both personally and professionally, we decided to finally tie the knot.”
Janie and Brian decided after 20 years of servicing the wholesale side of the jewelry industry to switch gears. “We decided to open our own store when the large retail jewelry chains started cutting corners and dictating policies that made it hard for a repair shop, such as ours, to do quality work,” Brian says. “They were not as much interested in quality and ethics as they were the bottom line. And quality and ethics were a staple in our business model.”
Despite the economy plunging shortly after the store opened, they grew their business and are now celebrating Christoff Jewelers’ 11th year.
“When we started to design the layout and theme of our store, we said we wanted to inspire all five senses, which is why we incorporated some little things that made a visit to our store more memorable,” Brian says. The store constantly rotates stock and case layouts, and customers enjoy small treats set out on the counter, gourmet coffee, scented candles and soft background music from local artists. Stuffed-animal giveaways please the smaller, well-behaved customers.
It’s a true family business as the Christoffs are training their son, Tyler, to become a jeweler as well. Janie says her mother, Angela Parsons, was instrumental in the startup of Goldmasters and worked with the couple in the early days. Even after Christoff Jewelers opened, she stayed with the store part time until her retirement. Judy, who’s been working with Janie and Brian 13 years, first met the couple when she was working for a major jewelry store in Jacksonville. Years later, when she was living in St. Augustine, Judy made the move to Christoff Jewelers.
Janie started early in the jewelry business, landing her first job at 14 with Stroup’s Jewelers in Lincolnton, N.C. “They taught her to restring pearls, engrave and pierce ears,” Judy says. After she moved to Jacksonville, she trained with a repair company for a year and furthered her education with GIA before meeting Brian and starting Goldmasters in 1987. “Brian found the work fascinating; he loves a challenge and has an aptitude for repair. He’s the Mr. Fix-It guy. If you want repairs done, Brian is the man!”
When Janie and Brian decided it was time to open their own brick-and-mortar store in 2007, they managed to flourish despite the economy, Judy says. “The location was good; they had a large area to serve and people needing jewelry repair would say, ‘I know where you should take that. Christoff Jewelers will know exactly what to do.’ ”
Indeed, the full-service store, offering an extensive line of in-stock items and specializing in custom bridal jewelry design, repair and restoration, earns high praise from customers. “I have had the pleasure of working with Christoff’s for a couple years,” one customer writes on Facebook. “The relationship has varied from jewelry cleaning to buying in stock items to custom work. They have been patient, kind, and detail oriented. Christoff’s also has some of the most reasonable prices I have seen. I am extremely happy for their expertise and to give them my business.”
Janie has a great eye for creating, and Brian is good with the execution, which makes for a good combination. “They started a website that lets customers see examples of what could be done with old and new pieces,” Judy says. Janie does the lion’s share of design work, and the store specializes in turning estate pieces into something new, melting down the gold and reincorporating the jewels. Brian does innovative things with vintage watches, replacing the guts and crystal with a gemstone.
Janie and Brian have embraced their community, encouraging and helping young entrepreneurs with promotions and events. “We have hosted a few jewelry manufacturing classes for Girl Scout troops wanting to get their jewelry-making badge,” Brian says. “Those are always fun!”
Judy adds that the couple helped a young man who wanted to contribute to K9s for Warriors, which provides service dogs to disabled American veterans, by doing a raffle for him. “Jacksonville is a big military community. At one point, Brian had everyone lined up in front of the store doing a push-up challenge. They also give discounts for military customers and senior citizens.”
Christoff Jewelers boasts a beautiful ambience, enhanced this past winter and spring by the presence of its own canine. “For Christmas, Brian got Janie a new puppy, a Jack Russell terrier named Chica,” Judy says. “She’s 6 months old now and able to stay at home where she has plenty of room to run out her energy” - a Jack Russell in a jewelry shop could be much like a bull in a china shop. But in her younger days, Chica totally charmed Christoff’s customers daily. Facebook postings show her “guarding” the door, hanging out in a satchel, snoozing on a lap, dismantling the Valentine’s decorations. “She was so funny,” Judy says. “A customer would ring the bell and she’d come alive, jumping up like, ‘Who is it?’ Customers would just stand and talk about the dog. She loved a lap to cuddle in. But those dogs need to run!”
Part of Chica’s online appeal was due to Brian’s interest in photography. He and Tyler took classes together and then brought their hobby into the business. The father-son duo also teamed up to assemble a beautiful saltwater fish tank for the store. “It was a stroke of brilliance to have it here, as it entertains customers and their children when we are busy,” Judy says.
Tyler is 25 and just started working full time as he trains. “So it’s passed through the family,” Judy says. “Tyler has a bright spark; he has the best of both of them.
“After 26 years of marriage and 31 years of business together, that’s a success story. These people work 3 feet away from each other all day long, and then they’re together when they go home.
“They are charming, a lot of fun, and it has been a real adventure working with them!”