THUNDER BAY -- Originally an apprentice electrician retrained as an electronics technician, (John) Chuck Sandford bought some reasonably priced good quality jewelry from a friend one day. Friends and family began asking him where he got it and if he could get them some, so he did - and that is how he got into the gold and jewelry business, more than 30 years ago.
He then met Christine and moved to Toronto to be with her, working at an electronics company and attending George Brown College at night to become a goldsmith. When the couple decided to make Thunder Bay their home, he started his own small business selling jewelry.
The next logical step was becoming a gemologist from the Gemological Institute of America, then a certified appraiser from the Canadian Jewellers Association. As his certifications, knowledge and skills expanded, so did the business.
He moved into a store at the Thunder Bay Mall (Arthur Street Marketplace) and bought a laser welder - still the only one between Winnipeg and the GTA, he says. (Laser welders are used to weld metals with stones such as emeralds which would be damaged by traditional heat-based welding.)
“Actually, I think Bombardier has a laser welder - but not for jewelry!” He also bought a machine that analyzes the content of precious metals, so that they can give precise quotes when buying gold or platinum from clients.
Chuck’s wife Christine has been working in the business for a quarter of a century, doing the bookkeeping and ensuring that the business runs smoothly. More recently, their daughter Armelle joined the team, bringing her marketing and artistic skills - she tends to the website and takes photos for their ads.
Exquisite Gold and Gems Inc. designs, manufactures and renovates jewelry, as well as replace watch batteries and repair quartz watches.
Recent trends in engagement rings have expanded the choice of gems - instead of asking for a one-carat diamond, some people prefer a smaller stone of better quality, or opt for coloured diamonds - champagne diamonds and chocolate diamonds were previously excluded from jewelry making, but are now gaining in popularity. Others choose coloured stones such as sapphire, amethyst, peridot, or Mexican (fire) opal - an orange version of its milky white Australian counterpart.
If you’re sure you want Canadian diamonds, you don’t even have to ask - Exquisite Gold and Gems label all their items with Canadian diamonds with a red ribbon on the display.
Chuck refutes the idea that diamonds of Canadian origin are much more expensive - they should not cost significantly more, but do have a small added cost due to the fact that each and every Canadian diamond is engraved with a number that shows where it came from.
“You can trace it right back to a shift - or minimally, back to the mine,” he explains.
Working as a family has its downsides - for one, it’s difficult to go on family vacations - but the Sandford family makes a good team. “Each person brings a different skillset to the table,” Armelle explains.
In addition to the family, the company employs several people, including an experienced goldsmith and gemologist, so that one day when Chuck is ready for retirement, Thunder Bay will still have certified professionals continuing the business.