Times Past: Generations of jewelers

  • H.S. Ruddock Jeweler on Main Street was run by the Ruddock family until 1989, at which time Harry S. Ruddock Jr. took to doing appraisals, repairs and custom work in an upstairs boutique. Staff File Photo/Chuck Blake

  • Back in the 1950s, H.S. Ruddock Jeweler was located where Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center is today. Jewelry stores back then engaged in watchmaking, repairs, customization and even optometry. Staff File Photo

  • Being a jeweler, Harry S. Ruddock Jr. says, is a trade you always know. Even 12 years after his retirement from his Greenfield jewelry store, Ruddock continues to restore vintage and antique watches at his workbench in his South Deerfield home. Staff Photo/Shelby Ashline

Published: 3/22/2019 6:28:32 PM

Even nearly 30 years after our Main Street business H.S. Ruddock Jeweler closed its doors, the Ruddock family name remains synonymous with jewelry.

It all started with my father, Harry Sanderson (H.S) Ruddock Sr., who was one of three local jewelers to apprentice under the Foster Brothers.

Back then, a lot of people didn’t go to high school, my father included. Instead, he sought out an occupation, starting his apprenticeship in 1914. He made watches from a shop in the Mansion House before opening up his own store where Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center is today, once called Clark’s Corner.

Jewelry stores at the time were more versatile than today, engaging in watchmaking, repairs, customization and even optometry. While my father focused on the jewelry, he had my mother, Mary, at his side to help with bookkeeping and even stringing pearls.

My first job there when I was 12 was one that most children whose families own businesses might remember — sweeping the sidewalk and washing windows. When I got a bit older, my dad taught me how to take clocks apart and repair them.

At the time, I didn’t know I’d be a lifelong jeweler myself. After I returned from the service, I had no idea what it was I wanted to do, so my father said, “I’ll teach you how to be a watchmaker and maybe you can make a living out of it.”

In 1962, we bought a building on Main Street that included two storefronts, one of which we occupied and the other we rented out to Barrett & Baker. By then, I’d picked up a lot of my father’s knowledge, which I supplemented by attending the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). It was difficult to learn how to tell the difference between the different gemstones, and how to tell between real and fake stones, but not a lot of people knew how, so it was like having a master’s degree as a jeweler.

GIA students all learned that when their customers got home, they should feel happy with their purchase, like they’d gotten something they really wanted. I hope that all our customers at H.S. Ruddock Jeweler felt that way, and their coming back for more purchases meant a lot to my family.

Another part of the business I picked up was engraving pewter plates of three different sizes. Customers would provide the picture, then I’d draw it and transfer the drawing to the pewter plate.

I engraved a lot of houses and animals, a 20th anniversary plate for Yankee Candle, the old Greenfield courthouse and even a plate for the rock band The Who. I had been selling pewter trays with engravings of birds on them at a friend’s store in Rhode Island when the band members came in and asked to have a plate done for their band. My friend put them in touch with me, but I had no idea which band I was working for until I started the drawing!

The hours kept us busy. We’d work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. six days per week, offering extended hours until 9 p.m. on Fridays, which is when residents tended to shop. After the day’s work, I’d come home, have dinner and pick up work on my pewter engravings downstairs.

The creative aspects of the job were my favorites. Crafting our window displays offered one such creative outlet. We’d vacation in Maine and I’d bring back shells and driftwood to incorporate into the displays.

One of my favorites was courtesy of Rolex, which had distributed water goblets with watches inside to its jewelers to illustrate that its watches were waterproof. Though the watch in water was supposed to be the main attraction, the display didn’t garner a lot of attention until I added a toy scuba diver to the goblet and an air pump that produced bubbles.

Just like how I had been involved at the jewelry store since I was a kid, my own kids came to help out, too. Jim and Mark both helped with cleaning and waiting on customers, and our oldest son, Harry III, picked up jewelry repairs and attended a diamond course at GIA. My wife, Mary, also helped by typing up the many appraisals. Even my father continued to be involved at the store until he was 70.

Eventually, the watchmaking trade dwindled out. More quartz watches were produced, which are simply thrown out when the batteries die. But there is still a demand for repairs on mechanical watches.

Business was good, but it required a lot of help. Shopping malls were able to stay open until 10 p.m., making it difficult for small Main Street businesses to compete.

It became easier to specialize, so I turned my attention to repairs, appraisals and custom work — what I most enjoyed. We decided to close the Main Street storefront in 1989, and I picked up work in a sort of boutique upstairs until retirement in 2007. I took great pride in providing people with jewelry that they couldn’t get anywhere else.

I do miss being there on Main Street every day, waving to friends who passed by our window or welcoming them into the store. But Greenfield was a more close-knit community then, and today it feels so different from in its heyday.

Being a jeweler, though, is a trade you always know. So, even 12 years after retirement, I still restore vintage and antique watches at my workbench in my South Deerfield home, and I still craft customized pewter engravings. Many such projects are done for former customers, for whom the Ruddock name still means craftsmanship.


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