Open for more than 100 years in the same spot on King Street, Croghan’s Jewel Box is a true Charleston success story, a family business where old and new converge at every turn.
Mariana Hay and her sister, Rhett Outten, recently expanded the store, started in 1907 by their grandfather, engraver and bench jeweler, William Croghan, from a charming, tiny treasure trove that was tucked into the porch of a 1797 house to a spacious, high-end jewelers that occupies the entire building.
The fourth generation, Mariana’s daughters, Mini and Kathleen Hay, also bring a fresh approach and youthful eye to the business. A certified gemologist who interned for Cartier before working for Seaman Schepps, Kathleen has a keen eye for keeping records, taking inventory and running reports.
“She helped determine we have a large number of out-oftown, repeat clientele,” says Outten. “And that our biggest sellers are diamond rings and antique jewelry. It’s amazing how information can be key in running a business. It can tell you about your customer, your inventory and how to match them up.” She continues: “Kathleen brought a strategic sense to our business plan. We run a lot of things now by looking at the numbers.”
Joining her mom, aunt and sister at the family business started by her great-grandfather, Mini Hay is the artist behind the Goldbug Collection, a cheeky jewelry line of gold bugs, including bees and cockroaches. From drop earrings and bangles to bib necklaces, cuffs, cuff links and even julep cups, napkins and napkin rings, Mini has designed a fun line inspired by her Charleston roots.
“I’m always finding inspiration in our estate collection,” she says. “This holiday season’s bugs are inspired by an estate gold band I fell in love with. The bugs have crystals embedded directly in the gold (no prongs) and are surrounded by an etched starburst design. I also wanted to create new ways to wear multiseason bugs, so this collection has a lot of interchangeable parts.”
Two years ago, Mini created her own unique and popular jewelry line, the Goldbug Collection, inspired by the ubiquitous Lowcountry cockroach and named after Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Gold Bug,” set on nearby Sullivan’s Island. Read more about the collection in the sidebar.
“All four of us work together every day,” says Outten. Each of us brings a specific set of skills and talent to the business, and we have a lot of fun.”
Encouraged by Kathleen, the store recently worked with Daniel Island-based marine biologist-turned-artist Amanda McLenon to feature an exclusive Charleston series of 22-karat gold foil-edged cuffs, including one with a map of Charleston and a shrimp. “It’s been a fun project,” says Outten.
The store has always welcomed collaborations. For 11 years, Croghan’s has made the pearl and amethyst pin that students of Ashley Hall receive upon graduation. In October, the store will host a Temple St. Clair trunk show, with a percentage of sales going to benefit the Charleston Library Society.
“Temple created a couture line that was shown at the Louvre in 2016,” says Outten. “Some of her work has been added to its permanent collection, a rare accomplishment for a jeweler.” St. Clair has a Charleston connection: The artist had trunk shows on her mother’s Legare Street dining room table in the early days of her career.
Croghan’s recent expansion helped grow the store’s longestablished lines, including estate and antique pieces. “Estate and antique jewelry is a tremendous part of our business,” says Outten. “We call it jewelry with a soul. The workmanship and quality is so appealing. Every one is like a little part of history.” She notes that each piece unveils a story: A diamond ring set in platinum is a 20th-century treasure, since platinum was not prevalent until the 1920s.Sterling over gold was used during the Georgian era. Mourning jewelry during the Victorian years featured a white enamel Greek key embellishment to signify the death of a child.
“We get excited when we find a magnificent piece still housed in its original handtooled leather box. Estate lockets and bangles from the ‘40s and ‘50s are a mainstay in our collection,” Outten says. “These items have all the charm of hand engraving and meticulous craftsmanship, and are usually gold-filled, which makes them affordable.” Many of these antique and estate pieces are featured on the store’s website.
“Croghan’s has been our family’s go-to for birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, christenings, graduations and other occasions for three generations,” says Bernie Hood, a longtime Croghan’s customer. “We have met secretly there after hours to pick out special engagement rings and wedding presents. The Croghan’s ladies can come up with the perfect Christmas present for all of our men to give when they appear on Christmas Eve to begin their shopping.”
“The jewelry business is all happy; it’s about happy occasions, celebratory times,” says Outten. “It’s an honor to be able to help customers celebrate these moments. It’s not about the things. It’s about what the things represent. It’s wonderful to have folks come to us throughout the years to help commemorate that.”
M.S. Lawrence is a Charleston-based writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.