If William Joseph Croghan, the jeweler and hand-engraver who opened Croghan’s Jewel Box on King Street in 1919, could see his store today, there’s a lot he might recognize.
For one thing, the store is still housed in the same 1797 Charleston Single House that he leased more than a hundred years ago. His granddaughters, Mariana Ramsay Hay and Rhett Ramsay Outten, own the store and employ other family members as well. They infuse Croghan’s with the same warm, friendly and generous spirit that has been a hallmark of the store’s service right from the beginning.
But if William Joseph could step inside the Croghan’s of today and take a look around, he’d almost certainly be shocked. The original store was housed snugly in the building’s porch, making for a long, narrow space that offered plenty of personality but not a lot of room.
Now, Croghan’s has grown to fill, not only the downstairs floor, but also the upstairs dining and drawing rooms, and the porch has just undergone a massive renovation. The result is a large, open, bright space that Hay and Outten are thrilled with. “We loved our quirkiness, but it was time to evolve,” Hay says. “It’s so much easier now—everything has its place.”
With the renovation finished, Hay and Outten have been able to expand the store’s selection of antique and estate jewelry, which is a part of the business they both love. It makes sense. After all, many of their customers have been coming to Croghan’s for generations, not just to make purchases, but to bring in their family heirlooms for cleaning and repairs.
“We love working with new designers, but there’s something about estate and antique jewelry that’s a thrill,” Outten says. “Everything’s not perfect—that’s the appeal.”
And in the newly renovated space downstairs, every piece that Croghan’s has can be shown off to its very best. Not only is there enough room for each necklace, ring, bracelet and piece of silver to shine, but Hay and Outten also added brand-new cases with state-ofthe- art lighting to further improve the customer’s browsing experience. “We have the same counters as our grandfather had,” Hay says. Outten adds, with a smile, “They were wellloved, but just not efficient.”
It’s a stark change from the narrow porch that Hay, Outten and their forebears knew for so long, and it’s a welcomed one. “There’d never been a designated area for antiques and estate pieces,” Hay says. “We’ve always just kind of done it by the seat of our pants.”
“Now it’s intentional,” Outten says. “We have departments— we’ve never had departments before!”
One of those newly intentional departments is the diamond department, where so many of the customers are brides and couples. While Croghan’s has always served brides, the store now has a dedicated area where couples can sit and take their time making that most important selection.
The store’s experience with estate jewelry comes in very handy with brides, many of whom are drawn to jewelry with a history, just like Hay and Outten. Many come in with heirloom diamonds, for example, for which they want a new, custom setting.
“Sometimes they have their grandmother’s diamond that our grandfather sold them,” says Outten. “We find that most brides today want something one-of-a-kind, something created just for them. They don’t want a ring that just came off a design line.”
Combining the old with the new is something both Outten and Hay love about their work. “That’s the best part of the job,” Hay says. “In your life, you’ll have different houses, different cars, but a piece of jewelry is lasting.”
If you have any doubts about that, just consider their repair orders. The store does around 500 repairs a month, everything from heavy fixes, like re-creating part of a ring setting, to simple ones, like cleaning or fixing a clasp. It’s proof that Croghan’s customers trust the store to sell them a great piece of jewelry and to care for it throughout the piece’s life.
With the repair aspect of the shop staying so busy, Hay and Outten decided to hire a dedicated person to handle the repair and design department, Claudia Cogan. Cogan is a trained gemologist and teacher from the Gemological Institute of America. Prior to coming to Croghan’s, Cogan was employed by Tiffany & Company where she held many titles, including director of custom design, director of client development and director of product development.
Cogan works in an upstairs part of the store, along with Croghan’s three bench jewelers. The jewelers handle the repairs, of course, but they also design custom pieces for customers. The fact that these craftspeople are in-house means that Croghan’s can turn around a repair or design project faster than many other jewelers, who often have to have someone complete that work off-site.
As much as Hay and Outten love working with estate and antique jewelry, they also enjoy stocking up on what’s new and trendy. In fact, Hay’s daughter Mariana, or Mini as she’s known, started designing her own line of jewelry a little over two years ago. Called the Goldbug Collection, the pieces feature golden bees, cicadas, even cockroaches, and are a Croghan’s exclusive.
Whether it’s for a Goldbug necklace, an engagement ring or a chat with the family, customers from all over the country continue to love dropping by Croghan’s. “What’s so great is people who are visiting come in and say, ‘It’s just not a trip to Charleston without a visit to Croghan’s,’” Outten says.
Hay adds: “They want to tell you their Croghan’s story. They’ll say, ‘Oh, your mom was behind the counter, and you were here, and I was buying this.’ That’s something we hold really precious. We’re the same face, the same family. Our name’s on the front door. We’re the caretakers.”
Elizabeth Pandolfi is a writer living in Charleston. See more at elizabeth pandolfi.contently.com.