Meet Your Tahoe Merchant: Old-world craft faces new-world challenges
Special to the Sun
What: Steve Schmier’s Jewelry
Location: Boatworks Mall on North Lake Tahoe Blvd, Tahoe City
TAHOE CITY, Calif. — “Til I die, this is my hobby,” Michael Grant says as his arms sweep up and he shows off his store. “That’s the truth—this is entertaining.”
Sparkling diamonds and glimmering gemstones —sapphires, rubies, emeralds of all shades — surround the well-dressed man in his well-lit, full-windowed shop.
On a typical day, Mike can be found greeting and educating customers or meticulously working in his small workshop in the back, hand crafting the metals mankind has cherished for centuries.
“It is a symbol of love and wealth, it’s been done since the beginning of time,” Mike said of jewelry. “Self adornment— it makes you feel good.”
Although skilled in jewelry design and fine jewelry making, you won’t find a ring on his finger nor a stone around his neck.
Because he says he “lives and breathes it,” Mike doesn’t wear jewelry himself, and hasn’t since he began work in the industry.
Michael Grant says he “wasn’t scholastic,” and the fact that he didn’t do well in school led his parents to push him to study the jewelry trade under a family friend.
It was in the shop as an apprentice where Mike honed his craft and also learned the business side of things. The craftsman came to Tahoe City thirty three years ago and bought Steve Schmier’s Jewelry.
“The workshop guy’s dream is to have a little store,” he said, although he admits he was “scared to death of the public.”
Luckily for him, Steve Schmeirs Jewelry had Maggie Wilson-Robinson, the petite and graceful employee who knew jewelry and how to work with the public. The two have become life-long friends through their years of business together.
Mike says he “never stops learning” and that the creative process never ends for him. Through his various travels — Hong Kong and Brazil, Switzerland and South America — Mike has seen the world through its gems and has brought myriad colors and stones to the Tahoe area.
But just like the delicate work of crafting a three-piece pear-cut diamond pendant, Steve Schmier’s Jewelry has had to be meticulous in the changing economy.
Mike says he offers customer service and unparalleled experience in hopes of competing.
“Custom work is the backbone of our business and what sustains us,” Mike said. “I’m in a luxury business. Since the recession, like the person who sells any luxury product, we’ve been affected pretty good. Right now people are trying to hold on to their homes.”
Other factors such as the price of material costs doubling or even quadrupling, the Internet and changing fashion haven’t helped.
“People don’t dress up anymore,” Maggie said. “There aren’t as many formal nights, people dressing to the nines.”
Although the fashion of jewelry may be changing and may be generational, the sentimental value of diamonds and family gemstones is something that will never lose its shine.
“That’s the thing that’s special,” she said. “Things have always been passed down, it’s part of the heritage of the person.”
The most frequent of Mike’s clients come from the families he serves — granddaughters resetting their grandmothers’ rings, old stones being reused and passed down through generations.
“We’ve serviced three generations of people. Those people in Star Trek are going to have your grandmother’s diamond,” he said with a laugh.
Sue Moule and her husband Ben have been clients at Steve Schmier’s for more than 30 years. Sue says Mike is an honest man, more of a friend over the years, and is the jeweler she recommends to both locals and tourists.
“He’ll take pieces and incorporate them into something else so that you can use your family inheritance,” she said.
Mike helped Sue design a ring with the diamonds Ben has given her during their 46 years together.
“He’s able to see what’s beautiful and make something work,” she said. “If you have a design in your head he can incorporate it and make it work for you.”
Fur coats and cruise ships may be declining in popularity, but self adornment never will.
“A polished rock, a piece of amber, a painting, a carving, part of humans is a desire to make beautiful things,” Maggie said. “The desire was sparked millions of years ago and is still going today.”
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