Helmut the Jeweler Celebrates 40 Years of Family Tradition
by Amie Rodgers
On January 2, Helmut the Jeweler will celebrate 40 years as a family owned and operated business in Show Low. In honor of the occasion and this long standing family tradition, we were thrilled to have the opportunity to interview the Vaeth family starting with Helmut himself.
Helmut Vaeth was born in Germany seventy five years ago. He came to America in 1952. “Even as a little kid I was handy with my fingers and patient. I had three years in Germany as an apprentice. That is where I learned my basic skills. The rest came from experience. From Germany, I moved to Phoenix where I had an uncle who was my sponsor. I worked for him for a couple of years. Later, I went to a different jewelry store which was also in Phoenix. After that, a partner and I opened a trade shop. A trade shop is where other jewelers bring their work to be done. We would do it and even sometimes pick it up and deliver it. We had five or six employees. It lasted for five years before my partner and I couldn’t get along anymore,” he chuckles, “One of the jewelers we worked for was from Show Low and owned Worthman Jewelers. He came in one day and asked if we knew anybody who wanted to buy his store. I told him that I was interested in it. We came up here and agreed to buy it in 1972. The location was on the Deuce of Clubs. The building is still there next to the Kiva Motel. My wife and I started there from scratch with our two daughters.”
After a few years, Helmut moved to a new building across the street from the Pineway Shopping Center in Show Low (where the Crystal Dragon is now). The family lived upstairs, ran the store downstairs and rented part of the building. A few years in, they discovered that Helmut’s wife needed a kidney, which her daughter donated. “After the operation, we decided that no one knew how long the kidney transplant would last so we sold everything to my brother and went on the road. We did this for twenty years. While we were on the road, my daughter’s husband suddenly died and they lived in Mesquite, Texas. They requested that we quit the road and live in Texas. We lived there two years before we found out my wife had cancer. Last year on October 20th, she passed away,” says Helmut, “A couple of weeks ago, Stephen let me know he needed some extra help so I volunteered to come up and help for Christmas. I sold my motorhome to a gentleman in Pinetop so I drove it here. I’ll fly back home December 18th.”
Of the forty years of operation, Erich Vaeth has been part of twenty six of them. Like his brother, he started his career in Germany. He holds a Masters Degree in Watchmaking and Business. “When I came to the United States, I learned the jewelry business and goldsmithing. I started in a trade shop in Phoenix. Then I closed it and opened a jewelry store in Phoenix. I was there for about ten years. I then had the opportunity to buy out a jeweler in Payson. I was there for ten years,” notes Erich, “I bought Helmut the Jeweler from my brother. When I wanted to retire, my son Stephen took over six years ago.”
A third generation jeweler, Stephen was brought up in the business. “Basically, being in this family, you grow up with it from a small age. I say I have been in it since diapers and that is basically true. My mom used to take me to the store and my dad would be working,” smiles Stephen, “When I got a little bit older, as early as five, I would tinker around on my dad’s bench with little clocks. Every year, I would learn a little bit more behind the bench with jewelry. At the age of twelve I was basically at the level where I could start performing custom jobs for actual clientele. I had already learned how to do repairs and simple jobs, but I was on to custom jobs where you would take a ring and manufacture it from a piece of lost wax and make it into gold or platinum or silver and finish it out by placing the stones.”
Stephen worked in the family business after school and later went to Texas Institute of Jewelry Technology. “Afterwards, I came back here and worked for the family business again, but I was young and dumb and thought I could do better outside the small town. So, I decided to move to Phoenix for a couple of years which was actually good for me because I did work for a well known jewelry store down there that taught me and refined all the skills I have today. I came back because my parents were retiring. I decided I didn’t want to work for someone for the rest of my life. So, here I am. We had two locations, but as one person, I couldn’t run both so we decided to close them both down and combine them into a larger store in Show Low,” notes Stephen, “Since then, the business has quadrupled in size. My motto is to just be honest and do a good job on the item no matter how long it takes me. I don’t cut corners and I make sure it is perfect even if I have to eat it in the end price wise. It is aggravating sometimes, but our word of mouth is better for it and our customer is happy. I am very privileged to have such a long standing family tradition. Seven months ago, my son was born so maybe there will be another generation in the business. His name is Conrad and he is named after my great uncle who also came from Germany. He wasn’t a jeweler, but he was a skilled oil painter.”
Like every year, December is going to be a big month of sales and promotions to give back to the community. Each week in December there will be a different sale. “We are doing a lot of little things to help out the community. We are giving away an Apple ipad 2 (with no purchase necessary). During the first week in December everything in the store is 60% off. We are making it ‘Black Week,’ not just ‘Black Friday’. During the second week, we will have a balloon popping week. There will be different percentages off in the balloons. The third week is ‘bundling week’ where if you buy two pieces you get a certain percentage off and with a third piece you get an additional 15% off. On Friday, Dec. 16, we will have a huge first time ever trunk show from 11 am – 5 pm. A vendor will bring over 2 million dollars of jewelry in. Those pieces will be 50% off. There will be a huge selection to choose from. During the final week, we will have a food drive. We will already have 35% off of everything that week for purchase, but if you bring in 5 pounds of nonperishable food items, we will give you another 5% off. If you bring in 10 pounds, we will give you an additional 10% and 15 pounds will get you 15% off. Every year, we try to give back. Last year, we gave over $2,000 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.”
In concluding our interview, Stephen explained why (beyond tradition alone) he loves his profession. “It is exciting to be a jeweler because you are always working with a happy event. People come in for events like anniversaries and weddings. I get to work with guys when they are excited and nervous at the same time. I generate a custom piece for them and they are able to see a picture before its ever made. It is fun to work with them on it,” he smiles, “We make a friend for life when you are a jeweler. We have made a lot of friends over the years and it is great to be able to have made them here.”
Helmut the Jeweler is located at 100 N. White Mountain Boulevard Suite 105 in Show Low. They can be reached with questions at 928-532-4454.