I met Kuhn for the first time when I stopped in his spacious store to see what a diamond give-away drawing is all about. You'd think it was a public rally for a leading celebrity. And although the diamond is valued at $5,000, Kuhn obviously hopes that the large number of entries for his contest and the publicity -- such as this column, I suppose -- will bring more customers and sales to his store. I also learned a few things about jewelers. A true jeweler is someone who works like a goldsmith and does some of the cutting and shaping work in a laboratory-liked setting, much like you'd see in an optometry outlet. Kuhn calls himself a gemologist, buying the stones from the labs and then placing them in settings as customers prefer, from rings to necklaces to bracelets and for other places where women like to show them. Gemstones also are colored, although Kuhn obviously sells and sets diamonds, which are in a category by themselves. Kuhn enjoys working with the colored gemstones, explaining that they have a personality of their own and customers also find that each one is different and adds zest to the jewelry wardrobe.
Although Kuhn has been a Pleasanton jeweler for 33 years, he didn't plan that kind of a career. Raised outside of Chicago in west suburban Wheaton, he earned a degree in business administration in 1963, and then served in the Air Force for the next five years. He learned to cut and polish stones at a base hobby shop in Vietnam during his off-hours, and later studied for and received his gemologist certificate. Taking his discharge in California, he worked for General Foods and earned a master's degree in Business Administration from Golden Gate University. He saw a chance to go into business for himself and bought an available Mr. Donut franchise. That proved to be a bad decision and far afield of his interests so he went to work for a San Francisco jeweler and eventually helped that retailer open a store in Pleasanton. When the owner cut back on costs, Kuhn, with a wife and two children to support, found himself out of work. But only briefly. He parlayed a loan from the Small Business Administration into buying out a jewelry store and Cardinal Jewelers opened for business. Kuhn has seen his ups and downs in terms of profits over the years, but he's thrived nevertheless and two years ago expanded his business into the new Hopyard Village store.
Like many retail businesses, jewelry stores are cyclical in their sales appeal. This is the slow time of the year coming off a peak spring and early summer when Mother's Day, graduations and retirement parties help drive customers to Kuhn's store. Although May and June are traditionally known as the key wedding months, it's the anniversaries that follow that send customers back to the jewelry store every year to celebrate again, and again. Although amethyst is the assigned gift on a 33rd anniversary, all gemstones and diamonds are appreciated. Women never have enough, Kuhn says.
Business is expected to pick up again shortly as buyers start their holiday shopping, with November and December usually Kuhn's best months. That's when he keeps the store open seven days a week, although now he takes Sundays and Mondays off. As an independent jeweler, Kuhn also makes his pitch for jewelry stores like his, insisting that it's these stores where customers can find experienced gemologists, not hourly employees in a corporate- or chain-owned retailer who might have been selling shoes the day before.