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June 1, 2015

Style Spotlight, Chesapeake Style Vashti’s Feature

This article was originally published as a StyleSpotlight.

Vashti Wilcher is a “self-made woman,” according to her daughter Joan Roane, “who worked hard for what she got.”

What she got was a fine jewelry and giftware business running successfully since 1961, when she bought it from her employer.

“My mother has always been fascinated with jewelry,” Joan said. This interest was fanned by her experiences of hard times in childhood.

“Jewelry made her independent,” Joan said, “but what really enchanted her was its beauty.”

Vashti began her working life in a supermarket. When a chance to work for a new jeweler in Gloucester Courthouse opened, she applied immediately. A year later, she owned the store. “My mother is a very independent woman,” Joan said, “but it was still unusual in those years for a woman to open her own business.”

From the beginning, Vashti set the tone for the business: treat others as you would wish to be treated; customers come first. “This value was embedded in me from day one,” said Joan, “and I have passed it on to my daughter Nicole Michael.”

The staff at Vashti’s is a literal, as well as a metaphorical family. Vashti brought her daughter into the store from high school, eventually passing control of the business to Joan. Joan, in turn, brought her daughter, Nicole, into the store early. “She used to play with the fine china from toddlerhood, and never broke a dish,” Joan said.

Now Nicole is taking on responsibility for Vashti’s Jewelers, including studying toward certification as a gemologist. “My daughter Avery likes to help out but sometimes she is not as good with the fragile items,” she laughed.

Even today, Vashti herself, at 91, retains her love for the business and remains a very stylish and elegant woman.

Vashti’s Jewelers is moving into new construction directly in front of the old spot as part of the remodeling of the entire shopping center. “It’s exciting to come to life once again in a new space!” Nicole said.

“We’ll be sharpening our focus on jewelry,” Nicole said, especially engagement and bridal jewelry, as well as fine sterling pieces. “We’ll still have babyware, jewelry boxes and fine engraved crystal made in the United States,” she added. And Vashti’s will continue to offer repairs, redesigns and appraisals by in-house jeweler, Keven Hanscom.

A customer brings in a pair of diamond rings, asking what to do with stones. Joan and Nicole examine them closely. “This is a lovely setting,” Joan says of one ring. “It is,” agrees Nicole. Then the two focus on what the customer thinks she wants.

“Do you want another ring, or a pendant?” Joan asks. She reaches into a case to bring out several ring settings. Nicole reaches for the latest catalog of gold and platinum settings, turning to the section on pendants.

“You could put the solitaire into a mounting,” Nicole suggests, pointing to several variations. “Or perhaps use a setting with smaller diamonds,” she adds, turning to several other pages.

“I think you should keep the second ring as it is, and wear it!” Joan says. “It’s far too nice to break up.”

The customer finally says she’ll have the rings reappraised, and start wearing them again.

This encounter highlighted Vashti’s essential approach to all customers: What the customer wants and needs has always been the central concern of the business.

“Jewelry is timeless,” Joan said following the consultation. “People take jewelry for granted. We buy a car, and we expect to maintain it, change the oil, replace the tires. Jewelry needs maintenance too.” She pointed out that dust is harder than gold and wears it down over time. Settings become damaged.

“We have a sign in the back,” Joan said. “It’s from the Independent Jewelers Association, which is a by-invitation-only organization to which we belong. Everyone here lives by its words.” She brought out the sign, entitled What Is a Customer.

“The message in this sign will be our legacy,” Joan said. We believe we must know our customers as persons, not merely as purchasers. We have folks who come in just to talk—we’re a kind of extended family for them. We’ve been here 53 years, and we intend Vashti’s to be here at least 53 more, taking care of our customers in every way we can.”

Vashti’s is located in the Edgehill Town CenterPhone them at 804-693-3434.