A market for fine jewelry

Hofmeister finds a niche in Steamboat

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— Rick Thielemann stands in his compact workshop and gestures casually at a tray on the countertop strewn with small plastic bags.

The bags are filled with what appear to be little glass baubles.

"Those are sapphires and those are emeralds," he says, flipping the bags. Then he picks up what appears to be a miniature garden spade lacking a handle. Sitting in it is a diamond the size of a small garbanzo bean. Thielemann explains it will be mounted in a platinum ring he is custom crafting for a client.

Thielemann is a practicing goldsmith and vice president of Hofmeister Personal Jewelers in Steamboat Springs. Together with partners Carter Hofmeister and Joe Gillum he is largely responsible for bringing Steamboat a jewelry store the likes of which the town has never seen.

"We're about high-end luxury jewelry," Thielemann said. "The whole philosophy is service, service, service. You're no kind of jeweler if you can't service what you sell."

Thielemann himself repairs his client's jewelry, and high-end watches are expressed to Hofmeister's master watch repairmen in Indiana.

Thielemann doesn't want some of the expensive watches in his cases to scare off people who cannot afford them he wants to be the place locals think of first when they need an engagement ring reset, or a watch serviced.

"We don't underestimate anybody," Thielemann said. "We don't care if it's an $89 sale, I want them treated like it was an $8,900 sale. Those are almost more important to me. It's when you really make somebody feel special that's important to me."

Hofmeister is placing a great deal of emphasis on the Omega brand of watches in Steamboat because they have a tough-guy image in fine timepieces that fits the Steamboat lifestyle, Thielemann said. Other watch and jewelry brands carried by the store include Movado, Bertolucci, ESQ, Concord, Corum Lagos, Fortis, Ventura and Charriol.

At the same time Thielemann and his wife Janette are eager to sell $17,000 Swiss watches, they want to ensure that everyone in Steamboat feels comfortable visiting the store. They still sell gold chains priced at $89 and have a range of diamond earrings that would fit anyone's budget.

Thielemann's passion for his profession is immediately apparent. Born in Kentucky and raised in Muncie, Ind., he comes to Steamboat by way of Vail and Sweden. But he still talks in a soft southern drawl.

Thielemann began training to become a jeweler while still in high school. He eventually found his way to Vail, where he worked for a variety of high-end jewelers. That's also where he met his Swedish-born wife and ultimately followed her to Sweden.

Thielemann says his craft benefited from his seven-plus years in Sweden he even had the privilege of creating a piece that was presented to Queen Silvia on her 50th birthday. However, some aspects of Sweden's socialist system he found stifling in the business sense.

Upon returning to the states with his family, a friend urged him to visit Hofmeister Personal Jewelers, a leading business in Indianapolis, Ind. He showed his work to the proprietors and a professional bond formed.

The company has a corporate condo in Steamboat and Carter Hofmeister asked Thielemann to visit Steamboat in the fall of 2000 and conduct a market study. What Thielemann found was that the local market for high-end jewelry and watches was wide open. He further concluded its growth potential was enormous because of the trend among wealthy second homeowners to look beyond Aspen, Telluride and Vail for real estate.

When Thielemann recognized that the Lincoln Arcade building had changed hands and was available for remodeling, he seized upon the chance to lease it. Working with a personal friend who is a contractor, he transformed the building at 729 Lincoln Ave. The look is achieved with a rich hickory wood floor, massive upright log posts, old brick walls and a reproduction of the building's original tin ceiling.

Thielemann's goldsmith workshop is enclosed in a glass case toward the rear of the building where customers can watch him work and he can gaze out over the store.

Hofmeister's Indianapolis store does about $11 million in business annually, and is able to provide Thielemann and his local staff a depth of support that is uncommon in a market this size.

"I feel fairly lucky, not being a (Hofmeister) family member, to be invited to participate in such an opportunity as we have here," Thielemann said. "What we're trying to sell is family jewelry. Jewelry that lasts long enough that you can leave it to your children and their children."

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