Still sparkling at 81: Jeweler stays active helping others, refurbishing vintage items

By Michael Wetzel | Living 50 Plus

PRICEVILLE — For 81-year-old Kenneth Stuart, going to work every day is the “medicine” that keeps him alive and active.

Manager of The Jeweler and More business in Priceville for the past seven years, Stuart said it is important for him and other seniors to stay busy with something they enjoy.

“It is what keeps me going,” Stuart said about his business specializing in vintage jewelry. “This place is my pillbox. This is what gets me out of bed every day. I love it every day. I know I am helping people.”

Stuart said the jewelry industry has been good to him and his family. His three sons are all bench jewelers, including Kelly Stuart, owner of Kelly’s Jewelers in Decatur. Kenneth Stuart’s two daughters also have worked in the jewelry industry, he said.

Raised on a farm by foster parents William and Pearl Kelly, founders of the church that became Beltline Church of Christ, Stuart said he was taught to “get up early, work hard and work late.” He grew up in the Moulton Heights neighborhood of Decatur and still lives in the city. Son Kelly is named for the family that raised him.

Kenneth Stuart said former Decatur High School principal Avery Roberts Jr. influenced him to “get a job and stay with it. Don’t jump from job to job.”

Stuart said he was working at Clements Drug Store on Moulton Street as a teenager in Decatur in the late 1950s, when he was approached by Ralph Wyman, who asked him to help manage Diamond Jewelry.

He said he has been in the jewelry business ever since.

He said he left Diamond Jewelry because the manager there was Jimmy Smith. “He was very good at what he did and I knew I was in a dead end job behind Jimmy Smith,” he said. Smith later went on to open his own successful jewelry business in Decatur.

Stuart joined Ira’s Book and Gift Shop on East Moulton Street in Decatur working for Ira Chennell and later bought her secondary business in Russellville, which had a watch repair shop in the same building.

He moved his wife and two children to Russellville. He has two daughters and three grown sons, and grandchildren.

“I later got out of the jewelry business and took a job going around closing out jewelry stores,” he said. “It was very rewarding to me and my family. But I moved back to Decatur to help care for the woman who raised me and got back in the business. I’ve stood behind counters as a jeweler for over 30 years. I found a niche opening a vintage jewelry store.”

Heirloom jewelry

He said people bring him unwanted jewelry or jewelry their parents or grandparents owned at one time and ask him for suggestions on repairing or selling the items.

“People come in with an old pocket watch that belonged to their grandfather. They’ll ask if it is fixable,” he said. “They want to use it, and I help them bring it back to life.”

He said he uses a replica version of a 1897 Sears and Roebuck catalog and “The Complete Price Guide to Watches” as his two main sources of information on vintage jewelry.

“This store is my medicine,” Stuart said. “It helps me stay active, be involved with the public and use my past years’ knowledge and experience to help people. I know I have something to give back to the jewelry industry. This store has been successful. I have helped the customers, and the customers have helped me.”

Dealing in old jewelry, clocks, silverware, broaches, rings and even tools in the industry, Stuart said if he were 10 years younger he would open more vintage jewelry stores in north Alabama.

“You never know what’s coming through the door. I invite the public to bring grandmother’s old jewelry box in. We’ll go through everything, and I will tell them what is junk and what is valuable — gold, silver, watches,” he said. “If the family doesn’t want it any more, I will make them an offer and try to refurbish it and put it back in the counter to sell. I can size rings, reset diamonds. I can bring these old rings back to life at my bench. The business has really taken off in the seven years I’ve had it open.”

He said the business is owned by his family.

‘Do something’

He advises other seniors to stay active and get away from a routine of watching television most of the day.

“If you’re retired, instead of going home and sitting on their butt and watching TV and getting overweight and getting unhealthy, find something in their trade that is similar to what they can do,” he said. “Volunteer time, teach young people. Do something instead of sitting there and watching the box, getting depressed and doing nothing but sit there all day long, or going with a cup a coffee with friends and doing nothing.”

He said retired men could spend more time with their spouses, helping them with “chores around the house, wash dishes, fold clothes, whatever she might need.”

“Do something with your church. Give your wife some freedom, be involved with her life. Don’t let her to continue to be like a maid,” Stuart said. “Because you are retired, doesn’t mean your body and your mind retire. Keep your mind and body doing something, then your health will stay with you.”

He said he had the coronavirus last year and the doctor told him his good health habits helped save his life.

“If I had been less (sharp) physically and mentally, I might not be here today,” he said. “Don’t wait until you realize you are out of shape, overweight. Start early to keep your mind and body in shape. It’s harder to keep that body in shape.”

“My fun is to run this store,” he added. “I try to take care of myself, take care of my home, take care of my business. Eat properly. Now is the time to live. Yesterday is dead and gone, and tomorrow is yet to be born. I live for today. You have no assurance you will see tomorrow. That’s been my philosophy for many years.”

Former Priceville Town Councilman Jerry Welch said he remembers introducing himself to Stuart when he opened the business seven years ago.

“I quickly realized he was knowledgeable about a lot in different areas. He knows about jewelry, collectibles, cast iron skillets,” Welch said. “He helps me do the background checks on some items. We’ve become close friends. My wife and I shop there. He’s been really good to this community.”