Program Speaker: Mark Guerin, Master jeweler and Watchmaker

Mark Guerin, master jeweler and watchmaker, spoke to the New Mexico Faceters Guild on how to begin and operate a jewelry business. He and his partner and fiancee, Karen Fitzpatrick, a certified gemologist/appraiser, own and operate Harris Jewelers/Casa de Oro in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Both Mark and Karen are Guild members.
Mark Guerin was born in Albuquerque and attended Sandia High School. During his senior year, Mark worked for a jeweler/watchmaker. After graduation, he took classes to learn how to repair watches. He did contract watch repair for jewelers in Albuquerque for a while afterwards. Mark then attended Paris Junior College in Paris, Texas, which is recognized by the jewelry industry as an accredited institute for teaching jewelrymaking and gemology. There, Mark learned the techniques necessary to be a jeweler.

After completing his jewelry training, Mark worked as a contract jeweler for Expressions in Gold in Albuquerque. Later, he went to Shelton’s Jewelry in Albuquerque and worked as a bench jeweler and jewelry designer for several years. Mark took the diamond and colored stone courses offered by the Gemological Institute of America in California. After leaving Shelton’s, he rented a space in the mall for a while and did jewelry repair and custom design. He also worked on jewelry projects in his studio at home.

Karen Fitzpatrick has a degree in economics from UNM. She is a registered jeweler and a certified gemologist appraiser for American Gem Society stores. Karen also worked at Shelton’s Jewelry for several years.
Mark and Karen began thinking about opening their own store a few years ago. In their minds, they could see it all there. They would discuss what they would do differently from other stores. Mark and Karen read the different books on business practices and located a book on how to buy a business in New Mexico. Soon, they discovered that Harris Jewelers in Rio Rancho was being offered for sale.

Mark and Karen researched what was required to buy Harris Jewelers. They decided to keep the watch accounts already established, but they planned to remodel the small store space. They wanted to establish their own accounts with the various jewelry manufacturers in the United States for jewelry parts and findings. Mark had already been acquiring many of the jewelrymaking tools needed to run such a business, and Karen had her gemological equipment at home. They obtained a small business loan from a bank and obtained the services of a lawyer.

The remodeling effort involved new paint, new carpet, and rebuilding display cases, all with a color scheme in mind that Karen had chosen: peach and platinum. They also wanted to give a southwestern look to the store.
The store came with an antique upright safe that dated from the 1880’s. Moving the safe required a power jack and several men. Mark’s family members really helped the couple get the store ready to open for business.
The retail space two doors down that housed a credit union became available for rent. Mark and Karen would greatly increase their square footage by moving two doors down, which they did. They left the smaller 400 square foot space for a spacious 1600 square foot area. Again, family and friends were called upon to move desks and equipment and make the new place ready for business. A photo album showed photographs of the remodeling process, depicting the “before and after” situations very well.

Mark and Karen maintained a careful watch over their finances. The store budget was small at the beginning, but it has increased with their store’s business success. They listed all of the expenses that must be paid before they themselves are paid. These expense items include: state and federal taxes, theft insurance, monthly rent and electric bill, and medical insurance. Mark and Karen use a computer program to track inventory and sales, and they enlist the services of an accountant to prepare their yearly taxes. They recommended building a store’s inventory of diamonds, colored stones, and jewelry slowly at first but increasing it whenever possible. They continue to acquire more jewelrymaking equipment, gem identification instruments, furniture, and other store items as finances allow.

In regard to advertising, Mark and Karen promote their store through newspaper advertisements, and they are considering the use of radio and magazine advertisements. They related an amusing story about their neon sign that needed to be repaired to be lighted during the shorter days and longer nights that we have toward Christmas. They said that sometimes getting into the work schedules of contractors and repairmen can be difficult.

Mark also mentioned the problem with the disposal of hazardous liquids used in jewelrymaking. He makes certain that he is in compliance with current regulations and has the toxic waste disposed of both properly and safely.
Mark and Karen promote Harris Jewelers/Casa de Oro as a custom jewelry store. They sell loose diamonds, jewelry, watches, and they repair jewelry and watches. Karen does the jewelry appraisals. They also contract local jewelry and gem artisans for consignment sales in their store.

With the success of their business, Mark and Karen felt the need to hire people to help them. They now have one lady employee, Pat. She greets everyone entering the store and helps customers. As a result, Mark and Karen are responsible for the various taxes regarding store employees. Mark described the problems he has faced with trying to hire and train a reliable jewelry apprentice.

Mark and Karen provided a very personal and candid viewpoint in relating their experiences of operating a jewelry business in New Mexico. The New Mexico Faceters Guild greatly appreciated hearing Mark and Karen speak about what it involved to open their jewelry store, and we thank them for sharing with us their experiences and sage advise. All of us in the New Mexico Faceters Guild wish Mark and Karen great success in their business endeavor.