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Eclectic Elegance

G. Thrapp Jewelers, Indianapolis, is a perfect reflection of the eclectic taste of its owner,Gary Thrapp.

By Nancy Pier Sindt


Brooch created as a donation for the Columbus Philharmonic in Columbus, Indiana.
As he tells the story, Gary Thrapp happened into the jewelry business by chance. After college graduation in the early 1970s, he trekked to California, planning to make a short visit. He stayed nine years. He settled in Santa Barbara, slept late, enjoyed the water sports and the warm climate and finally took a part-time job with a local jeweler to help pay for his lifestyle.

In his new job, Thrapp gradually learned the jewelry business, but he says he enjoyed it mainly because of the attitude of the retailer for whom he worked. “He made it fun to learn,” Thrapp says. Eventually, he met and married Barbi, a California girl, and since they both had family in the Midwest, they moved back to his hometown of Indianapolis. There, he worked for another jeweler for a few years, but his goal was always to open a store of his own.

FINDING A PLACE

In his search for retail space, Thrapp found a derelict strip mall that, he laughs, gave new meaning to the term “shabby chic.” In 1984, he founded G. Thrapp Jewelers at that location with three showcases in 1,100 square feet of space. Over the years, his business grew and he expanded the size of the store, even buying an adjacent property. G. Thrapp Jewelers now encompasses the equivalent of three storefronts in 3,400 square feet of space in the city’s charming, restored Butler Tarkington neighborhood.

Thrapp’s clientele includes a wide range of ages and income levels, from college students attending nearby Butler University to upwardly mobile professionals to old money. Both the Butler Tarkington area, which boasts the country’s oldest organized neighborhood association, and the nearby Meridian Kessler neighborhood are popular walking areas.

PASSION FOR ESTATE

G. Thrapp Jewelers has a homey, eclectic look, with two fireplaces, a nautical decor and antique decorative elements that include a carpet once owned by the Rockefeller family and ashtrays that once belonged to the Duke of Windsor. Thrapp, who loves antiques as well as estate jewelry, often travels to New York for auctions of notable pieces.

The estate jewelry part of his business is a personal passion and Thrapp says he buys and sells everything: all categories of jewelry and all periods. He also offers a number of services, such as restorations and appraisals, the latter of which, he says are a huge resource for potential consignments or purchases. However, on purchases, he adheres to a strict set of rules: To avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, he will not buy or accept on consignment an estate piece for his store unless it has two appraisals, with at least one from an independent, outside appraiser.

On repairs and restoration of antique jewelry, Thrapp says his bench jewelers are top-notch. The work is challenging because “on estate repairs, the workmanship has to be in keeping with the work of the time.” His staff also has done restoration work for dealers in New York and Los Angeles.

CUSTOM DESIGN

The largest part of Thrapp’s business, however, is custom design, which he estimates contributes about 35 percent to 40 percent of total sales. “The signature of our business is custom design and special orders,” the owner says. He employs four bench jewelers, who work in a separate facility behind the store, and two administrators. Most employees, including three Gemological Institute of America (GIA) graduates, have been with the store for a considerable time, from six years up to 24 years. Thrapp credits his vice president, Ellen Bower, head of the G. Thrapp Design Studio, for her “exceptional design skills and guidance of the studio.”

The retailer carries many branded designers as well, including David Yurman, Penny Preville, Gurhan, Hidalgo, John Hardy, Judith Ripka and designers from Fragments Showroom in New York City, among others. The collections are not displayed in individual boutiques by designer, but are instead showcased in vignettes or stories in a circular case at the store’s center. This summer, the jeweler plans to have the remaining two-thirds of the store refitted with new showcases of dark wood with “infinity glass” toppings. These will give the store a more modern, cleaner look, he says. The remodeling also includes new carpeting, painting and awnings.

A growing portion of Thrapp’s business comes from diamond engagement rings. While he says that wasn’t always a big part of the business, it has grown steadily in the past 10 to 15 years. In 2007, he opened new space dedicated exclusively to the store’s bridal lines that allows more private, personalized consultations. Clients are invited in to view the large diamond inventory and select from existing mountings or to start the custom designing process. He stocks a variety of qualities — the average range is E though H color, VS2 to SI2 clarity — but he also selects his diamonds based on their visual beauty and symmetry.

Thrapp says he is adamant about keeping the overall shopping and buying experience — the store, merchandise, service and advertising — consistent in appearance and attitude. Special events such as trunk shows and personal appearances are given a lot of thought and planning. For example, the store recently hosted a trunk show of Konstantino, a Greek designer, for which it offered Greek food catered by a local restaurant.

Involvement with the local community also plays a big part in this jeweler’s schedule. “We donate to everything,” Thrapp says, but especially close to his heart are charities that promote the welfare of children, aged people and the indigent. Advertising includes local radio, TV and billboards, some of which catch the eye with taglines such as “Make Her Speechless for a Change” and “Make Her Ex-Boyfriend Hate You Even More” that are illustrated with a large solitaire diamond engagement ring.

Overall, Thrapp says he is satisfied with his lifestyle and the growth of his business. He’s not sure if his son — the next generation — will take over, but for now, he’s enjoying the creative side of his business, the challenge of custom design and the thrill of finding that perfect estate piece.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - June 2012. To subscribe click here.

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