At first glance, Sohn & McClure Jewelers, primely situated on East Bay Street in downtown Charleston, may look like any mainstream jewelry store with its glass cases showcasing sparkling diamonds and vibrant gemstones—a place to buy an engagement ring for your love or scoop up a unique bauble to add to a cherished collection. But dig deeper and you’ll discover this longtime, family-run jewelry store’s real value: skilled artisans who are dedicated to their craft and offer old-world services not often found anymore.
While cases are highly curated with eclectic lines of engagement and wedding rings, estate and antique jewelry, and glittering gems like sapphire and rubies that are ready to buy and wear, the jewelers of Sohn & McClure specialize in an array of services that are all done in-house, most often by hand. At a time when everything feels mass-produced and fast-crafted by advanced computers and machines, they take the time to rely on fine skills that have been honed over decades. “We are jewelry makers first, always have been and always will be. By chance, we have a lot of pretty things in the cases if you need something now,” says co-owner Rex McClure, who fell in love with jewelry making at just 15 years old and married into the Sohn family jewelry business 28 years ago when he wed Kristina, the daughter of Bill Sohn.
Along with a small team of expert jewelry makers, a gemologist and an appraiser, McClure and his wife tackle everything from small projects, like repairs and valuing family heirlooms, to intensive work, such as hand engraving and breathing new life into antique pieces. “We don’t want to destroy any old pieces that have survived this long,” says McClure about repurposing pieces from customers. “It’s like an old house in many ways, you don’t want to destroy them but lovingly restore them into living condition.”
McClure splits his time between the back shop—with its linoleum floors forever draped in gold and diamond dust—where he reimagines or fashions new pieces for customers, and the office, where the 62-year-old diligently searches for rare gemstones through his longtime network of suppliers and gem cutters. “If I need a 10-carat diamond, I could have several of them here the next day. That’s an issue of trust. It takes a long time to build those relationships,” says McClure of his favorite part of the job. “This is the fun part for me, sourcing high-value gemstones and creating handmade, one-of-a-kind special pieces of jewelry that you don’t see very often.”
While many jewelry stores outsource complicated design pieces that are often conceptualized by a computer, McClure relishes tough challenges, which have included handmaking a platinum halo ring housing a 3-carat diamond to laboring for 126 hours on an aquamarine bracelet loaded with diamonds. He also enjoys collaborating with local designers, bringing to life their complex creations. “It’s fun to be part of their creative process,” he says.
A big part of the job is finding out exactly what a customer envisions when designing a piece. To bring an idea into reality, clients are often given homework, like sifting through pictures and selecting what they like and don’t like. Often, if a client is indecisive or can’t imagine what their jewelry could become, McClure will harness his artistic skills to free design or fashion a watercolor drawing of a design. “In a different life, I would have been a painter, splashing canvases with pretty pictures,” he says.
Something that truly sets Sohn & McClure apart is the specialized skills of Kristina Sohn McClure, who can hand engrave almost anything thanks to extensive training with master engravers in Italy and rigorous education at several elite schools. “It’s a very rare skill these days, as it’s hard to learn and many people give up,” says McClure. “A computer can’t do what she does. She draws it by hand and then cuts it with a steel engraver; she’s the best I’ve ever seen.”
While McClure doesn’t have his hands on every piece, he says he’s intimately involved in every project that comes through the store. At the end of the day, the Sohn & McClure team is in the business of making people happy. “Nobody needs this stuff,” says McClure. “Jewelry is all about making people feel good.”
Angela Caraway-Carlton is a Miami-based freelance writer, travel and lifestyle expert, and television producer. Her works have appeared in Indulge Magazine, Time Out, Elysian, Aventura, South Florida Luxury Guide and Modern Luxury Weddings South Florida & the Caribbean. Caraway-Carlton has covered lifestyle trends in South Florida and beyond for more than a decade.