Throughout the glass displays at M.P. Demetre Jewelers lay new and vintage timepieces, glistening bracelets and sparkling rings. But it’s not just the jewelry and accessories that have people in awe. Just look up, and the architecture and design details alone are a reason to pause—soaring 17-foot ceilings adorned in Parisian-inspired chandeliers, mahogany cabinets and ornate crown molding.
Named for the late Milton P. Demetre, over the decades the store has become known not only for its wide array of luxe brands but also for its design-minded beauty. And there’s even more reason to visit: This summer, the family expanded its showroom an extra 2,500 square feet, providing customers a one-stop shop to explore their favorite makers.
“What we’ve done here is what you might see in New York City,” says second-generation owner Peter Demetre. “We’re trying to remain cutting-edge but continue to build King Street.”
The story of building up King Street begins with Milton Demetre, who grew up admiring the Beaux Arts architecture along the historic thoroughfare in Downtown Charleston. An enterprising young man, he attended The Citadel and made extra money by cutting cadets’ hair, then he started selling jewelry and engagement rings to them. Once he became an officer in the Air Force, Demetre founded the American Metals Company and got his bearings in the sale of precious metals. This led to fulfilling his dream of opening a jewelry store at 253 and 255 King St. in 1980.
Demetre had a savings account with the Bank of Charleston and was in awe of the interior every time he set foot inside. When he was ready to take the next step and open a jewelry boutique, he purchased the building. However, King Street was not what it used to be; it had lost its luster. The soaring ceilings were covered by industrial drop ceilings, and underfoot, the marble was covered over with carpet. But he was undeterred. Determined to restore them to their former glory, Demetre painstakingly removed the tar, carpeting and two subfloors to unearth marble flooring from the 1800s. The drop ceiling was taken down, sadly revealing that the French-style crown molding and ceiling art had decayed. He used his engineering mind and experience working with precious metals to utilize a wax method used by jewelers to create rubber molds to make new ornate pieces for the ceiling.
With the addition of chandeliers and mahogany cabinets, M.P. Demetre Jewelers was born.
“My father was really instrumental in helping rebuild King Street to what it has become,” Peter Demetre says. “He really loved architecture; he loved historical beauty.” The boutique opened when he was 6 years old, and every day after school he would head to the shop and watch his mother and father help customers find the perfect piece of jewelry to celebrate anniversaries, birthdays and other happy occasions. He grew to love the business, and when he joined the boutique, he helped expand its offerings to include timepieces, as he is a self-proclaimed “watch geek.” His father gifted him an Omega watch when he graduated from college. As a lover of both history and engineering, Peter Demetre is attracted to the mechanics of watches as well as moments in history that were immortalized with timepieces.
“The big part of all these kind of momentous occasions, like the moon landing and Lindbergh flying across the world, climbing Mount Everest—I’m attracted to why it was important to take these watches on these incredible adventures,” he explains.
Milton Demetre, the patriarch of the family, died in October 2018. A park on James Island bears his name, and the rejuvenation of King Street can be traced to him and other business owners who weren’t ready to give up on the business district. In July, Peter Demetre was able to add to his father’s legacy with a major expansion at the shop. After leasing out one of the two buildings to tenants for years, the family decided to take over the second building in July to expand the showroom space. Now, there’s a 1,500-square-foot Rolex boutique with a VIP room, as well as another 1,000 square feet for a bar and lounge, space to show off accessories like winders, straps and watch holders, and the addition of jewelry brands Roberto Coin, Lagos and Marco Bicego.
“It’s created a whole new customer experience for us,” Demetre says. “Our clients can really come in, take their time and visit each brand individually.”
Over the years, M.P. Demetre Jewelers has served generations of customers and been a part of many families’ stories. In some instances, Milton Demetre sold an engagement ring to a couple whose children came into the store years later to purchase their own engagement rings for a new generation of weddings. Or couples now celebrating a milestone anniversary will return to the shop to upgrade a modest engagement ring they purchased straight out of college.
“It’s neat to be a part of this history of important moments,” Demetre says.
Named for the late Milton P. Demetre, over the decades the store has become known not only for its wide array of luxe brands but also for its design-minded beauty.
But the anthem of the third-generation-run jewelry boutique has been to look to the past for inspiration to help propel them forward. In the new space, the Demetres married historic elegance with modern taste—think 400-year-old hand-carved Italian chandeliers and 600-year-old columns alongside chic creams and light wood display cases lined with timepieces by Rolex, Tudor, Omega, Grand Seiko, Accutron, Oris and more.
Next in line to keep building up King Street? Peter Demetre’s son, Andrew, whose digital chops have helped expand the company’s marketing and client engagement. All the while, he’s witnessing the legacy and respect of the Demetre name on King Street.
“Being family owned, our name is everything, so we want to give that extra attention to detail,” Demetre says. “I always say, ‘You’ll always find a Demetre in the store.’” *
Christiana Lilly is a freelance journalist in Pompano Beach, Florida. See more of her work spanning the arts, community news and social justice at christianalilly.com.