Oakmont's Robert Hallett-Goldsmith still a hip jeweler after nearly 40 years
The gold-plated, miniature Volkswagen Beetle sits on the shelf in the show room. The vehicle signifies the beginning of a journey, one that still continues today.
Husband and wife Robert Hallett Jr. and Kyle Kotchey started their career packing a 1970 Beetle with jewelry and display cases and going on the road to juried craft fairs and trade shows to sell their custom-made rings, earrings, necklaces and bracelets.
They don't have to travel to sell their wares anymore.
The two own Robert Hallett-Goldsmith in Oakmont.
It's both a jewelry store and jewelry studio, where they've been designing and making one-of-a-kind jewelry since 1980 — as individual as the person who ordered it. Most of the jewelry is Hallett's, but they also carry five other designers' pieces.
“We make people happy, and the materials we work with are gorgeous,” Hallett says. “Who could hate diamonds? We make things people really like.”
Being a family-owned business, the couple has continuously evolved their brand to stay current. With the latest technology, Robert Hallett says he can do things he never did before, such as creating jewelry with a 3-D printer.
But it also is about preserving the integrity of the craft, which hasn't really changed, he says. The trade of jewelry making is like brick laying, where the fundamentals are the same and they use equipment that's close to 100 years old, such as an anvil and a rolling mill, still works and works well.
Hallett, who graduated with a degree in fine arts/metalsmithing from Syracuse University and who had a work bench and a torch in his dorm room, says he is aware of the changing retail marketplace, but adds what makes him different is the experience a customer has when they come to Robert Hallett-Goldsmith. He spends time talking with a customer and listens to what he or she wants, from the type of metal to specific gems or stones. With the ability to use a computer-aided jewelry design program called Matrix, he can show a client what the piece of jewelry will look like and make changes with the click of a button.
One of America's coolest stores
That dedication to the craft and customers was recognized recently by InStore magazine, a publication that 22,000 jewelers receive, which recognized Robert Hallett-Goldsmith as one of America's coolest stores.
“I never really thought of us as cool,” Hallett. says “But recently, we've been saying the word cool a lot. Being cool is good.”
The store was chosen by a panel of industry judges with backgrounds in interior design, marketing and architecture, along with last year's jewelry store winner, says Eileen McClelland, managing editor of InStore, which is based in New York.
“They are a true mom and pop store,” McClelland says. “They are progressive. They are changing with the times. Robert designs and makes his own jewelry and that is valuable to his customers.”
When you work with Hallett, you always feel like you are his number one most important customer, says Peter Weeks of Oakmont. He had a vision of an engagement ring with a sapphire in platinum for his now wife and met with Hallett to design it.
“With me, it was such a personal experience,” Weeks says. “He was really great. He cares about his customers and he does everything he can to bring your idea to life. It has been great to support a local business and someone in a career you don't see much anymore.”
Hallett strives to be different and to offer his customers services they can't get elsewhere. For Weeks' wife, Jill, Hallett was able to rescue a ring that didn't fit when her hand became swollen from breastfeeding the younger of their two daughters. She was in tears, so Hallett cut it and is keeping it safe until she will be able to wear it. In the meantime, he made a replacement silver expandable ring, which she loves, her husband says.
“You don't get that kind of attention at a mega store,” Peter Weeks says. “They are amazing. Robert has the expertise and creates beautiful jewelry. For me, it's about the entire shopping experience.”
Hallett and Kotchey moved to the store to it current location nestled along Allegheny River Boulevard in 1984, a short distance away from the original shop.
They've been able to work together as a couple and as store owners because they each contribute specific talents to the business. Hallett, 67, is more of a hands-on kind of guy, while Kotchey, 66, handles pretty much everything else, including learning photography to capture the essence of the jewelry.
Their daughter, Devin, spent a big part of her life in the store, and now has her law office on the building's second floor.
“We really love each other,” Kotchey says. The couple will celebrate their 46th wedding anniversary in January. “We are both very patient and try not to step on each other's toes. We work together as a unit.”
Customers find this place.
“We are definitely are a destination,” says Hallett, who designed his first piece of jewelry 50 years ago as a student at Shaler High School, which is where he met Kotchey. “They hear about us and come here and we help them design a piece of jewelry. I meet with them and we work together. The goal is to have the finished product representative of the owner of the jewelry.”
He was inspired to create from his father, Robert Hallett Sr., who built two of the cases they used to take to trade show and that are still in the showroom.
His father gave him the gold-plated car to commemorate where it all started. Hallett hasn't forgotten those times when he and Kotchey weren't sure if the business was going to survive.
It has not only survived, but it's thriving, because Hallett offers more than a piece of fine jewelry, says customer Lynn Kramer of Summit, N.J., who has been buying pieces from Robert Hallett-Goldsmith for 42 years when Hallett worked with jeweler Ron McNeish, in Shadyside.
“I love his work,” says Kramer, who is originally from McKeesport, and has several pieces of his jewelry. “I appreciate his aesthetics. His jewelry is beautifully composed.”
“People love jewelry and it is a way to commemorate a special occasion,” says Kotchey. “It is always a happy adventure here.”
Being in retail, a company has to stand out to stay relevant, and Robert Hallett-Goldsmith does, says Torry Hoover of Hoover & Strong, based in Richmond, Va.. The company is one of Hallett's suppliers of precious metals for 35 years and a fourth-generation business that started in 1912.
“You have to offer something different, and he does,” Hoover says. “You can see it in the jewelry in his store. We have 5,000 customers and most of them I don't know personally, but I do know Robert Hallett. I appreciate his opinion and his loyalty and welcome his input. If I have a new product or idea, there is a small group of people who I will ask and he is one of them. He is passionate about what he does and that shows. He goes the extra mile.”
Even if it's no longer in the Volkswagen Beetle.