Suzanne Arnold says it is bittersweet to be retiring. “We would not have made it through COVID without the locals buying things, telling us that they wanted to support local businesses.” Arnold says it has been so touching as customers come in remembering the wedding ring Tom created for them. Or when Lisa was born and her husband had earrings made for her. Or the cancer survivor’s bracelet—it was the color; it was pink.
Arnold thinks back over the years. Some things are different; others are the same. She points to a 17-inch 14 carat gold paper clip necklace in the jewelry case “which is the new style this year.” Jewelry follows fashion but she adds the most popular over time are the diamond cluster earrings and diamond bracelets.
Arnold likes to say they specialize in jeans jewelry. “I think that’s one reason we are successful. If you can wear it with jeans, you’ll wear it. We have a lot of women professionals who like to look polished for work and express themselves through jewelry.”
When she and her husband Tom opened the store, the row of shops where they are located was very much a neighborhood meeting place where people walked up, stopped in after tennis, bought a pastry down the street. They were wedged between Bradshaw’s Children’s Shoe Store and Company Flowers. Now it is Starbucks and the UPS store.
She comments a lot of the people have important jobs and they felt they could relax here; they felt at home. That’s still very much the same. “People liked a place that would look you in the eye, listen to you and design your jewelry, then stand behind it, a real jewelry store—not a chain. A lot relies on trust.”
But she says an area that has changed as technology has developed is some jewelry design, which is now done on a computer instead of all by hand. This is also true of the manufacture, which may be partially by computer and finished up by hand.
She says they do a lot of custom work, “something classic but with a twist. Something that won’t be dated when we are zipping around on our jet packs. People are willing to pay for quality.”
Arnold remembers the locket which encases the ashes of a loved one, the cross pennant entwined with calla lilies and the giant leopard ring all in diamonds that was copied from a costume jewelry ring given as a present 20 years before.
And when she had cancer Tom designed what she called a tutti fruitti ring—a big blue topaz with stones of all colors. “I didn’t wear it much; it sat on the bedside table but I looked at it and it made me feel better.”
It’s been a good 27 years but on the other hand there are Arnold’s four book clubs that need some attention and the Whistler waiting for them at the American Art Museum’s new show.
Tom Arnold got his start as a master jeweler in Beverly Hills and apprenticed there. “It was back in the day when he was young enough to be star struck,” said Suzanne Arnold. “But he got a really great start designing jewelry for John Wayne and other famous stars. They had the money and were not shy about what they wanted. They wanted things people would notice.” The business of jewelry now spans generations with their daughter currently a jewelry designer at the Tiny Jewel Box in D.C.
Suzanne and Tom Arnold met in Hawaii at a jewelry store. “It was a pretty romantic place.” Then after a while in Oregon and in Florida, they were visiting her parents in the D.C. area 47 years ago. “The Smithsonian was a great lure. We just fell in love with the place with all of the free museums.” So they moved here and worked in retail stores in the D.C. area, then opened their own store in Arlington 27 years ago.
They still go to a museum about once a week.
Jewelry is the thread running through the Arnolds’ adventures from their first meeting in a jewelry store to their travels through Italy and Greece. She says jewelry is a common theme all over the world. When they were in Greece, Tom heard a familiar noise around the corner and found a small jewelry shop where the man was having trouble casting something. While they didn’t speak the same language, they could solve a problem together. And Tom wrote “A Day in the Life” columns, which were published by three different journals at the same time. In Italy the storeowner recognized Tom as the man on his newsstand and gave Tom and Suzanne the royal tour of his operation.
Arnold’s favorite piece of all time is the wedding ring her husband designed 51 years ago. “Guess I’m lucky — 51 years. I tell people it will become a talisman. Things can get rough out there … but you look at your ring and say somebody loves me.”