You could say Dee Rouse Huth has struck gold with her approach to building the California Institute of Jewelry Training (CIJT) in Fair Oaks, Calif. Her school is the first in the nation to offer a formalized jewelry program, and it has trained some 2,500 goldsmiths, silversmiths, jewelry designers, stone setters, gemologists, and appraisers internationally since 1979.

One of the most recent factors helping drive growth is Dee’s move to Kimco’s Northridge Plaza in January. The location is both a training and retail center, a place where students take courses and customers buy students’ wares on consignment. Dee told us her new location lets her operate in a more efficient space, and has provided greater street visibility, higher foot traffic, and stronger co-tenants.

With CIJT’s grand opening approaching this April, and 35th anniversary following in May, we talked to Dee about her passion for jewelry design, how that became a storefront, the impact her school has had on the jewelry industry locally and globally, and what she still has left on her to-do list as an entrepreneur and jewelry enthusiast.

METAL WORKS: A class designs and hammers intricate metal jewelry

Let’s start with an overview of the California Institute of Jewelry Training.

Dee Rouse Huth: In a nutshell, we’ve been training jewelers for 35 years. Our anniversary is this May. Everything is specific and our training is professional, so our jewelers go to work in places like Tiffany & Co., your local jewelry store, and your local high-end store. The jewelry industry has opportunities for many people. We’ve discovered over the years that many young people do not want to go to college. They want to get busy with their hands and make a living and get something going. Many of the jewelers send their kids here. It works out, so I just keep staying in it.

Are you a jeweler yourself?

Huth: I’m not, but I’m a cheerleader. I started selling jewelry when my children were young because I didn’t want to work in a full-time job anymore. Then I would look at the jewelry and say, Oh, I would love to do something like this, only I’d change it and move this over there and that over there and redesign it. So then I started redesigning jewelry. I found a niche in there. I loved it. And I still do a lot of that.

So you had this passion for jewelry and redesigning it. How did that become a storefront?

Huth: Well I had a little supply store, [Dee’s Jewelry Supply], and I wanted to become a manufacturer of my own line. I’d ask customers, Oh do you want to establish a line of jewelry and start selling it? But they hadn’t time. This was a hobby for many of them. So I called other jewelry stores in the area asking where they find their jewelers nearby. They said there are none. That’s why I started the school. We started to find that people really liked our students’ work. Of course the next step was people wanted to buy our students’ jewelry, and I said, Well, I’ll put a counter in here and you can come in and buy all you want. So we ended up with beautiful counters and display cases and lovely jewelry.

LEARNING THE BASICS: A class prepares for the day

How did you select Kimco’s Northridge Plaza as your location?

Huth: We really like being in this retail center. Before we were in a standalone building for 18 years and it was big and you didn’t see us on the street very well. We didn’t have anywhere near the exposure we have here at the shopping center owned by Kimco. We used to have a 5,000-square-foot building which accumulated much equipment over all these years, and have downsized into a 2,500-square-foot space. It’s just a really good tenant base. In fact, I’m renting with people that I knew and even former students who shop at Raley’s, so it’s a funny little world, and here we are right in the middle of the retail business.

We understand you’re celebrating a grand opening in April.

Huth: Yes, we’ll be inviting former customers, students, and everyone in the center. We going to be offering jewelry cleanings and we’ll probably have a raffle. You can look at all this beautiful, unique jewelry.

How many students do you estimate have been through your doors in the past 35 years?

Huth: Oh my gosh, I’ve tried and lost count. Probably about 2,500.

SHINY STONES: A student combines, metal, stone, and gems for a pendant

SHINY STONES: A student combines, metal, stone, and gems for a pendant

Give us a little bit more perspective on the impact the California Institute of Jewelry Training has had over all these years. You’ve trained 2,500 students. But where else are you seeing your impact on the industry and the community around you?

Huth: We have had a huge impact because first off, we’re the first school in the nation to have an actual, formalized jewelry [making] program. Secondly, I have worked very hard to increase the awareness of jewelry makers and advocating for better wages. I had graduates making $6 an hour 25 years ago, [which is equivalent to $11 to $12 today]. That’s all changed. Locally, I think every store in the 50-, 60-mile surrounding area is either owned by a former student or has hired a former student or is in the process of hiring a former student. We train people from all over the world. We’ve had graduates in Japan, Sweden, U.K., Switzerland, and other countries. In 2004, I was contracted with a company in India to put a school in for them, which is called the Indian Institute of Jewelry. I wrote the curriculum, designed the space, and planned everything. They’re very successful. We acquired a jewelry appraisal program in 1993 [called the MasterValuer Program]. We have an international partner from Korea, and I’ve trained students from all over in jewelry appraisal. So I guess I could say we’ve had a huge impact, and I’m not saying this at all to boast, because I don’t feel it’s a boastful thing. But I am excited that it’s created a lot of good things for the industry.

With all you’ve accomplished, is there anything you still want to do? What you still want to bring to the industry and to students who want to study the art of jewelry making?

SHINE ON: California Institute of Jewelry Training offers both a retail store and a hands-on design school

Huth: I like to bring out the best in people and bring out what they never thought existed. I also am very excited about the opportunities that my students have -- like one student who had an opportunity to be hired by a famous jewelry designer in Philadelphia. My former student traveled the world with this designer for about four years, and she was able to look at jewelry design and pick up new ideas. I have one student that took off from Sacramento and apprenticed with several jewelers in Europe. It’s just delightful.

It sounds like you are going strong after 35 years of being in this business. We wish you best of luck and we look forward to a great grand opening in April for you.

Huth: Thank you very much. I appreciate your interest.

This has been an installment of StoreFront, an interview series with leaders of successful retail businesses. For more interviews, visit the StoreFront page. To learn how you can be featured, email us. We’d love to hear from you.

  • CATEGORY: Storefront
  • DATE: Tuesday, March 18, 2014