Since 1904, four generations of craftsmen have worked with watches, clocks and jewelry
Story and movie by McCALL GRAY
Meet the two men behind the fine quality — and ongoing legacy — of Steadman’s Fine Jewelry.
Four generations and 111 consecutive years later, Steadman’s Fine Jewelry serves the community in more ways than diamonds.
The Steadman family refers to the family-owned and operated business as the “cuckoo shop.” Not because working with family could drive one crazy, but because Steadman’s Fine Jewelry offers clock and watch repairs in addition to its jewelry services. A practice the family has kept alive for more than a century.
In the early 1900s, Edward Steadman was in search of a new occupation. He asked a local Salt Lake City watchmaker if he could apprentice under him but was told he did not have what it took to be a watchmaker or jeweler.
His grandson, Rodney “Rod” Steadman, the current owner of Steadman’s Fine Jewelry, recalled the “exact words” from the story, told to him by his father, Virgil Otto Steadman.
“The watchmaker told my grandfather, ‘all you’re going to do is ruin watches and spoil the trade,’” Rod said. “Now if you tell a stubborn Englishman that he can’t do something, they have to prove to themselves and the world that they can do it.”
Edward prevailed and founded Steadman’s Fine Jewelry in 1904.
The business was located in Murray on the north side of 4800 South, just west of State Street, and west of where the Winger’s Roadhouse Grill now stands.
For roughly two decades Edward successfully ran the business of clock and watch repairs. He then moved the shop almost directly across the street, to 4824 S. State St., where he introduced jewelry sales and repairs.
Edward’s five sons all took a try at the clock and jewelry business, but four of them ended up going in different directions. Rod said, “My dad is the only one that ended up with the business.”
Virgil Otto Steadman took over his father’s business completely after Edward had retired and died in 1957. He had dedicated 53 years to Steadman’s Fine Jewelry by age 81.
Virgil relocated the business to 4844 South, State St. where he later taught his own son, Rod, the family trade. Rod began apprenticing with Virgil at age 12. During his junior and senior year of high school, he got out early on work release and continued to repair clocks and watches.
“While everyone was out playing, I came home and tried to learn the business,” Rod said.
Rod expected to carry on the tradition of watch, clock and jewelry repairs after his father retired. He was never forced into the position to keep the business going, but Rod was devoted to the family legacy. He allowed Steadman’s Fine Jewelry the opportunity to reach the third generation.
Virgil, like his father Edward, successfully ran the family business for 50 years before retiring in 1986. Rod then decided to move the business to its current location at 1217 W. 4800 South in Taylorsville.
“Well, it’s usually the children that ruin it [break the family businesses cycle],” Rod said. “And I didn’t want to be that child to ruin the business.” He jokingly added, “No pressure or anything, but make it work!”
As stated by CNN Money in 2008, “Two-thirds of family businesses fold before reaching the second generation, and just 12 percent make it to the third.”
Rod acquired all the knowledge he could from Virgil. One thing he learned very quickly was how powerful the main springs in the old clocks were. Rod said when the springs — a clock’s power source — are wound, it should only be done in small increments. A vivid memory reminded him of the reason behind the rule.
“I remember my dad and I sitting next to each other working,” Rod said. “He was working on a clock, and put a screwdriver in the end of the key and was winding it up. The next thing I know, the screwdriver whizzed past my face and stuck straight into the wall! His face turned white, you know, he thought it was a horrible thing that he just about got me with the screwdriver that slipped off the key. So there’s a lot of power in those main springs.”
If wound one turn too tight, the main spring can kick back and cause severe damage to not only the clock, but also to the person winding it. Rod recalled customers coming in with their clock, a broken spring and broken fingers.
When it came to watches, Rod said Virgil was one of only two people in the state who had a timing machine and was qualified to certify the watches of the railroad engineers. Every quarter the engineers came into Steadman’s Fine Jewelry to ensure their watches would keep accurate time.
“There was no other communication to rely on besides their watches and the time, but they knew the distance, how long it would take from point A to point B,” Rod said.
Rod also recalled one of his father’s clever watch advertising tactics to show what Steadman’s Fine Jewelry offered.
He said at community fairs, such as the one at Plymouth Elementary School in Taylorsville, Virgil would fly in an airplane and drop out a Wyler watch that he carried in Steadman’s Fine Jewelry. Whoever found the watch got to keep it. The purpose of dropping them from the sky was to show they could survive the fall and still continue running.
Virgil died in 1994 at the age of 78, leaving the legacy in Rod’s hands.
While raising a family of his own two doors down from Steadman’s Fine Jewelry, Rod introduced custom jewelry making to the business for the first time. Previously, the business only offered jewelry repairs and sales.
“We sold a lot [of jewelry], but my dad never got into the manufacturing of it,” Rod said. “So that’s why I decided I wanted to learn how to actually manufacture the pieces that are done by a lost wax method of casting.”
Rod introduced his younger son, Cassidy, to the business at an early age, just as his own father had done. He did not become that involved from the start, though. After he graduated high school he decided to experience other jobs, like construction. But, a shocking experience changed his mind.
“I had a dream that I was working on construction, demolition, and I was going to die on the job site,” Cassidy said. “I had the dream several times. I had to listen to myself, and I quit.”
It came as a surprise to his boss. A month after Cassidy had quit, the parking structure he had been working on in Temple Square downtown had collapsed. He said several people were injured in the accident. That was the moment when Cassidy realized he had made the right decision.
In 2006, he joined his father, Rod, at Steadman’s Fine Jewelry as the fourth generation of the business. He found that he enjoyed creating and doing things with his hands and designing custom jewelry.
Fashion and style are constantly changing, but Cassidy has a great skill for coming up with new ideas for custom pieces. He said it is rewarding to take his own ideas and turn them into something tangible.
“You have to be really self disciplined in this business because you can fall back in other areas, like you can get distracted easy, so keeping motivated really comes from your self-drive,” Cassidy said.
Rod said the jewelry business is very different nowadays, versus what it was during the time his grandfather and father owned and operated it.
“I think it was better in many ways because there were probably only three or four jewelry stores from Salt Lake to Sandy, so there wasn’t a lot of competition,” Rod said. “Now we’re dealing with a dime a dozen.”
There is an evident shift in where jewelry can be bought today. It can be found for a reasonable price at a chain business such as the Shane Company, at a bargain store like Wal-mart Stores Inc., or multiple places on the Internet.
Rod said that when buying jewelry, it is always important to remember to look at the piece in person. Things look different than they do in a picture and on the internet.
“The problem is that people look at jewelry and take it for the price, not the quality,” Rod said. “We’re proud of quality and in-house jewelry. Making jewelry that lasts.”
Christie Steadman, Rod’s wife, said, “I know he [Rod] has great joy and pleasure bringing happiness to couples when they get engaged or for special occasions, making a customized piece of jewelry.”
It is very rare that a family-owned and operated business can survive to the third and fourth generation. That is why Rod and Christie said they would like to see Steadman’s Fine Jewelry carry on into their grandchildren’s generation.
“We were very happy with Cassidy’s decision to become involved,” Christie said. “That was our dream, that our children would carry on the family business and legacy. But the most important thing for us was that our children be happy in whatever decision they made with their careers.”
Cassidy added, “Our goal is to make something that the customer wants and appreciates. Jewelry that will last not only a lifetime, but something they can pass on to their kids someday.”
Diamonds are said to be similar to businesses. There are old ones and new ones, rare ones and common ones. But there is none that compares to the value of Steadman’s Fine Jewelry. Dedicated to the trade and family since 1904.