written by Justin Fields | photographed by Tim Sugden
For many people, a piece of jewelry is not just a material possession – it tells a story. It might be a part of their family history, a keepsake from a cherished moment or a reminder of a loved one. Dean Young, owner of Young’s Jewelers (22240 Salamo Rd.) in West Linn, understands this.
Dean and his wife Sandy have made it their family’s business to understand yours. A certified goldsmith from London, England with over 25 years of experience, Dean began his career studying jewelry design at London Metropolitan University’s Sir John Cass School of Art, Architecture and Design (“The Cass”), followed by a three year apprentice training program in the art of hand fabrication at Hatton Garden, a street in Holborn renowned as a jewelry district dating back to medieval times.
From custom jewelry design for an important upcoming moment, to full-service restoration and repair of existing heirlooms, Young’s Jewelers will draw on their expertise to ensure your special moment lasts forever.
What’s the story of how Young’s Jewelers got started?
Before I had this shop I did trade work. I had a workshop and I did work for the jewelry shops. So I would do their repair service, and their custom work. I think it just got to a point where I felt we were ready to get our own store.
You were experienced enough! What is your background and how did it lead you to this point?
I was raised in England. When I was a kid I always enjoyed making stuff. I found I really liked working with metals. When I was sixteen I was fortunate enough to get a three-year apprenticeship with a jewelry company in London where I was taught the art of hand fabrication. I worked after that in jewelry repair and design and worked my way to the States. Actually there was a company in California that sponsored me to come out and I did their design work and repair service for them. That was in the ‘80s.
Is there anything formative about growing up in England that has influenced your work?
I was trained by some of the best goldsmiths in London. I didn’t know about hand fabrication much as a kid. I didn’t even know about mass production. I was obviously influenced by the teachers I had. And London itself is a very creative place to be raised.
When did you start your tenure in the Northwest?
My wife and I moved here about ten years ago. We love it here! My wife and I have each lived in many different areas, but we love to experience the seasons. I grew up in England, so it’s very seasonal. I like change. Also, Oregon – especially around Portland – is creative. We both really like that. On a deeper level, you don’t feel like you are totally on your own because there are other artists out there. There is a deep sense of that connectedness.
What is unique about Young’s Jewelers, your collection of existing pieces in particular?
I don’t do castings, I don’t do molds. Today, hand fabrication is more of an old-school art, because a lot of jewelry is cast with molds or waxes. When I design a piece, they are all one-of-a-kind. I get a lot of clients that want something different. We get people coming in from all around for that service. We do everything on the premises.
Well, it has to set you apart from all other stores because it’s unique and your creative design is imprinted upon everything you do. Do people come to you with ideas and you interpret them?
A lot of people come to us with old fashioned jewelry and they don’t know what to do with it. From talking with them, I can get a feel for roughly what direction to take, and I’ll base it on that. A lot of my design work with people is more of an organic thing. I have to talk to them and get a feel for personality. I can’t draw whatsoever! But I’m very visual, so I see the piece in my mind, and then I’ll start to create it.
Does it feel good, as entrepreneurs, for you to work in an industry where you can express yourself creatively and control your own destiny?
Yes, it does. But the jewelry business across the board is challenging. I love what I do, but there is a level where it is challenging to get enough out of it financially. I think for most retail today, apart from the big guys, that’s the way it is. Unfortunately, a lot of people buy stuff online. They don’t care if it’s hand fabricated.
How do you find the kind of customers that are appreciative of the craftsmanship that goes into something like this?
We have people who come in and look around, and we tell them we can redesign their ring. We can design something with their own jewelry. And then they can see what I can do, what is possible, because a lot of people don’t have the vision. I think when I have made something special for them, they really have appreciation when they’ve got a finished piece that has been uniquely made just for them. And we get a lot of our clients from word of mouth.
How can jewelry enhance an individual’s personal style?
If someone dresses a certain way, it’s a reflection of their personality and what they like. It’s the same with jewelry. I get clients who like very bold pieces. When it comes down to it, jewelry is a very personal thing. For someone to have a piece designed that reflects part of who they are shows their character.
I get the idea that the personal relationship between you and the customer is very important.
For me or any other jeweler! If someone is not comfortable with another jeweler, they are not going to gel. It’s very important. They trust you with a piece. People may say: “It’s only jewelry.”
But to the client, it is a special, sentimental piece. There is a lot of emotion involved, no matter what the cost is. If it’s passed down or is something personal there is a lot of attachment to it.
What do you have for recommendations about how to skillfully accessorize with jewelry?
We do have people come in who don’t wear a lot of jewelry and they want a piece made. They have never explored that area, or expressed themselves in that area. It’s a process over time where some clients have to look around, look online, look in magazines, and they start to get a rough idea of what they like. It’s sort of like you’ve got to do homework, you’ve got to educate yourself and become aware of what draws you.