Brothers Ben and Dan Espling run Espling Jewelers, which has two locations, one in Jacksonville and the other in Jacksonville Beach. The business was started as a watch repair shop by their parents, Bengt A. and Laura Espling. Today, Espling Jewelers buys, sells and repairs high-end jewelry and watches. It also handles estate jewelry, which brings them in contact with some of the most unusual treasures out there.
Tell me a little about Espling Jewelers.
Ben Espling: Dad started the business a long time ago, 1972. It was basically a watch repair shop. Since then, through the years and growth, we went more into jewelry and sales. We still do complete watch repair, and now we do a lot of estate jewelry, buying and selling and coins and even silverware.
Dan Espling: We can custom-make jewelry, and we have a lot of new items in stock.
Ben: We’re both gemologists, so we are used to identify a lot of things. We’ve invested in technology and equipment for identifying things — including synthetic diamonds.
What’s involved with becoming a gemologist?
Ben: To become a gemologist or a graduate gemologist takes time. It’s not a three-month, quick certification. It’s getting everything from a beginner’s jewelry background to colored stones to diamonds to diamonds-graduate to colored stones-graduate. Then, there’s lab testing. You go to GIA — Gemological Institute of America — either New York or California or other labs around the country.
We also have DCA — Diamond Council of America — and several of the guys on staff have certifications through them.
We also support the Pearl Association. We have a couple of guys that have pearl certifications and graduate pearls through GIA.
So, we’ve got a lot of education.
Dan: I have jewelry in my blood.
Ben: We’ve both been jewelers at the bench, making jewelry, doing everything from setting stones, soldering, carving, designing … we’ve both done that pretty much all our lives. We have a lot of years of experience.
The definition of a jeweler can be a lot of things, from the guy who sells you something to the guy who owns the place to the guy who fixes your watch or sits at the bench. We’ve worn a lot of hats.
What qualities set Espling Jewelers apart?
Dan: I think the estate jewelry and the service aspect, including watch-repair service. Then, the local atmosphere. We try to be part of the community and know our customers.
Ben: We do so much with estate jewelry, people find they have commodities around the house that we buy. That turns into extra money for them. In a sense, we offer a service to the community financially.
Often, we inherit things or we just have things where we go, “I don’t know what it is.” And we spend a lot of time looking at that. That makes it fun. …
You come in and say, “What is it?” We’re going to be the guys that figure it out.
It’s exciting, because you never know what you’re going to see next. We have a pearl that is so big — I’ve never seen one like it before. I couldn’t even find one on the internet that big.
Then, we’ve had things like a large butterfly. I wouldn’t normally have bought it, but this is 18 karat gold and has stones all through it, diamonds and such. You just look and go, “You know, if it weren’t for estate, we’d never even see it.”
There’s a treasure in everybody’s box somewhere. It’s just: Who is it a treasure to? And is there someone else it could be a treasure to?
What was it like growing up in a family-owned business such as this one?
Dan: I’d say we grew up with a positive can-do attitude. There was nothing that we couldn’t do, build or repair. We always could tinker with little things, and the jewelry business was just a good place to nurture that.
Did your dad show you the intricacies of all the different things that he would do?
Dan: He showed me everything.
Ben: He wasn’t actually a jeweler. That, we took on ourselves. But he was a master watchmaker who trained under somebody who’s well-known, Henry B. Fried.
Dan: Correct. But we wouldn’t be in the business or have gone on to further training without his leadership and knowledge.
Ben: I should mention that Mom was there all the time working in the store.
Dan: The two of them were … a “dynamic duo.” They were married for 67 years.
What should people know when they are looking for a piece of jewelry, a diamond or a watch?
Dan: It’s not so much what you would have to know as who you know.
Ben: You should be comfortable with who you’re dealing with. If you’re not, then you’re not going to feel right about any of the answers anyway. Same thing as with a doctor. When you go to see a doctor, you’ve got to feel comfortable with him. With a jeweler, you should feel the same way.
What do you like most about what you do?
Ben: That I never know what’s coming through the door next when it comes to the estate jewelry. There’s some new, exciting treasure showing up. And then, the history behind it, the story behind it; I think of it like the “Relic Hunter,” where it’s just something new and unknown. Sometimes it takes research to figure out: What is it?
Dan: I like that every jewel tells a story. Its whereabouts and the life it’s had and the life it’s shared with the person who owned it.
Ben: We look at diamonds all the time, and you can look at the cut of the diamond and often tell the time period, the history … Maybe the wear where it’s been rubbing on another stone, which would have to be another diamond.
Dan: I think you can come in contact with something that will certainly outlast your being. If you’ve found something that’s already 100 years old and it lasts another 100, it transcends your existence.
Ben: When somebody brings it in and you have a look and say, well, is this a reproduction or is this something that was pieced together with stuff from 150 years ago and then redone maybe 30, 40 years ago? When did they first use white gold, and what metals did they use in the 1800s vs. the 20th century?
Are you from Jacksonville originally?
Dan: I was actually born here.
Ben: I’m about three years outside of being a native.
Where were you born?
Ben: Charlotte, North Carolina.
Dan: We were both raised in Jacksonville, and we live in this Jacksonville community.
Ben: We both surfed this area, fished all through the Intracoastal and the ocean. I played music up and down here: art walks and things, restaurants here in Jax Beach.
What do you play?
Ben: Guitar, harmonica. I sing. I played a couple of seasons at Billy’s Boat House. Also played at European Street as an open mic host. Played a lot of different restaurants out here, including Culhane’s and Poe’s in Atlantic Beach.
What do you like most about living in the Jacksonville area?
Dan: I love the weather. I like the outdoors that we have here. It’s great for hiking. I like cooking outdoors, grilling and all that. And the people here. It’s a friendly kind of town.
Ben: Weather and outdoors — and anything to do with water. Recently, I have found a lot of good hiking, not only at the parks, but our zoo’s pretty good, too. So is going down to St. Augustine and some of the hiking there, like at the Alligator Farm. I enjoy visiting and revisiting those places.
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