Retail Feature: Robert Hallett, Goldsmith

Rob Hallett and his wife, Kyle, didn’t always plan on going into business together. In fact, they didn’t even set out for careers in the jewelry industry to begin with.

Rob had decided to major in physics in college. He loved to “blow things up” when he was younger with his dad and his brothers, he told us, laughing. He always considered himself a “boy scientist,” which made physics the perfect match. However, he realized he did not like the math part of the subject: That wasn’t what he enjoyed about science. Instead, he took a chance and decided to pursue one of his hobbies, switching his major to metalsmithing.

It wasn’t completely out of the blue. Rob picked up on jewelry-making in high school, where he made his first piece for a classmate 50 years ago this spring. It became a serious hobby, and by his sophomore year of college, he had a torch and a workbench in his dorm room.

Kyle, on the other hand, was gearing up for a career in public relations for a magazine. She and Rob had their first date at their high school prom, and although they went to different colleges, he knew they would end up together. What they didn’t know was that they would open a successful jewelry store and studio right outside of downtown Pittsburgh.

The two of them went to work after college—Rob for a custom goldsmith named Ron McNeish and Kyle in PR. He knew he would want to start his own business one day, but he and Kyle settled for spending their vacations on the road traveling to American Craft Shows in Rhinebeck, N.Y., and Baltimore with the jewelry pieces they made in the second bedroom of their first apartment, and then the garage of their first home.

“We sold to almost 30 craft shops and jewelry stores, but we never made enough for Kyle to quit her job,” Rob said.

It wasn’t until Kyle was expecting their first child that the two of them said, “Why not?” and decided to open their store.

“Logical if you are young and naive,” Rob laughs. “We started our business with no money, and we joke that we still have most of it. We were stubborn and lucky…and honest and talented!”

Rob mans the studio, where he makes custom pieces for customers; Kyle runs the retail end, handling the buying, customer service, finances, and even original photography for the store.

“Almost everything we do is in collaboration,” Rob says, reinforcing the point that the two are a special, dynamic duo.

Their current location, just 15 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh, is a shared space with the store, the studio, and their daughter Devin’s loft above. When there aren’t customers crowding the store, their young grandchildren are poking around the place.

“Maybe they’ll be interested in entering the family business one day,” Rob says.

Now, after 40-plus years in the retail business, they have seen it all—the rewards as well as the challenges.

“We have made a good living, but keeping the cash flow is a perpetual problem,” Rob notes. “The customers are both a challenge and a reward, but being able to work with beautiful materials helps.”

Not to mention that they have seen trends come and go, and are observing the latest shifts in the industry.

“The generational shift has made for interesting changes,” Rob says. “We have a 37-year-old daughter, and her generation is just as interested in having unique things as the older generation, but they look to the Internet first and to add experiences to things.”

This is why their setup works. The combined experience of a normal shopping day with the option to go into the next room and create a custom piece completely from scratch adds an element that you cannot get at your average store.

While wedding bands, engagement rings, and other gifts for married life dominate the store’s business, Rob has had his fair share of different, challenging, yet fun pieces to create.

For example, he has branded new family crests and created new pieces using various birthstones, once for a family with nine children! He created a pendant combining an atomic-particle design and initials for a professor at Carnegie Mellon to give to his wife, who was his lab assistant. He even made an egg-roll-inspired piece for a couple whose story involved a Chinese restaurant. Not only does he get to exercise his skills, which have led to four Spectrum Award wins, but he also gets to learn more about his customers and their lives along the way.

After taking a break from traveling to Tucson for a while because of personal reasons, he and Kyle are excited to head back to JCK this year!

“We love Tucson,” Rob says. “It’s great, because there’s less of an agenda, it’s free association and fun, and we are excited to have a home base [in the JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort] with lots of other jewelers.”

Not only do the two of them plan on doing lots of walking in the mountains and scenic areas of Tucson—a nice getaway during the bitter, cold months of winter—but they can’t wait to see the gems!

“We’ve bought so many gems in Tucson,” Rob says. “We will probably buy gems that will not be used for years. We will probably spend more than we intend. We will definitely be tired.”

Tired in a good way, no doubt, after participating in everything the week will have to offer and meeting with lots of friends, old and new.

“Another thing I like about Tucson,” Rob adds, is “a chance to talk to people we don’t know about our business. One of the hard things about running a business is that we don’t get out much.”

They look forward to seeing how their immersion in Tucson for that week, “from the architecture to the desert to the gemstones,” will affect the way they view things when they get back to their shop at home.

In just a month you can find the two looking for that inspiration in Tucson. When you see them, remember their story: With a little bit of wishful thinking, luck, and stubbornness, not to mention a lot of talent and hard work, Rob and Kyle were able to make their dream a reality and are still living the dream today.

All images are from Robert Hallett, Goldsmith’s website.

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