Crafted With Detail
Inside a small storefront, Keith Chapman sits at his workbench, intently working on sizing a ring. Chapman is the owner, founder and sole employee of Keith Chapman Jeweler. An array of immaculately polished tools neatly lines the top of his desk, organized by function to optimize Chapman’s work space. He reaches for a pair of silver pliers and, squinting, embeds a small square ruby into a glistening gold band. His dog, a labradoodle named Harper, sleeps soundly in front of the glass door, curled up on a light brown welcome mat.
Tucked between Big Mama’s Burritos and Chase Bank, it’s easy to pass by the inconspicuous facade of Keith Chapman Jeweler without a second glance. However, the small storefront and workspace serves as a one-of-a-kind destination jewelry store in uptown Athens.
Chapman, an Athens native, says he never found a reason to leave the city.
“I grew up on Court Street when it was a whole different place, and I’ve just sort of grown and evolved with Athens,” he says. “These were residential buildings [on] Court Street until it was built up as a business district. It was a residential district, and it slowly, slowly changed.”
Chapman says his father owned a variety of businesses in Athens when he grew up, including a jewelry store, which led him to pursue his current career. At the time, uptown Athens was comprised of many locally-owned retail stores. “I worked in [my father’s] store in high school. I always enjoyed working with my hands on anything, I always have [had] a little bit of appreciation for design,” Chapman says. “I just kind of fell into it.”
Chapman started school at Ohio University, but quickly realized he wanted to work with his hands and with jewelry, leading him to earn his graduate gemologist diploma from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). He says the classes he took in art and design shaped his current business; Chapman designs and handcrafts all of the jewelry that he sells in his studio.
“I ran and owned a traditional jewelry store, but I kept finding myself just wanting to be involved in design and making,” Chapman says. “I’ve molded and created my business to where it is today: primarily commission-based, one-off pieces.”
Chapman says it’s “pretty neat” to be involved with every part of the jewelry-making process, working with the product and with the customer from concept to final creation. Chapman says he is mostly commissioned to create bridal work, such as engagement rings and wedding bands. His favorite piece of jewelry that he’s designed is his daughter’s engagement ring.
“That was the hardest project I ever touched,” he says, smiling. “Everything had to be so perfect. I’m sure I was a pain because I couldn’t find the right stones...I had to work the details out to perfection. It was the hardest and most fun piece I’ve ever made.”
A framed photo of the ring is prominently displayed near the front door of his shop, showcasing a glistening silver band that twists around a circular glittering diamond.
Chapman says he also enjoys repurposing family heirlooms into new pieces of jewelry because it connects him to his customers.
“It’s really one of my fascinations with gemstones and precious metals. That ring that was somebody’s father’s wedding band can become a piece of jewelry that they will appreciate,” he says. “Recently, I did a lapel pin that was a rose design. It was his mother’s favorite flower, so he could wear her gold on his lapel.”
The connection Chapman feels to his customers is heightened by the connection he feels to Athens.
“It’s exciting to know that the town is still vibrant,” he says. “A lot of my customers appreciate that downtown is here...it adds to the feel of the community. Any community can build a mall, not that many communities can hold together a downtown.”
Uptown Athens thrives partially due to its proximity to OU’s main campus. While Chapman’s primary business is not with students, graduating students and alumni looking for OU memorabilia often come to Chapman’s store during graduation season. He says he enjoys hearing the students and their parents reminisce about their college experiences and feels he is able to convey those unique experiences through his craft.
Kate Robey, the assistant director of strategic partnerships for the OU Alumni Association, says Chapman’s OU jewelry is very popular. Some of Chapman’s OU-specific products include a dainty silver bracelet adorned with a small pendant bearing a detailed design of Rufus the Bobcat, and sturdy square cufflinks embellished with green pawprints.
“[Chapman] sells jewelry on our site, and he has for quite a few years,” she says. “He’s just been a great partner for the alumni association for a long time. People shop on [the website] looking for unique products, products that are a little higher end [and] aren’t just your run-of-the-mill, everyday jewelry.”
Robey, who is also from Athens, says Chapman designed her engagement ring and wedding ring. “Just that he’s local and hand-makes the jewelry is really special,” she says, holding out her hand to display the rings. One is a delicate design of twisted silver encrusted with small glistening diamonds; the other, a simple silver band inlaid with a large square diamond.
Being able to interact with a variety of people, from OU alumni to newlyweds, through his craft is what makes his business special, Chapman says.
“I look at my pictures and I’m proud of the pieces,” he says. “I have a lot of fun and it’s just the memories of the different people that [my products] have been done for, that I’ve built them for, and their reactions when they see them, and that’s what’s so fun being able to do that and still being in a nice little town like Athens.”