- Associated Press - Thursday, November 26, 2015

TUPELO, Miss. (AP) - At 65, Fred Rutherford is ready to step away from the jeweler’s bench where he’s created and repaired countless pieces of fine jewelry over the years.

The owner of Tupelo Diamond Brokers, Rutherford has been in the industry for nearly 40 years. He established his business in 1976, a year after he graduated from the University of Mississippi.

He honed his craft working with his father-in-law, Wayne Hunter, whom he credits for helping build his career.

“Patty Thompson of Way-Fil Jewelry, Tom Scott of Tom Scott Watches, Tom Franks of Sidney’s Jewelers and I - we were all proteges of him,” Rutherford said. “He was a very good teacher. There’s a difference in being the teacher and teaching somebody and allowing you to learn from your mistakes.

“You can stop them from making a mistake or you can allow them to make a mistake a learn from it. He wanted us to learn from our mistakes. That made us better.”

Rutherford loves his job, loves the people he meets, the regular customers who come back often.

Being a jeweler takes special skills, along with a steady hand and a good bit of creativity.

“Now, I don’t design jewelry,” he said. “What I do is build it from somebody else’s design. I might have an idea, but that’s not my specialty.”

While 65 is technically retirement age, Rutherford isn’t exactly leaving the business willingly.

“I’ve been putting it off for two years, but now’s the time,” he said.

Chronic back and knee pain have gotten the best of Rutherford, to the point that even being at the job he loves is to much.

Bad discs in his back could be remedied by walking, but he can’t do that because of his bad hips. But hip replacement surgery is scheduled, along with several months of recovery.

But that will happen a little later.

First, he has to close the store.

“Really, I want to sell everything I possibly can,” he said. “I don’t want anything left.”

Bright banners outside and inside the store proclaim a going out of business sale, but Rutherford said he’ll stay open at least through the holidays.

“It’s the biggest selling time of the year,” he said.

Larry Popovich is helping his friend with the store closure. A New Orleans native and resident of Diamondhead on the Gulf Coast, Popovich said the next few weeks should be view more as a retirement sale for Rutherford.

“Essentially, this is his 401(k); this his retirement he’ll be living off of, so we want to send him off nicely,” Popovich said.

Marsha Pope and Ken Pope also have stood by Rutherford over the years and also are helping him at the store.

The name of the store, Tupelo Diamond Brokers, only hints at what goes on at the business.

“When we started, that’s what we wanted to be, bringing buyers and sellers together - that’s what a broker does,” he said. “But it soon became apparent that’s not all we could do . we’re still a broker, but we expanded what we could do.

“What we do is fine jewelry - diamonds, gold, silver - and Seiko watches. . we sell things that last,” he said. “We don’t sell items that will fall apart.”

And Rutherford is a bench jeweler - one who uses his skills to make an repair jewelry. He’s one of only a few in the region, with most working independently, in their own shops.

“It’s pretty much a dying breed,” Rutherford said. “I call what I do a craft, rather than an art. An artist comes up with the design and a craftsman builds it.”

His two daughters, Carrie and Anna, practically grew up in the store and know their way around it as well as anybody.

But Rutherford said he didn’t want to burden them with running Tupelo Diamond Brokers, knowing they had other careers to enjoy.

“It’s bittersweet,” he said, “But I’m tired and ready to retire. If I was 25 instead of 65, it would be different. But I’m ready to stop hurting, ready for the pain to go away and ready to enjoy life a little more.”

Carrie, who’s expecting her second child in about two weeks, also looks fondly at her time at the store.

“I learned to walk in the store,” she said. “But it’s time for us to do something else. I thought about taking over, but I need my father at the bench. He’s the heart of the store. It’s hard to survive just selling jewelry. I’ve gone back and forth the last few years about what to do.”

For now, she’ll be a stay-at-home mother and think about the future, with or without Tupelo Diamond Brokers.

“I’m excited to try something new,” she said. “It’s really the only job I’ve ever had s maybe I swill tick with sales. It’s exciting but scary at the same time.”

___

Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, https://djournal.com

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