Meet a jeweler who started out with an idea and a garage business, and ended up with a company that gives generously to its community.
It wasn’t that Tom Dougherty didn’t enjoy teaching. He did. He loved shaping the minds of young people. It’s just that he embraced making jewelry even more.
Dougherty began teaching biology in 1973 at Harvard Junior High School in Harvard, and served several years on the school board. “I loved interacting with the students and watching them learn,” he says. “Junior high is a unique time. Every day is a new discovery.”
For years, Dougherty kept to the same routine. Each night following dinner, he graded school papers before retiring to his garage, where he made jewelry in his makeshift office. Late one evening, Dougherty walked into the kitchen where his wife, April, was finishing up the dishes. “I’m done,” he told her.
At age 35, he gave up his teaching career to pursue his love of jewelry. April never questioned his decision. She knew his heart better than anyone.
Dougherty became a full-time jeweler in 1984, opening Studio 2015 Jewelry on the Woodstock Square in Woodstock. In 2007, the store moved to its current location at 11701 Catalpa Lane. Studio 2015 designs and sells a variety of rings, watches, pendants, necklaces, bracelets and accessories. Dougherty also owns a manufacturing facility in Woodstock that produces 1,100 pieces each week.
“We’re different than the competition because of my science and metal background, and our ability to create anything on-site,” he says. “I know jewelry. I know what sapphires are and I know what rubies are. To be a good jeweler, you have to understand the process.”
Dougherty’s love of science started as a teenager, when he spent a summer working for a local welding company. A 1967 McHenry Community High School graduate, he earned a teaching degree from the University of Oklahoma, where he also developed a deeper understanding of gems by taking courses in geology and metals.
“I love this business,” says Dougherty, who shares his entrepreneurial spirit with eight siblings, all of whom have owned a business at some point. “It’s creating and offering new products and developing new customers. It’s all of it. It’s giving people a different experience.
“This is not work,” he adds. “It’s a drive, a love, a focus. What is work? To me, it’s being productive or making something. I’m a builder. I don’t care what it is. It could be building a house, a business or a piece of jewelry. I’ll do whatever it takes. I’ve always looked at this business as a calculated risk, but I’ve trusted myself to be successful. You have to have a belief in yourself that you can make anything happen.”
Dougherty developed that can-do attitude in college, where he played offensive lineman for the Sooners. He also leaned on many mentors throughout his life, including football coaches, who helped to instill that positive belief that he could be successful at anything he set out to do.
Dougherty admits, however, that the early years were challenging for both him and his business. For starters, there was plenty of competition, with three other jewelry stores along the Woodstock Square. His selection of inventory was somewhat limited. “People thought I was nuts to start this business,” he says. “I was selling some silver, brass, pendant pins and copper earrings.” Still, his fledgling business had nowhere to go but up.
The name Studio 2015 came to Dougherty during an all-night work session. Looking for something bold, progressive and different, he decided to look into the future and came up with the number 2015 – the year he would turn 65 and most likely retire, turning the business over to his children. He tacked the number to the bottom of his first business card and the name stuck.
Over the years, the business has grown, but as most small-business owners discover, maintaining success can be just as difficult as getting started. “The past five years have been the most challenging,” Dougherty says. “Any successful business has to change direction and attitude in order to maintain that level of success. We keep working at it.”
What makes a good jeweler? “You need to have the ability to listen to the customer and hear what he or she wants,” he says. “Each customer comes to you with a different dream in mind. We had an elephant trainer come in and we designed an elephant head ring that held three diamonds in the trunk. She was thrilled. They have a vision of what they want, but they need someone to lead the way.”
Designing pieces may be Dougherty’s favorite task, but it’s not always his top priority. There are day-to-day issues that must be met head-on. “Any true artist or entrepreneur gets bogged down with the cycle of business,” he says. “I now have a larger view of the world. Besides designing jewelry, there are other things to be concerned with, like OCEA and EPA issues and governmental issues. This business is no longer in Tom Dougherty’s garage. It has a lot more moving parts to it.”
But those are minor headaches compared to the challenges that the Doughertys have battled in the past. In 1995, the couple’s world was rocked when April was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer. She endured several surgeries and chemotherapy treatments, only to come out stronger than before. Dougherty calls it a miracle that his wife survived the rare form of cancer.
“She’s kicking my butt every day,” he says, smiling. “I don’t know if we’re better people, but you come out the other side with a greater appreciation for life. You have to live every day to the fullest.”
During her illness, April wore a diamond pendant, called The Wand, that a customer won in a drawing at the Doughertys’ store. She returned it to April, to use as a source of hope and inspiration. Since then, Studio 2015 has created a program called Tommy’s Angels, in which special state-of-the-art pieces of jewelry are designed and given to several nonprofit organizations, such as the Gavers Community Cancer Foundation, Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation and Harvard Education Center. The items are auctioned off, and the money raised stays with the organizations. “It’s not just about giving to charity,” Dougherty says. “It’s about making your community and your country stronger.”
Dougherty, a Salvation Army board member who’s modest about his community giving, credits his staff for the creation of Tommy’s Angels. “We have a great team,” he says. “We have a tremendous group of designers and salespeople, as well as great inventory. In order to be successful, you have to work together as a team. It’s the only way to chart your course.”
This holiday season, Studio 2015 has designed 15 pieces that will benefit five local organizations: the Alexander Leigh Center for Autism, Turning Point of McHenry County, Adult & Child Rehab Center, Main Stay Therapeutic Riding, and the Animal Outreach Humane Society. Anyone who makes a donation to one of the organizations between now and Dec. 22, when a celebration will be held at Studio 2015, is eligible for the designed pieces. The major prize is a piece with a full one-carat diamond.
While he’s no longer a teacher, Dougherty continues to be part of the educational process. He teaches his trade to his staff and guides his customers on what makes a good piece of jewelry. “I feel like I never left education,” he says. “We continue to learn every day.”