From his father’s small North Dakota shop to his own jewelry store Barrington, Mike Miller has been guided by three ideals: quality, relationships and community.
Three words pop up again and again when Mike Miller discusses his longevity in the jewelry business: Quality, relationships and community.
This year, M.J. Miller & Co., 123 W. Main St., Barrington, celebrates its 45th year of creating lasting relationships by providing quality jewelry and service. But Miller’s community encompasses more than just Barrington; he serves clients in all 50 states and 13 foreign countries.
“I travel the world to find the highest-quality gems and most unique things,” Miller says. “It’s all about quality, and it will come back to you.”
His retail operation carries a variety of designer brands, like Gregg Ruth, Peter Storm, Verragio, JB Star and many more, but much of what he sells is designed and created in-house. “A lot of stores today sell stuff made in China and India – we don’t do that,” Miller says.
Instead, he finds some of the most unique stones available, cut to perfection to create unique and beautiful, one-of-a-kind jewelry.
Mike Miller wasn’t always the premier jeweler his customers know today. He got his start in the 1950s at age 7, working with his father in the local drug/jewelry/gun store in their small North Dakota town.
Like most small-town shopkeepers, his family knew everyone, and everyone knew his family. That’s the foundation on which his business acumen and passion for jewelry are built.
Miller earned a degree in pharmacy and landed in Barrington. In 1970, Miller bought Esh Pharmacy from Norm Selmer. “It was probably one of the oldest businesses in Barrington, at that time,” he says.
Miller wasn’t only the pharmacist; he sold jewelry, too. Eventually, jewelry became a larger part of the business, and the space was split. Miller sold the pharmacy around 1990 and moved to his current location in June 2000.
More Than Jewelry
Along with selling distinctive jewelry, M.J. Miller & Co. offers elegant home accessories and an extensive list of services including design, repair, cleaning, restoration and laser welding.
Here, your jewelry ideas are sketched and designed. Once you’re satisfied with the design, a model is produced, using the latest jewelry design software. The finished product is a one-of-a-kind piece, specially made for you.
To keep sentimental treasures looking their best, professional cleaning is needed. Products like hand lotion, soap and even perfume leave a dulling residue on gems.
When more than a cleaning is required, M.J. Miller & Co. offers professional restoration – from a simple watch battery replacement to the most difficult repairs. All repairs are done in-house, which affords the client the benefit of quicker service and the ability to talk directly with the jeweler. In addition to repairs, the staff can assist with bead restringing, watch repair, engraving, crystal repair and porcelain repair.
The shop also employs a new tool in both repair and creation of jewelry: laser welders. Because the laser welder doesn’t heat the metal, jewelry can be repaired without removing precious stones.
“We can repair the most intricate pieces with our new laser welder,” Miller says. “And we’ve only begun to explore the creative applications.”
Beyond simply selling jewelry, M.J. Miller & Co. also purchases gold and diamonds. Items are sorted, examined, evaluated and weighed. Value is based on the gold content, weight and current market price for metals. The client can then decide if he or she wants to sell or trade toward another piece of jewelry. If the client decides to sell, a check is issued immediately, but there’s never any obligation.
“If you’re unsure, bring it in,” Miller says. “We’ll evaluate it while you wait.”
Love of Jewelry
Not only is Miller a lover, designer and seller of fine jewelry, but he’s hired team members who similarly share that passion.
Manager Rick Mariani has worked in the jewelry industry for 33 years, the past 17 with Miller. Although he’s well familiar with the retail end of the business, Mariani worked for several years with a diamond and jewelry wholesaler in Chicago. He also completed training through the Gemological Institute of America.
Graduate gemologist and jewelry appraiser Ellen Kornhauser earned a graduate gemologist degree and is a certified appraiser of personal property, a rare accomplishment in the U.S. She has been with M.J. Miller & Co. for 11 years.
Repair controller and sales associate Chelsea Lindsay has explored every aspect of the jewelry world for the past six years, learning everything from basic repairs to gemology.
Piotr Zientrar and Bela Gathy are both Master Goldsmiths and designers. Zientrar has 33 years of industry experience, 11 with Miller. He studied goldsmithing and jewelry at the Artistic Crafts College in Warsaw, Poland, and apprenticed for master jeweler Waldek Piechowski before immigrating to the U.S. Gathy has more than 50 years in the trade, and studied at the Budapest Art School in Hungary, before working with several renowned European designers. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1980, and joined M.J. Miller after retiring from his own business.
Jeweler/designer Chris Davis was educated at The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, and has spent nearly half of his 25 years in the business with Miller. He has created jewelry as an artistic outlet since he was a freshman at Barrington High School.
Diane Aeikens has served as Miller’s right-hand woman for 10 years, overseeing shipping, repairs, inventory, photography and the computer system. Her role also recently expanded to include editing the catalog. Her sister, Lynnette Solomon, has been designing jewelry, arranging special events and editing the catalog for 15 years.
Nancy Rehm has worked with Miller the longest – more than 30 years – and has helped multiple generations of clients.
In addition to applying his own skills and employing some of the best people in the industry, Miller always follows the advice given to him by legendary jeweler Harry Winston: “He advised me to be in the upper 1 percent of quality,” says Miller. “It’s all about quality, and it will come back to you. To me, life is all about quality, relationships and community. If you take excellent care of your clientele, they will take care of you.”
Miller’s clients are a testament to that way of thinking. He says he has known them and helped them to provide gifts for many of life’s milestones: births, graduations, engagements, weddings, anniversaries and birthdays.
After 45 years in business, Miller is now seeing the second and third generations of customers. “They keep coming back to us because we take care of them,” he says.