It’s not too unusual to find a second generation involved in a family business. However, when it comes to a third-generation, there aren’t a lot of those around. And fourth-generation businesses are even more scarce.
Longevity is a difficult thing when running a retail operation and sometimes children want to follow a different career path and there’s no one left to keep things going.
Such is not the case with Van Sipma’s Jewelers in Homewood. The business began in 1900 in Chicago’s Roseland neighborhood and moved to Homewood in 1968.
A fifth generation member of the family, Ashley Van Sipma, recently joined the team to continue the vision of her great-great grandfather, Oeege Van Sipma, and his brother, Sipke. The two brothers started the business as a watch repair shop.
Oeege’s son, Charles, came into the business in the 1920s after studying engraving and optometry. In 1946, Charles purchased the business from his father, who stayed on doing small repairs and bookwork for the store until his death at age 95.
A third generation joined the family businesses in 1953. Charles had a son, Charles Jr., who returned from serving in the Korean War and went to school to become a watch repairman. He studied gemology at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA).
In 1980, Charles Jr. purchased the business from his father. Charles Sr. continued working at the store until his death at age 82.
In 1977, Charles Jr.’s son, Gary, joined the business. He completed the gemology program at GIA in 1981 and became a member of the American Gem Society (AGS) in 1983.
Two years later, his brothers, Glen and Charles III, came into the business. Glen became a master jeweler and Charles III took on engraving and clock repair.
When Charles Jr. died unexpectedly in 1986, son Gary and his wife, Lynn, purchased the business.
Gary had already been assisting with business operations, and Glen and Charles III pursued other careers.
With the recent addition of Gary and Lynn’s youngest daughter, Ashley, who also studied gemology at GIA, a fifth generation is now learning the trade and continuing the legacy begun by the Van Sipma brothers more than a century ago.
Ashley Van Sipma also studied in the jewelry arts program, learning stone setting and jewelry repair.
As you can imagine, the business has seen many changes over the years.
Originally, in addition to watch repair, the Van Sipma brothers sold fine china, silverware and flatware, plus optometry was a big part of the business.
“With the advent of quartz watches in the 1970’s, there are fewer and fewer watchmakers in the industry,” Gary said. “Fortunately we have passed on our watchmaking skills through every generation and still do all of our watch repairs at our store in Homewood.”
All jewelry repairs are also done in-house, as well as design and casting. Today, laser welding machines and computers are utilized in creating custom designs. Van Sipma’s Jewelers has created a niche in custom designed jewelry.
“A large part of our business is custom design. Gary works to hand select unique gemstones and then I design and create one-of-a-kind pieces for our inventory. We also have our own Van Sipma brand watches, which come with a 3-year warranty and lifetime battery replacement,” Lynn said.
The use of three-dimensional (3-D) printing technology has elevated the precision of jewelry design, according to Gary.
“When Ashley joined our business in June, we were eager to get started with CAD/CAM and she has already made it an integral part of our business,” Gary said, referring to computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing.
“With the Design Studio in our showroom, we are able to sit down with customers to design their one-of-a-kind piece of jewelry with them,” Ashley said. “First we design the piece and generate a computer render. Then, we grow the 3-D resin model to give our customers an opportunity to critique and try on their soon-to-be finished jewelry. From there, we cast the piece in the metal of your choice and set the stones.”
In addition to creating custom engagement rings, the process allows the team to repurpose a sentimental piece of jewelry and mount it into something new.
After studying political science and working as an entertainment journalist in Los Angeles, Ashley made the decision to return to Homewood after 12 years.
“Even though I practically grew up in the jewelry store, it wasn’t until a few years ago that I really began to appreciate how special our family business was and how much I wanted to be part of it,” she said.
Her older sister, Sarah, also helps out at the store as much as she can.