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FEATURE FRIDAY- The Late Bloomer

Cliff Yankovich of Chimera Design tells his story of success

Me, at one of our counters

I came into the jewelry industry later in life. In 1996-1997, I was working for a radio station when it was sold. I realized, I didn’t want to remain there [in radio], and approached one of my current customers to see if he and his wife needed a salesperson. Funny thing is, they had been discussing adding a road warrior a few days prior and my name came up.

First Class was a small manufacturer and trade shop. I started out selling our services and jewelry to independent retailers in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana. I earned my GIA Diamond Graduate certificate in 1998. That same year, I spent four enjoyable days with the crew at Gemvision, when they were still in Iowa, learning Digital Goldsmith. I still use Gemvision almost daily. The camera that came with it is great for appraisal pictures and for zooming in when selling a re-tip or prong repair. It also comes in handy when we show customers the chip in their diamond BEFORE we begin to work on their piece.

When we opened here in November of 2002, our store was a combination art gallery and jewelry store. Lowell has a strong artist community, however, when we started out there were no galleries selling the local artists’ work. We displayed artwork for the first four or five years, which explains our name. The name Chimera suggests many diverse parts in one organism. We thought the name was a good fit, since at one point, we had work from as many as 30 artists in our little showroom. In retrospect, I wish we had gone with something a bit more straightforward – you know, like Lowell Fine Jewelers because it took 2-3 years for people to really grasp that we did all the things a traditional jewelry store did.

Otter has been protecting Chimera for over a decade

Chimera Design is a mom and pop shop. Our shop dog, Otter, is as old as the store and spends most of her days sleeping on a very thick cushion. Julie Claire DeVoe, my wife and business partner, is the benchie. Julie makes the majority of the jewelry we sell and does the repairs. Repair work is probably 40-50% of our business. We’re in a small town of 4,000 people. Lowell is about 18 miles east of Grand Rapids, Michigan. We get repairs from a fairly broad area – Julie has become well-known for her attention to detail.

I consider myself fortunate to have come into the business at the same time as the internet. I say that because I have never known the heady times when you could actually put a significant mark up on diamonds. The plus side of the internet for us would be that we have made jewelry for people all over the country and even sent a few pieces overseas. (FWIW – if you ever sell an engagement ring to an Aussie, tell them to be prepared to pay a healthy tax on it when it arrives.)

bench jeweler
Julie working some magic at her bench

Our website has always had a homegrown look to it. I wanted something that I could maintain myself. The latest version allows internet purchasing, and we have a nice link to Stuller Showcase. Julie and I learned about Showcase last year when we attended a Bridge event. I shared our delightful experience in our blog. What a wonderful two days we spent in Lafayette, Louisiana! We have done business with Stuller since we opened. I learned all about Stuller when I worked at First Class – just the thought of that involves remembering back to when all they had was a findings catalog. It has been fun to watch the breath of what Stuller offers to us grow and grow. Stuller will never get rich from Chimera, but we are well-rounded customers. We buy from just about every area of their selection.

ruby and diamond ring
This ring, ruby accents, is one of the most successful pieces for us. We have probably made 8-10 variations of it over the years

We love being in a small town. Lowell is one of those places that presses home the wisdom of not judging books by their covers. We have guys who come in here in beat up pick-up trucks and dirty jeans who can buy whatever they like and generally pay with cash. We are a good fit in that respect. I wear jeans most days, but I do class them up a bit with a selection of nice
ties left over from my sales rep days. My attitude toward my customers is what I like to call the farmer approach, which works in our rural setting, in that I would love to harvest a reasonable profit from my customers season after season rather than making a killing one time. And I hope to enjoy our industry for many years to come.

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Cliff Yankovich

Chimera Design Co-owner

I've been the co-owner of Chimera Design since 2002 • I put the Pop in a mom n pop • Part time word slinger • Drums are therapy • Still get teary eyed hearing proposal stories in the store • Assistant watch battery manager and moving up the ladder • Do NOT text and drive • #7 - there is no rule number seven.