October 21, 2016 | last updated October 21, 2016 4:11 pm
2016 Connecticut Family Business Awards: 1st Place Winner

Swede’s Jewelers maintains personal touch

PHOTO | Contributed
PHOTO | Contributed
Rob Szwed (secretary), Elaine Ward (vice president), and Stan Szwed (president) are the children of Swede’s Jewelers founder Stanley Anthony Szwed Sr.
PHOTO | Contributed
Swede’s employees stand for a company photo.
PHOTO | Contributed
Stan Szwed sitting and working at his work bench.
PHOTO | Contributed
A 1974 photo of Swede’s Jewelers when it was located in Windsor Locks.

Swede's Jewelers Inc.

Headquarters: East Windsor

Industry: Jewelry

Year Founded: 1946

Founder: Stanley Anthony Szwed Sr.

Generation Currently Running Company: Second

No. of Full-Time Employees: 4

No. of Part-Time Employees: 3

Family Members Currently Employed at Company: Daughter (V.P.) Elaine Ward; Son (President) Stanley Szwed Jr.; Son (Secretary) Robert Szwed; Daughter, Ali Colapietro; Grandson, Alexander Szwed

Company Website: swedesjewelers.com

Rob Szwed can never forget the year Santa Claus accidentally skipped his house. Like any eager kid on Christmas morning, he rose at dawn and raced down the stairs, his siblings trailing behind him. But when he reached the bottom, his parents were asleep on the couch and there were no toys under the tree.

Years later, Szwed learned that his parents stored the gifts at the family jewelry shop and planned to go back for them when the children were sleeping. But after a long day at the store, they sat down to rest and fell asleep.

"They were exhausted taking care of us and running their business," explained Szwed, one of eight children.

All ended well (his parents told the kids Santa mistakenly left the presents at the shop), but when he tells the story today, he is struck by the sacrifices his parents made for the business and their family.

It's that kind of work ethic — along with a commitment to quality craftsmanship — that propelled Swede's Jewelers from a small home-based watch business to the full-service jewelry store it is today.

"He did it all — the watch repair, the books, everything," Szwed said of his father, Stan Swede, who ran the store with his wife, Alice. (Rob and the rest of the family would later adopt the original spelling of their last name.)

Szwed remembers his father working late into the night over an ironing board set up in the living room, disassembling watches and oiling the mainsprings.

"We'd get up in the morning for school and he'd still be there," Szwed said. It was painstaking work, and sometimes he'd take an old watch apart and demonstrate for the kids. When they asked why it took so many steps, he'd reply: "You can't take any shortcuts when it comes to quality."

Swede founded the company in 1946 after coming home from World War II, where he served in the U.S. Marine Corps. Specializing in fine watch repair, he was soon selling timepieces to soldiers who lived in the barracks near Bradley Field. With bigger dreams of a full-fledged jewelry store, he opened a tiny shop on Main Street in Windsor Locks.

"When you walked in, it was just a little wider than the doorway," Szwed said. The business remained on Main Street — moving several times to accommodate the growing business — until 1974, when a redevelopment project forced them to relocate to the store's current spot in Geissler's Plaza in East Windsor.

As children and teenagers, Szwed and his siblings each had jobs to do at the store. Szwed remembers being charged with making bows around holiday time. "We had a hand-cranking machine that would wind up the ribbon," Szwed recalled.

Today, he runs the store with his brother, Stan Jr., and his sister, Elaine Ward, all registered jewelers. The trio has brought the shop into the 21st century with a major makeover and an expansion of the company's website this year.

Ward said the biggest thing that sets Swede's apart from other jewelry stores is knowledge and experience. Both of her brothers have been named certified gemologists by the American Gem Society, a top honor in the field.

"For a little store like ours to have somebody that talented and knowledgeable is pretty rare," she said.

While many jewelry stores send pieces out for sizing or repair, Swede's does almost all of its work on site, including sizing, diamond setting, engraving and repairs.

In 2011, the business became one of the first in New England to use a laser welding system, allowing for stronger repairs on delicate pieces, which cannot always withstand the heat of a traditional jeweler's torch, Szwed explained.

Szwed knows he can't match the splashy TV commercials of big-name jewelry stores or the convenience of online shopping, but the company attracts customers through reputation, he said, and keeps them by selling jewelry with a friendly touch.

"The nicest thing is to really know that you gave the customer the right item. Not just selling something and saying, 'I'm glad I got rid of that,' " said Ward.

"When a customer comes in we would like them to have an experience with us," Rob Szwed added. "You can't get that online."

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