Davidson’s Jewellers turns 75!

By Jeanette Rive

From left, Judy Davidson Richards, former owner of Davidson’s Jewellers, Jean Macdonald, its first-ever customer in 1939, and John Anderson, current owner. PHOTO: JEANETTE RIVE

From left, Judy Davidson Richards, former owner of Davidson’s Jewellers, Jean Macdonald, its first-ever customer in 1939, and John Anderson, current owner. PHOTO: JEANETTE RIVE

A big basket of flowers in the window of a new shop at 782 Bank Street caught the eye of 17-year-old Jean MacLean in November 1939. She was delighted to see that it was a jewellery store and immediately decided that she was going to buy something. She bought her first watch there; later on her engagement ring when she became engaged to Sam Macdonald, and then her wedding band. This 75-year relationship is still going strong! In the summer of 2012, the store held a surprise 90th birthday tea party for Jean Macdonald, who still lives in the Glebe.

Eastman Davidson was born in Ottawa in 1912. He learned the art of jewellery–making at high school in Detroit, where his family moved during the Depression. When the family moved back to Ottawa in 1932, he took up the watch-making trade before setting up a small jewellery shop in the living room of his home. In 1939, with $200 in cash and credit, he set up shop in the Glebe “subdivision.” The following year, he married Margaret Flack, who was working as head checker at the Loblaws just across the canal in Ottawa South.

Davidson’s Jewellery, 1964. Right to left: Eastman Davidson, Margaret Davidson, two staff members, Helen Fitzpatrick (bookkeeper for over 30 years) and Walter Whitehead (watchmaker for over 30 years). PHOTO: DAVIDSON’S JEWELLERS

Davidson’s Jewellery, 1964. Right to left: Eastman Davidson, Margaret Davidson, two staff members, Helen Fitzpatrick (bookkeeper for over 30 years) and Walter Whitehead (watchmaker for over 30 years). PHOTO: DAVIDSON’S JEWELLERS

It was wartime, but the shop thrived. Jewellery shops typically sold much more than fine jewellery: flatware, costume jewellery, purses, chinaware, and luggage. Eastman, along with other watchmakers across the country, was called up to join the Air Force to work on airplane instrumentation. Daughter Judy Davidson Richards recalls that her mother was worried when told Eastman was going to be posted to Victoria Island, fearing it was the other side of the country, but it was nearby on the Ottawa River, so he was able to come home in the evenings and continue working for the business and repairing watches.

The family lived upstairs at 802 Bank Street above Loretta’s pastry shop when Judy was born in 1950. Judy got her training early at her parents’ shop: first folding gift boxes with a friend after school at Mutchmor, then in her teens learning to string pearls, and at 17, learning bookkeeping. In 1964, the shop moved to its larger and more modern location.

Margaret and Eastman Davidson, 1970s. PHOTO: DAVIDSON’S JEWELLERS

Margaret and Eastman Davidson, 1970s. PHOTO: DAVIDSON’S JEWELLERS

In 1972, Richards came back to the family business full-time. As her parents eased into retirement, the business passed to the next generation and Richards took over formally in 1982, although her father would visit the store right into the 1990s.

Present owner John Anderson started at the store as gemologist and appraiser in 2007 – initially hired for the Christmas period. He started working with a watchmaker at 16 and graduated from the Gemological Institute of America in California. He also received the title of Certified Gemologist Appraiser in 2009, the highest achievement awarded by the American Gem Society. Impressed by Anderson’s ethos, which reminded her of her father’s, Richards felt she could phase out her involvement in the store, leaving it in his good hands. He took over ownership of the shop in 2010.

Reflecting on the store’s success over 75 years, Anderson says they consider themselves a destination shop. Approximately a quarter of their business comes from the Glebe; the rest is city-wide. Much of their business is still custom design but with their own laboratory, they also do many appraisals as well as stone testing and diamond grading. Anderson is also aware of evolving tastes and the increasing use of technology in the industry. For example, 3D printing will be able to produce a prototype of a piece of jewellery immediately, and CAD (computer-assisted design) programs are already used in intricate design. He has also noticed that jewellery designers are becoming better known, with recognizable brands.

The Davidsons always hoped their clients would be lifetime customers and indeed, generations of families have used Davidson’s Jewellers. Clients are loyal, as is their staff: Lori Killeen, senior sales representative, who started part-time while in high school, will be celebrating 40 years with the store next year.

In the words of client Jean Macdonald, “There was always such courtesy shown to customers. Staff was always helpful and there was never any pressure to make a purchase.” This attitude is what will keep clients coming to Davidson’s Jewellers for many years to come.

A final message from Anderson: “Please don’t be intimidated by the locked door. This is mandated for insurance purposes. Just ring the bell, you will be welcomed!”

Jeanette Rive is a longtime supporter and occasional writer for the Glebe Report, and has been known to admire a piece of modern jewellery from time to time.

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