Bob Klose can see things before they exist-he is a creative thinker. On a daily basis, he has visions for designs that eventually become pieces of jewelry. Probably his most significant idea, to date, was the one he had to open a jewelry studio on a back street in Elkhart, Indiana, in 1976. That vision and a solid plan, one he stayed focused on even as it shifted-is how he has made his store, Images Jewelers, a success.
“I was the first person in this area to come out of school with the idea to design and create jewelry,” Klose said.
“We are different than the rest. We are jewelers in the old French tradition,” Klose said.
His foray into jewelery design began in Bloomington, Indiana.
“I went to Indiana University in the 1970s and was in pre-law. I didn’t like it. I was taking some jewelry classes and through that got into smithing and designing. My teachers were the grande dames of jewelry design-they opened up this world to me.”
With a Bachelor of Arts in Jewelry Design degree in hand, he returned home to Elkhart to open his studio on June 23, 1976. In the beginning, Klose did it all: jewelry design, sales, and he spent eight years on the bench making jewelry. He started by doing custom designs for individuals, then a line of jewelry for department stores and for regional jewelers. Eventually, the custom side of the business took over completely.
He sees the designs Images creates as innovative rather than following the crowd. Some designs they did in the 1970s are just now being accepted.
A lot has changed since the ’70s, including expectations of brides and grooms.
“They have bigger budgets and want bigger diamonds,” Klose said.
In the early years of business, a one-quarter carat diamond was the average, now it is three-quarter. The first 30 years of his career, everyone wanted yellow metals; now white metal is being revisited.
“We have a huge inventory-hundreds of designs-and generally try to sell from that. They like to see it on their hand. If they want a custom piece, it usually grows out of an inventory piece,” he said.
With the work of Klose and his large staff, Images has been able to stake a claim as a custom jeweler on a national level. Images vision is to bring together artistry of design, skill of craftsmanship, superior knowledge of precious gems and metals, and a passion for excellence.
Being on the cutting edge requires finding the best gems, which they attain by going on buying trips to Europe and Asia several times a year. They also reach people through the Internet, a selling method started four years ago that now brings in 40 percent of their sales.
Images also sells high-end work-pieces ranging from $2,500 to 3 million-through a partner in Chicago. This division allows them an outlet for gems they have access to that they wouldn’t be able to sell locally.
Today, most of Klose’s time is spent designing custom pieces. He creates about 50-60 complete design pieces per month. There are two CAD designers who create his drawings into scale, dimensional drawings.
He is a graduate gemologist, having studied at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). Steve Lennox, shop foreman, is a GIA certified in diamonds and colored stones and also handles sales and buying. Klose describes Lennox as an integral part of what makes Images in-house jewelry shop one of the best.
Klose’s two sons are also part of the business. Shawn handles sales, runs the showroom, and does marketing. Kelly is in charge of the Web site, and does jewelry design, CAD, and runs the rapid prototype mill and 3D printer.
Coming up with a steady flow of new ideas and keeping his passion for the business might sound difficult to someone less focused. Klose said he could go on endlessly with one type of material and keep doing new things, but he’s ready for the next thing once he sees an idea come to fruition.
“I could go on infinitely and never get bored. The experimentation keeps us on the cutting edge-on the art-end of commercialism,” he said.