International jewels with hometown heart
by Angela Slevin
Antwerp, Belgium is known as the diamond capital of the world. At over 700 years old, the majestic city was once the cultural center of Europe. Modern Antwerp is still home to countless magnificent reminders of its past. The Steen, a stone castle built almost 1,000 years ago, still stands on the banks of the Schelde River. It conjures up images of the castles of princess fairy tales with its turrets and pointed towers.
With a storied past and a multitude of majestic sights, there are undeniably many reasons to visit this historic city. But Steve Long, of Long Jewelers on Battlefield Boulevard in Chesapeake, is planning his trip to Antwerp for an entirely different reason. This October, as he does every year, Steve will fly more than 4,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean and spend four days in the city. His mission? To meticulously select only the most brilliant, finest cut diamonds to offer his clients.
Steve is a first generation jeweler. As a six year old, he was fascinated by a drawer of old pocket watches. "My dad told me not to touch that drawer, but I did," Steve laughs. "I liked to unscrew the backs and look at the gears inside the watches." That fascination stayed with him even as he grew older.
Long Jewelers was chosen as one of Hearts on Fire's carefully selected dealers and they were also the original Pandora dealer in Chesapeake.
Steve opened his business in 1988 and, right from the beginning, was ready to help the community. Soon after the store opened, a gentleman purchased an anniversary ring for his wife. When the ring was ready to be picked up, a blizzard hit the city. Everything shut down. Steve personally delivered the ring in his Jeep to the couple's home. "We go out of our way to make people happy," Steve says. That philosophy continues to be a basic principle for Steve and his employees.
Steve will make his 15th buying trip to Belgium in October. Over the years, he's made many connections with some of the greatest minds in diamond cutting, including a personal relationship with Gabriel "Gabi" Tolkowsky. The world's most famous diamond cutter, Gabi is the sixth generation of his family to continue in the art of diamond manufacturing. Gabi's family have passed down vast amounts of knowledge to him. His great uncle, Marcel Tolkowsky, was the creator of the modern round brilliant diamond cut. Steve and Gabi are such good friends that Gabi has stopped in Chesapeake twice on his trips to the United States to do business with Long Jewelers.
Steve quotes his mentor, Gabi: "The right diamond will talk to a woman, no matter what her language. That's why I'm so particular about the diamonds I offer my customers."
Not only does Belgium cut and polish diamonds, but diamonds from Canada, Russia, Australia, and Africa are sent to brokers in Belgium for worldwide distribution. These diamonds are not widely available; only jewelers certified by the Independent Jewelers Organization are given access to purchase directly from the diamond capital of the world. To become IJO certified, jewelers must be long term residents of their communities, be involved in local charities and events, and have extensive knowledge of advanced jewelry-making equipment, which must be on site in their stores. Steve is the only IJO certified jeweler in Chesapeake and Virginia Beach. By cutting out the brokers between himself and the diamond offices, Steve is able to pass tremendous savings on to customers.
During his diamond buying trip, Steve typically visits five different diamond offices. He examines dozens of parcels of diamonds, sometimes selecting entire parcels, sometimes cherry picking one diamond from here, one diamond from there. "This part of the process requires good memory, and a great deal of knowledge. My 28 years of diamond grading experience allows me to choose the very best diamonds. The diamonds at chains can't compare to these; they are very unique and special, just like a bride-to be," Steve explains.
Back at home, Steve's store sparkles with diamonds, sapphires, amethysts, palladium, platinum, silver, and gold, even on a rainy day. The 3,200 square foot venue is comfortable, brightly lit, and full of jewelry cases.
Steve's goal is to provide consistent, quality service to every customer. He tells the story of a customer who asked for a ring to be custom made, but wasn't happy with the result. "It was a diamond and amethyst ring in an asymmetrical setting," Steve recalls. After it was made, the customer asked for additional modifications. "We worked with her through a few more variations until she was not only happy, but thrilled."
his mentor, Gabi, the
world's most famous diamond
cutter, "The right diamond will talk to a
woman, no matter what her language. That's
why I'm so particular about the
diamonds I offer my customers."
In addition to going the extra few thousand miles to find the perfect diamonds, Steve also makes sure Long Jewelers offers any service customers might need right here in Chesapeake. Steve's jewelry store is full service, and is the only shop with an in-store bank-style vault, constructed of steel with concrete rebar. Customers can rest easy knowing that any family heirlooms brought to Steve for cleaning or repairs will be safe. Repairs can be made on any type of jewelry, watches, and even eye glasses. Restringing pearls, re-tipping the prongs on rings, sizing rings, and appraising are also done on the premises. Dave Matthews performs the lost art of engraving by hand, and is a master at Computer Aided Design and Computer Aided Manufacturing. Steve keeps the largest jewelry inventory in Chesapeake, and his status as an independent jeweler also gives his customers the option to special order jewelry from numerous manufacturers. If a customer would like something really unique, Dave can design and create that special piece with his advanced skills.
Precious stones and other jewels are also in abundance.
Art Gatchlian, master jeweler, has been with Steve for 26 years. In the Gatchlian family, jewelry making is an art passed down from one generation to the next. All the uncles and cousins on both the maternal and paternal sides of the family are jewelers. At age 10, each new generation begins the process of learning to become master jewelers. Such an accomplishment allows Art to create almost anything.
"I can hand Art a picture and a piece of gold, and Art can handcraft that piece the same day," Steve asserts. After 40 years as a master jeweler, Art is a treasure himself, finding innovative ways to make tools out of anything. Art has been known to use items as mundane as a shoelace to get into tiny spaces on jewelry.
Steve also makes sure to stay up-to-date with the latest techniques and trends. "Scientists at California Polytechnic Institute developed a new process called fire polishing," he describes. "Fire polishing allows light to be broken up into all the colors of the rainbow. It looks like sparks of fire are within the diamond," Steve explains. This process can be done to new or existing round, brilliant-cut diamonds without removing any weight from the stone. It is not a coating - instead, over 100,000 microscopic nanoprisms are cut onto the bottom half of the diamond. They are invisible to the naked eye, but completely change the diamond's appearance. Any quality diamond can be transformed with this polishing technique. "It will sparkle in a dimly lit restaurant from 10 tables away," Steve assures. His store is one of very few that can provide this service.
What is Steve's opinion on engagement rings? "I can help give young couples a superb quality diamond at a great value from a trusted jeweler, and a romantic tale of the search for the perfect engagement ring. When a man asks for his beloved's hand in marriage with an Antwerp diamond, he truly becomes the man of her dreams," he says confidently.
701 N. Battlefield Blvd.
Chesapeake, VA 23320