After 27 years, longtime Torrington jeweler set to retire
TORRINGTON — For nearly 30 years, Rob Wiegel worked either behind the counter or behind the scenes at Lee’s Jewelry in Torrington. He is now ready to retire.
The store was originally founded 27 years ago by Sandra Schaub, Wiegel’s mother-in-law. At the time, he had been struggling to make a living as a farmer and was ready to take on a new vocation. He was willing to take on apprenticeship as a jeweler in the new store.
Lee’s Jewelry opened in fall 1991. The name was a compromise: Lee is Schaub’s and Wiegel’s middle name.
“So when she decided to step out of the picture and we purchased it, it would make for a very smooth transition,” Wiegel said.
Six years later, when Schaub stepped away, Wiegel and his wife took full control of the store and Wiegel was officially the face of Lee Jewelry.
He both sold jewelry out front and, in the back, worked as an active jeweler. Wiegel had to learn how to work with jewelry, using some of the same skills he learned as a farmer.
“I had the skills for doing metalwork,” he said. “All I had to do was change my mindset, and understand that I was going to use precious metals and precious stones, and I couldn’t use a hammer the way I usually used a hammer.”
He emphasized that he only performs alterations on pre-existing pieces: he never had that inclination to design jewelry.
“I don’t have that creative sense. I can’t see that,” he said. “But I can take something and recreate and change it around and put it in something.”
The ability to alter a piece of jewelry, however, requires its own set of skills and artistry.
He learned to grade precious stones, to understand which made for good setpieces and which could be junked. He learned how to resize a ring, whether by cutting it down or by adding more metal.
“In the back, the challenging part to me is when somebody brings in a ring and wants me to completely remodel it,” he said. “If it looked beautiful and brand new when it went back out the door, that’d make me feel good.”
It was not only about remaking jewelry: Wiegel also enjoys the salesmanship the job requires.
“The challenge of the sale was a very fun thing,” he said. “You build a rapport with the customer, you try to make sure that they feel comfortable when they buy something. You want them to enjoy that as much as you enjoyed doing business with them.”
When he turned 65, Wiegel decided it was time to retire. With his children all gone off to their own careers, when Wiegel leaves, the store will close once its current stock has been sold out. While closing the store results in a lot of emotions in Wiegel, he takes pride in the work he has done.
“I’ve had two careers in my life, one as a farmer and the other as a jeweler,” he said. “I got to be self-employed in both of those careers and it’s been a very creative, a very challenging and a very satisfying career in either one of them.”