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A Jeweler With Heart

Steffan’s Jewelers finds success with legendary customer service, a focus on technology and a dedication to community outreach.

Although big box jewelers and online shopping have certainly changed the way the neighborhood jeweler does business, Steffan’s Jewelers — the oldest jeweler in McHenry County — owes its longevity to perhaps an old-fashioned notion: stellar customer service. The result has been enduring client loyalty. Based in McHenry, Steffan’s has been a family business since 1946.

“Our staff knows each customer and we’ve built long-term relationships with each of them,” said owner and president, Suzanne Cannon, who’s been active in the company more than 30 years. Cannon, who remembers “playing store” with her sister, Kathryn Lacy, when her grandparents, Harold and Teresa Steffan, ran the shop on Green Street in downtown McHenry, said her closest friends were clients first. “We just click,” she said. “We’ve formed a bond over the years.”

Today, the sisters operate a 3,000-square-foot store within the Fountain Shoppes of McHenry on Front Street, a retail development Cannon and three partners built a decade ago. Her clients span the nation — from Iowa to Florida and Wisconsin to California. Whether they relocate or retire, Steffan’s retains a devoted client base due in no small part to the company’s commitment to serving each customer.

“We haven’t lost focus on meeting our customers’ needs versus our financial needs,” she said. “We have the tools to do smaller jobs like watch repair, for example. And while they might not be a very profitable or high-volume business, we do it because we want to meet this under-served market in our community.”Perhaps the highest mark of successful customer service is when the children and grandchildren of clients seek out Steffan’s as their jeweler. “It’s the highest compliment that could be paid to us,” Cannon said, “and proof our dedication to service is working.”

Technology Focus
Certainly a lot has changed in the jewelry industry since Cannon’s grandparents ran the store 63 years ago. One of the most exciting innovations, according to Cannon, is laser technology.

Steffan’s uses laser welders to repair, fabricate and make jewelry. The work traditionally done with a jeweler’s torch can now be done quicker, safer, more efficiently and with less error because a narrow and extremely accurate laser beam melts and fuses the metals without hurting or heating anything nearby.

“The laser allows us to pinpoint one part of the jewelry instead of heating up the whole piece,” Cannon said. “That means we’re not opening and closing prongs to remove stones, for example, which can compromise a ring’s quality.”
In addition, DiaView, a revolutionary diamond viewing system, allows both the diamond buyer and the jeweler to view any diamond or gem from any angle, enlarged up to 200 times. A snapshot using this technology is useful for appraisals, identification and insurance purposes.

Other technology, such as the Internet and e-mail, digital photography and express delivery, has allowed Steffan’s to better serve its customers, as well. “The ability to send off a picture with the click of the mouse, for example, has dramatically changed the speed and efficiency in which we do business,” Cannon said.

Community Relations
With four to five requests from local charities per week, Steffan’s decided to build a Charity of Choice program that would benefit a different cause each fourth quarter. Since the company’s founding, Steffan’s has donated to more than 1,000 causes.

“My real responsibility of being the oldest jewelry store in the county is making sure we stay strong as a company so we can continue to support the needs of our community,” Cannon said. “It really is a responsibility that I take very seriously.”

This year, the company is fundraising for the Pioneer Center for Human Services, a not-for-profit agency that provides services to more than 1,600 individuals annually in McHenry County. It serves persons with developmental disabilities, mental illnesses, traumatic brain injuries and provides early intervention therapies for children from birth to age 5. “A lot of their funding has been pulled,” Cannon said. “I personally know people who could be affected by losing programs.”

Steffan’s fundraiser for Pioneer Center this year included a charm contest open to middle school and high school students of the county. The students were tasked with creating original artwork that symbolizes the theme of “helping others.” The winner, Johnsburg High School student Lauren Putel, received a special version of the charm that is set with a diamond. The charm is currently available for purchase.

“We’re donating 100 percent of our profits from the sale of this charm to Pioneer,” Cannon said.

In addition, during the holiday season, Steffan’s will have a variety of gifts under its “Giving Tree” where a $10 donation buys a wrapped gift guaranteed to be worth $10 to $1,000. The gifts will include items like jewelry cleaner, gift certificates and 14-karat gemstone jewelry,” Cannon said. “It’s kind of like a grab bag, because the gifts are wrapped.”

Cannon said she’s inspired that so many of her customers are also volunteers. “They give back to the community,” she said.

Steffan’s keeps in touch with the community and customers in a variety of ways, most notably through Ladies’ Day and Men’s Night, which Steffan’s has been hosting for decades.

The events are designed for women to see what’s new at the store and create wish lists for holidays and anniversaries. What they’ve become, however, is so much more. “It’s more of a party,” Cannon said. “This year, we had  more than 200 women attend and raised more than $1,000 for Pioneer Center. For the Men’s Night, we’ve had Harley-Davidson and golf clubs come out.”

Custom Design
Jewelry bears an extremely emotional attachment. Each piece, no matter the size, is a conversation piece that is close to the owner’s heart. “Every person has a story behind his or her jewelry,” Cannon said. “They know the when, where, why, who and how.”

Sometimes pieces become dated or their meaning changes, in which case, Steffan’s offers custom design services to alter the look and/or function of a piece. The store will even buy unwanted jewelry for one-and-a-half times market value if the client purchases jewelry from Steffan’s.

In the realm of redesign, Steffan’s Loved Ones custom jewelry service can, for example, transform the wedding rings of a widow and her deceased husband into a beautiful necklace that features her engagement ring diamond and their birthstones and/or children’s birthstones. The shop has dozens of examples of ways old jewelry can be reimagined through redesign and resetting.

A Walk Down the Aisle
The diamond. In Western tradition, a man presents a diamond ring as a betrothal gift to his prospective bride. It represents the promise of a future of love, friendship and family. Not to mention, it is a major purchase. It’s no wonder why men toil over the shopping process.

Steffan’s makes diamond engagement ring shopping rather simple. Start with “The Most Perfectly Cut Diamond in the World” and the rest will fall into place. For Cannon, that means three words: Hearts on Fire.

From a technical standpoint, Hearts on Fire diamonds are cut and polished at 100x magnification — 10 times the industry standard. “Cut” being the key word. Many novice diamond buyers shop with the belief that “the four Cs” — cut, color, clarity and carat weight — are equally important. The truth is, “the cut matters most,” Cannon said. “In order to cut diamonds at such a high magnification, Hearts on Fire uses NASA technology.”

And although all Hearts on Fire diamonds are “ideal” cut, not all ideal diamonds can be Hearts on Fire. An ideal cut diamond is a round brilliant cut diamond that’s cut to such precise proportions that the light entering through all sides of the diamond is sent back out of the diamond through the table with maximum reflection and refraction.

Steffan’s was introduced to Hearts on Fire diamonds through Janice Mack Talcott, former Director of Education for the GIA. Cannon, who knew Mack Talcott through GIA, met up with her again 13 years ago when she was leading seminars on the then brand-new Hearts on Fire. “I knew right away that I wanted them in my store and have sold them ever since,” Cannon said.

Steffan’s is also one of very few Chicago-area jewelers that offer a selection of Mark Schneider Designs, including pieces from his bridal collection.

Based in Long Beach, Calif., Schneider’s work has won numerous awards, and he’s the only jewelry designer in the United States to have work featured in the Smithsonian. All of this and he’s one of the humblest people Cannon has ever met. “I’ve known Mark for 20 years,” she said. “He’s so down-to-earth. We were friends before I knew he was a designer. When I saw his work, I loved his designs, so I began buying them for the store. Today, they are our No. 1 seller.”

Future of Steffan’s

Cannon very obviously enjoys leading Steffan’s through the challenges and opportunities of the jewelry industry. She eagerly assists coworkers in appraisals, tends to urgent calls and e-mails and partakes in an atmosphere of friendship and camaraderie with her co-workers on either side of the showcases.

And while she is fond of world travel — as seen by her office walls decorated with photographs she’s taken of her travels — she is very much a local at heart. “I was born and raised here,” she said. “It’s a good community made up of great people. It’s a great place to raise kids.”

As for the next generation getting involved with Steffan’s, they’re still a little too young to know for sure. Should family ownership end with Cannon, Steffan’s has so many long-term employees, it will always be in good hands, Cannon said.

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