Old-time jeweler a steady hand in changing business
The lines between work and family blurred, so three sons and a grandson have carried on.
By STEPHANIE HAYES, Times Staff Writer
Published January 19, 2008
CLEARWATER - Kenneth K. Smith spent his life watching the jewelry industry change. He saw blowtorches bumped aside by laser machines.
But he practiced what he knew. And his business remained while others came and went.
Mr. Smith, owner of Clearwater's K.K. Smith & Sons Jewelers, died Thursday after a battle with cancer. He was 86.
"This man could do anything with a lump of gold," said his son, Norris Smith. "The technology of today and what my dad used to do are worlds apart."
He came from an Italian family of Long Island jewelers. Until he was 5, Mr. Smith spoke only Italian. His mother was an old school, hands-in-dough cook.
Mr. Smith apprenticed as a jeweler in New York, where he worked for the American Museum of Natural History. His family said heonce repaired a necklace worn by Cleopatra.
"I think they were testing me," he told the St. Petersburg Times in 2005.
In 1944, he married his high school sweetheart, Hazel - her engagement ring has a 21/2-carat, pear-shaped diamond. She had to learn Italian cooking before Mr. Smith's family approved the marriage.
The Clearwater store opened in 1955, and the lines of work and family blurred. While Mr. Smith repaired jewelry, his wife kept books and strung pearls. And their three sons were always around.
"I would come in as a kid and sit in the back and tinker around on the bench sitting next to my dad," said Norris Smith, 48. "It always amazed me some of the things that he would do."
At home, they hosted big dinners, preparing homemade pasta days in advance. Mr. Smith got his hands dirty alongside his wife.
He was a straight shooter - honest, to the point, but witty, his family said. He didn't pressure his three sons, Kenneth, Norris and Jerry, to become jewelers. When one wanted to be a rock star, he said go for it - but just have a backup plan.
Eventually, though, all three joined the business And so did grandson Jason Smith.
"It was just our calling to uphold," said Jason Smith, 35.
Mr. Smith officially retired 26 years ago, and his family gave him a Rolex watch. But he didn't stay away. He was constantly in the store, repairing jewelry for years.
When his sons bought the store's first computer, Mr. Smith was blown away. And when they brought in the laser welder, he admitted he wouldn't know how to use it.
Recently, Norris and Jason Smith decided to move the store from Rogers Street to Court Street and refocus the business toward jewelry design. It's now called Smith's Custom Creations.
Mr. Smith didn't mind. He was surprised they didn't do it sooner. After all, times change.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at email@example.com or 727 893-8857.
Kenneth K. Smith
Born: Aug. 7, 1921.
Died: Jan. 17, 2008.
[Last modified January 18, 2008, 22:28:32]
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