The story of Jack Lewis Jewelers begins in 1927, at the doorstep of the Great Depression. Our founder, Jack Lewis, mastered his trade as a watchmaker & hand-engraver, and chose to open a store in downtown Bloomington due to its advantageous location between Chicago and St. Louis. At that time, Bloomington was a busy stop on the Chicago and Alton Railroad line, and since railway workers had to have their pocket watches regulated once a month, Jack Lewis made a name for himself servicing those timepieces. The store was called Jack Lewis Fine Jewelry.
In 1973, John Wohlwend was hired to be “a guy behind the diamond counter,” and by 1984, Jack Lewis Fine Jewelry was ready to expand to a second location inside Eastland Mall. In 1992, then as president of Jack Lewis, Inc., John took a risk and hired a scrappy 16-year-old Central Catholic high school student named John Carter to work at the store taking care of mail and trash.
In retrospect, 1992 was a remarkable year in the history of the business, as it was the only period where the careers of all 3 current and future owners (Jack Lewis, John Wohlwend, and John Carter) intersected at the same time.
John Wohlwend’s passion for the store ultimately lead to him purchasing the business from Mr. Lewis in 1993 and shortly thereafter (in 1994), he consolidated both locations into the one Eastland Drive location: a renovated former bank building, complete with a walk-in vault.
Upon assuming the reigns, John moved away from the “old-fashioned department store” model and decided to focus on what he felt the store did best: luxury giftware, diamonds, watches and fine jewelry. These years were also marked by an unwavering commitment to community service, as Jack Lewis Fine Jewelry became known as a leader in philanthropic activity. John defined success not by how many pieces of jewelry he sold in a year, but by the impact the business made in the community.
In 1997, after graduating from Illinois State University, Carter left the store to take a job as a traveling watch salesman for the Maurice Lacroix watch company. "That's where I learned the business the best," said Carter. "I saw what worked and what didn’t work for retailers on my route. I also saw what might work that certain owners were not open to. I kept thinking, 'If I had my own business, I'd do this or that.'"
In 2002, Carter had the opportunity to come back to Jack Lewis Fine Jewelry as a vested partner. At that time, John Wohlwend and wife Jan were already formulating a retirement plan, and they wanted someone to carry on the legacy of the store. Carter was the natural choice. Together, Wohlwend & Carter devised a 10-year buyout plan, which Carter was able to accomplish in just eight and a half years, allowing Wohlwend to retire sooner than expected.
In March 2011, Carter officially purchased the store, and wasted no time making significant changes. The ‘Jack Lewis Fine Jewelry’ name and its iconic script logo had been local staples since the store’s inception, but among his first actions as CEO, Carter amended them both, changing the name to Jack Lewis Jewelers and adopting a cleaner, more modern logo. Along with the new look came a new vision: moving away from the ‘fine jewelry anniversary store’ and transforming Jack Lewis into the diamond engagement ring destination for all of Central Illinois.
The then 36-year old Carter saw the future of Jack Lewis as younger, more dynamic, and more approachable with a primary focus on loose diamonds, engagement rings, wedding bands and (perhaps most innovatively) proposal experiences for young couples. Factor in a complete interior renovation and a wholly reimagined marketing strategy, and it was clear by late 2011 that the new generation of Jack Lewis Jewelers had arrived.
As the new engagement ring direction took off, Carter was adamant that the store not alienate the loyal, traditional clients who had built Jack Lewis into a household name. To that end, rather than market the new Jack Lewis to young people by screaming about price or through slapstick humor, Carter decided to highlight the aspect of jewelry that crosses all generations: its emotion.
It’s not every day you try to successfully re-brand a beloved local business that started during the Great Depression, so the key was honoring what Jack Lewis had been while pivoting toward what it wanted to become. Carter settled on this idea of emotional ‘meaning’ as the bridge between the past and the future. As in, a diamond ring means something. You buy it for a reason. And the emotional connection with jewelry is true at any age, so Carter saw it as an easy pivot to talk about engagement rings in those terms without betraying the brand Jack Lewis had spent 84 years building.
It gave rise to the new slogan - Jack Lewis Jewelers: we know what this means.
Beyond the shift toward engagement rings, the Carter-era has also been marked by two other significant elements: an innovative focus on offering engagement experiences to young couples (instead of only selling product), and an expansion into modern, on-trend fashion jewelry.
“Today’s couples often claim they’re as interested in generating memorable experiences as they are in buying a diamond engagement ring,” Carter says. “So we asked ourselves, ‘What would it look like for us, a jewelry store, to help our clients create an unforgettable experience around their proposal?’ And that’s how ideas like Ring Cam and Pic Ninja were born. We saw an opportunity to be a trail-blazer in this area, to not only provide loose diamonds and engagement rings, but to also play a key role in fashioning experiences that our clients will remember forever.”
The other giant leap forward began in January 2016 when Missy Ranney joined the Jack Lewis team. “With the increased focus on diamond engagement rings and experiences, I knew we needed a fresh perspective on our fashion jewelry to complement the engagement side, and I also knew I wasn’t the right person to do it,” Carter said. “So we brought Missy in and put her in charge of keeping us on-trend with the best designers and the most fashionable looks... and it’s been amazing. Missy has transformed our cases into what you’d find in New York or L.A.”
As Jack Lewis Jewelers moves into the future, we’re committed to remembering that every diamond has a drama, every necklace tells a tale, and every bracelet tells a story. They're more than just sparkly rocks and shiny metals. They mean something. We give gifts all the time. Socks, gift cards, electronics, movie tickets. But when you give someone a piece of jewelry, there's a deep, emotional purpose behind it. It means something more. Something serious and intimate.
All the reasons why you love someone are wrapped up in these little symbols. We get it. And we hope you'll choose Jack Lewis because we know what all this means.
And because we know what it means, that influences how we approach you as a client. We're not interested in pushing you into a quick sale. You rarely find the perfect piece of meaningful jewelry in 10 minutes. We want to offer you a free cup of coffee or a bottled water...let you browse, take your time, until you find that piece that perfectly captures all the reasons why you're buying it in the first place.
Staying focused on meaning also influences our approach to what you buy. In other words, there's a reason you're in our store...and it's not our reason. It's not about us. It's not about what we like or what makes sense to us. You're only going to find meaning in what you like and what makes sense to you. So you don't have to worry about us steering you in a direction you don't want to go. We'll offer suggestions if you ask, but this is about your symbol. Your meaning.
Finally, knowing what this means also influences how we feel about cost. Look, to be perfectly frank, we'd rather do business with you a little bit than not do business with you at all. If a $5,000 diamond ring is what will mean the most, then so be it. We've got those. And if a $300 diamond ring is what will mean the most, then so be it. We've got those too! Again, we're most interested in connecting you with the piece of jewelry that will mean the most to you or the person to whom you're giving it. Whatever it costs is what it costs. You don't have to worry about us steering you to the expensive section. This is about you, not us.
As we like to say: size doesn’t matter, she matters.
Those three ideas (taking your time, finding your piece, and comfort with your price) are how our focus on meaning affects you. Buying jewelry is long-term symbol selection. It's important stuff. And one of the ways we became Bloomington-Normal's most trusted jeweler over the past 90+ years was because we recognized that importance. And despite the changes, we’ll never lose sight of who we are.
At Jack Lewis Jewelers, we've known what this means since 1927. We still do.