by Liza Roberts
photographs by Eric Waters
Behind a discreet exterior, on a quiet stretch of Oberlin Road, a trove of beautiful jewelry stands hidden in plain sight. Though the “Haydon & Company, Master Jewelers” sign is clear enough, this Colonial-style home to one of Raleigh’s most luxurious retail stores could be mistaken for the tasteful office of a boutique law firm.
Instead, beyond the door, handmade jewelry glittering with diamonds, sapphires, and rubies shines in old-fashioned cases. Some are showstoppers, like a dazzling necklace fit for an Academy Award nominee; others are diminutive, like a tiny bejeweled bumblebee.
What isn’t here is anything you’ve ever seen on a billboard, or made in mass quantity. That’s because a good deal of what owner Whit Haydon sells is made upstairs by master jeweler Rodney Keller, at a bench, by hand. “I hesitate to call us a store,” Haydon says. “We are jewelers in a very strict sense, as opposed to necessarily being a merchant. We take it seriously.”
It would be hard not to take his $725,000 diamond and sapphire necklace seriously. Or the 72-carat diamond bracelet. Or the knuckle-spanning, $167,000 sapphire and diamond ring. But not everything at Haydon & Co. is priced to make your eyes water. “Some of my favorite things aren’t really crazy,” Haydon says, like a $200 pendant, or Keller’s elegant but subtle pave diamond pieces. “He’s truly gifted as an artist,” Haydon says. A lot of what Keller creates is made-to-order. “I am driven to create timeless pieces,” Keller says, things that “will last for several generations.” It is, he says, “a dying art form.”
Haydon says his store values quality over size and disdains the distinction of “semi-precious” and “precious” stones, pointing out that a beautiful stone of high quality should be considered precious, even if it’s a tourmaline rather than a diamond; that a “precious” stone of low quality is actually of little value. “We want people to understand this, so that when they’re in a position to spend some of their hard-earned money on jewelry, they buy jewelry worth having.”
About 20 years ago, when Haydon first opened his store, the former industrial engineer says his goal was to bring fine jewelry to Raleigh – the kind of jewelry he says people then had to go to larger cities to find. He’d first caught the jewelry bug when his mother-in-law brought him a collection of fine cloisonné – vases, bowls, ginger jars, and the like – from Asia. He sold it all to Jolly’s Jewelers and decided he’d found himself an interesting new business. With his technical background, he was interested in how fine jewelry was constructed. Then he learned everything he needed to about gemstones, and decided he wanted to sell “not necessarily anything large, it just needs to be incredibly nice.”
Word-of-mouth got him started and keeps him going today. When asked to recall some his most memorable clients, the biggest spenders aren’t the first who come to mind. Instead he tells the story of a construction worker who brought in an ancient, broken Patek Philippe watch he’d inherited from his father and needed to sell. Haydon was able to broker a quick sale, and “gave him a check for $330,000 for a broken watch” that the man was able to use to buy a piece of land and a front-end loader. “Being a part of that was a cool thing more than anything else,” he says. “It changed his life.”
1803 Oberlin Rd.; haydonco.com