What woman wouldn’t like playing dress-up with jewels every day? That’s the way CJ Grad describes her real-life fantasy job as a jewelry designer. The awe-inspiring and confident owner of Caffray Jewellers has come a long way from being the eager 19-year-old who bought out a retiring jeweler’s store. As she enjoys 32 years in the business this March, CJ reflects on the wild ride of starting a business from scratch and how she cultivates the creative house today.
Growing up in Oak Lawn, CJ always liked creating things by hand, whether it was wiring things together or cutting hair. After graduating from high school, she worked as a licensed hairdresser for a few years. Once she saved enough money, she and her boyfriend at the time bought a jewelry store in North Riverside. Though they knew how to do repairs and jewelry, the previous owner spent a few months teaching them the paperwork behind a business. She moved the store to Hinsdale a few years later, where it still stands today.
“People search for jewelers like me…my pieces are organic and freeform,” says CJ, referencing her niche of redesigning, recycling and restoring existing jewelry pieces. Caffray also offers jewelry repair services that include high-grade watches.
When it comes to custom pieces, CJ does all the designing and crafting herself. A customer will come with an idea in mind, sometimes accompanied by photos, and CJ will tailor it according to the size of the hand and fingers. She then draws up a few sketches and carves a wax model of the chosen design. Unless the client is working with an existing stone, one can be chosen from CJ’s collection of rare gemstones, raw diamonds and other stones. Once the piece comes back from the caster, she sets the stones and adds a polish. “There are machines that can do certain things, but they can’t do a lot of things that I do,” she says.
Her specialty is tying sentimentality into a piece of jewelry. Clients have come in with their grandmother’s ring wanting to incorporate the stone into their wedding ring, as if to have her presence on their big day. “You get the feeling that your guardian angel is looking down on you,” says CJ. Whether it’s a family heirloom or a great-grandfather’s army pin, she knows how to take a stone or metal from a previous piece and turn it into something new—with a tinge of history.
The last three engagement rings CJ designed were rose gold, which she said complemented the dark hair of the ladies beautifully. Another woman wanted to sandblast her ring, which starts as a satiny look and turns pewter with wear. CJ recently did a first in her career: blackening a white gold engagement ring.
CJ never thought, for example, that she would be working with dinosaur bones or moldavite, but the requests have come up. A lady last week had just watched Superman the night before and was entranced by the meteorite necklace CJ was wearing, insisting that she too must own the otherworldly rock. CJ’s eclectic style and unique materials are pivotal in distinguishing herself in the industry.
To back up the quality, Caffray Jewelers has won several awards and recognitions over the years. In 2012, CJ’s designs graced the cover of Wedding Guide Chicago. Readers of Doings Newspaper chose Caffray as the Best Jewelry Store in in 2007. CJ has some accomplishments of her own: working with SteelX and patenting her own design, the Puzzle Bracelet.
Her favorite achievement, however, was when trade magazine Jeweler’s Circular Keystone covered her latest addition last June.
When CJ’s accountant told her she could cut her tax bill by investing in her own business, CJ took a unique route—all the way to California—and bought a 1995 armored truck. She gave the heavy-duty vehicle a makeover, complete with a jeweled decal and leather racing car seats. CJ hopes to utilize it as a snazzy delivery system for engagement rings and other celebrations.
When she’s not coming up with unique designs, CJ loves to tend to her extraordinary flowers or frequent “mom and pop” wineries. She was enthralled with a winery held in someone’s garage simply because of the raw beauty of it. “You’re constantly learning, growing and finding out new things about yourself that you love,” she says.
The journey would not be complete without the customers who have turned into friends along the way. CJ says some have known her for decades, and she’s even been invited to several weddings.
“You start to care about them like they’re your family,” said CJ.
Caffray Jewellers is located at 14 Grant Square in Hinsdale. For more information, call 630-655-0505, or visit caffrayjewellers.com.