Few gifts are more personal and passionate than jewelry, and Walton’s Antique and Estate Jewelry, located in Franklin, Tenn., has been swathed in glamour and nostalgia for over 45 years. When the late Melba Horner Walton launched her business in the 1970s, she couldn’t have known her success would ignite a passion for the industry in her son, Mike, and decades later, in granddaughters Julie and Katie. Both Julie and Mike are Gemological Institute of America-certified gemologists.
"The business continues to grow and gets better with every generation. My mother began by opening a shop that just sold jewelry. When I came on board, it grew from just selling jewelry, to also offering repairs as well as an emphasis on gemology,” Mike Walton said. “Now, my daughter, Julie, has implemented a point of sale system, streamlined our business processes, created a strong and active social media presence, and launched our online store. It’s exciting to think of the growth that will continue to occur and the positive changes that the next generation will bring.”
Store manager Julie Walton Garland waxes poetic about what makes Walton’s a gem of a place to purchase legacy-worthy finds.
Antique Trader: Why is the focus on pre-1940s jewelry and what makes these pieces distinctive or why do you like them better than, say, post-1950s items?
Julie Walton Garland: When my grandmother opened Walton’s in 1974, she began with a focus on antique and estate jewelry. She passed away a little over five years ago. We have since continued the tradition with about 90 percent of our inventory being pre-1940s. The Art Deco era (1920s–1930s) tends to be a fan favorite, especially when it comes to diamond rings/engagement rings. The filigree details, beautiful lines and timeless styles all lend to them being the most desired.
AT: Tell us about Melba.
JWG: She got started at flea markets, when my dad and his brother were really young. She would put a blanket on the hood of her car and lay out jewelry she had for sale. Dad remembers her once being set up next to a guy selling chickens. For a woman to start her own business in the early ’70s was pretty remarkable. Women couldn’t get a loan on their own at the time, so her husband had to sign for it. To have that drive and passion is pretty impressive. She first opened her store in Carter’s Court — the premier Downtown Franklin shopping destination at the time. In 1982, she decided to invest in the future, purchasing our current building in Historic Downtown Franklin.
AT: Can you talk about the types of gems, cuts, metals and styles this jewelry encompasses?
JWG: Most of our antique pieces date from the Victorian era, Edwardian era and the Art Deco era (1800s, turn of the century, and 1920s-1930s, respectively). During the Victorian era, you will often see yellow gold being a prominent feature, paired with diamonds, gemstones, nature inspirations and elements that are reminiscent of mourning (i.e. black enamel, tracery details, etc.). When it comes to diamonds during that era, you will often see rose-cut diamonds and old mine-cut diamonds. The Edwardian era brought about more feminine motifs such as flowing lines, floral elements and bows. The emergence of platinum also became more evident in jewelry, many times seen on top of gold. Diamonds transformed from the old mine cut to the old European cut, giving way to more proportionate stones due to the advances in diamond cutting. The Roaring ’20s gave way to much bolder jewelry. Designs became more symmetrical and often geometric, incorporating platinum, gemstones and diamonds. Sleek and stylized, the jewelry of this era made a statement. The diamond rings of the Art Deco period are very much in vogue today. Their styles and esthetic are timeless!
AT: How do you go about obtaining your inventory?
JWG: We buy from the general public, go to antique jewelry shows, we have some dealers we buy from, estate sales and auctions, so everywhere practically, and that allows our inventory to always be changing. We have about 1,200 things in stock.
AT: Talk a bit about your clientele: Is this mainly people shopping for engagement rings or is it more than that?
JWG: We are known for our beautiful selection of one-of-a-kind antique and estate engagement rings. We love working with couples to find the perfect ring and are honored to be a part of their love stories. We also have clients who are celebrating all different occasions, whether that be love, birthdays, anniversaries and important life milestones. Jewelry is a sentimental purchase that should be loved and enjoyed for generations — we are lucky and grateful to be a part of each one. We also work hard to provide options for everyone’s budget.
AT: Could you describe how competition from the internet has impacted your brick and mortar business?
JWG: Since 2017, people have been able to shop on our website. We have a strong Facebook and Instagram following, which allows us to maintain that personal connection with people, which is a big part of our industry. Our website allows people to see what we offer, but then the brick and mortar location allows them to see things in person and try them on.
AT: We are interested in your repair service and that laser welder. Any tips on what people with broken rings, earrings, necklaces should consider, such as whether a piece is worth repairing, can be fixed, etc.?
JWG: Not only do we offer fabulous jewelry to purchase, we also specialize in jewelry repairs and appraisals. We have a jeweler on site, as well as three GIA gemologists on staff. We understand that jewelry is sentimental and is often passed down from generation to generation. We handle every piece with the utmost care, and are able to make refined repairs on some of the most challenging pieces. Anyone is welcome to bring their jewelry by our showroom. We then discuss what repairs need to be done, allowing the customer to make an informed decision. Jewelry, no matter if it is new or old, requires care and maintenance. We repair fine jewelry — not costume — including gold and platinum, as well as stone settings. We also re-string pearls. We have a staff of eight, including my dad and me. I take pride in my staff all completing some education through GIA.
AT: What else do you love about antique jewelry?
JWG: We love the history behind the pieces and often dream about the stories that they could tell!
Walton’s Antique and Estate Jewelry is located at 410 Main Street, Franklin, Tennessee. Hours are Tuesday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and staff can also be reached at 615-790-0244. To learn more, visit waltonsjewelry.com or send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit the store’s social media sites at facebook.com/waltonsantiquejewelry and instagram.com/waltonsjewelry.