100-Foot Replica Mine Helps Make U.P. Jewelry Store One of The ‘Coolest’ in the U.S.

Chris Wattsson

Tourists visiting Marquette make time to visit Wattsson & Wattsson Jewelers, even if they aren’t planning to buy handcrafted rings, to walk through a full-scale replica mine.

By: Shandra Martinez

When Ron Wattsson bought a historic building in downtown Marquette for his jewelry store in 1987, he decided to pay homage to the source materials in his jewelry.

Inspired by Walt Disney’s saying ‘make it fun and they will come,’ Ron Wattsson spent a year – with help from many – building a 100-foot mine alongside the right wall of the store. 

The mine features displays about the area’s mining history, including the nearby Ropes Gold Mine, artifacts from the mine, a case with minerals that glow under special lighting, and fossilized dinosaur eggs. 

The replica mine – made of wood, mesh, and plaster with a rock shop at its end – takes up half of the 3,000-square-foot Wattsson & Wattsson Jewelers.

“My parents just wanted to make something different and more interesting,” said Ron’s son, Chris Wattsson, the store’s current owner. He was born three years after the project was completed.

The mine has not only become a destination for tourists and school children on field trips but has given the store a national reputation. In 2004, InStore Magazine named Wattsson & Wattsson Jewelers “America’s Coolest Jewelry Store.”

Unfortunately, the contest only let stores win the prize once, Wattsson said.

Interactive experience

While a walk through the mine is free, most visitors pick up a bag of rocks for $8 from the rock shop.

“It definitely is a cool draw, especially for people that aren’t from the area. It’s also got a really cool waterfall right in the front as well.”

There are some big updates planned to make the mine more interactive. The first change recently took place, with the installation of specialty lighting in the Quincy Mine cart area.

“The mine has an original ore cart from the Quincy mine. They actually had to build the mine around the ore cart because of its size,” Wattsson said. “So I had this idea to paint the floor as if it’s got a track so it looks like it was parked in that position. We’ll be completing that this summer. The next update will be adding sounds, so it sounds more like you’re in a mine.”

Wattsson & Wattsson Jewelers has beautiful historical features in addition to the replica mine, from the 14-foot ceilings with original tin and 10 chandeliers in the front to 110-year-old jewelry cases.

“During Christmas time at night, we’ll flip the lights on so the whole building lights up, which is really cool,” Wattsson said. 

Retail veteran at 33

At the age of 33, he’s been in the industry for two-thirds of his life.

“When I was 11. I just was like, ‘Hey, can I go to work?’ That was my last vacation ever. I basically was put to work and I had a job from there on out,” Wattsson said with a laugh. 

He began with soldering and making nugget drop earrings. Soon, he was working on customer pieces.

“I was going out to talk to a customer a lot and would be like, ‘Yeah, I can fix your ring for you,’” he said. They’re just looking at it like, ‘Are you sure? You’re working on a family heirloom.’” 

Within a decade, at age 20, he was running the store after his dad’s sudden death.

“I didn’t know any of the financial side or anything like that,” he said. “So that was a huge learning curve right off the bat. It took me about two to three years. I definitely had a lot of help from the employees and just the community.”

His mom retired from the business shortly after he was born, and his sister worked with him for several years after his dad died but left to pursue a career in nursing.

One of his first projects was to retrofit the lighting with LEDs in 2013, reflecting his interest in alternative energy. In recent years, his innovation has been investing in a 3D printer that lets him cast custom rings.

He likes challenging tasks.

“We get horror stories from customers: ‘Oh, I ran over my ring with my car and I found it in the spring.’ And it’s just smushed beyond all recognition. I’ve been able to take some of those and carefully bend and mold it just like it’s brand new,” Wattsson said.

Meeting customers’ needs

He estimates he’s done over 20,000 ring sizings. There’s often a rush around Christmas, a popular time for buying rings, when he does 15 to 20 sizings per day. He can usually do a downsizing in about five minutes and an enlargement in 15 minutes.

Most of his work is custom, especially when it comes to engagement rings. Clients come in with ideas inspired with what they’ve seen on Pinterest. 

“We try to kind of tweak and combine different aspects of each piece,” Wattsson said. “I ended up getting a 3D printer because I had to outsource all of that. I have a full-scale shop, so I cast the design. I do everything in house as much as possible, which definitely helps with speed and quality control.”

Some of his customers are former Marquette residents.

“A lot of times it’s people who have grown up here, moved away and when they’re finally getting ready to buy an engagement ring, they remember going through the mine as a kid and say, ‘That’s where I’m gonna get my ring,’” said Wattsson.

One of the biggest things he’s seen in the industry is the increased demand for lab-grown stones, especially diamond and sapphires. With engagement rings, there are more colored center stones versus just a diamond. 

It’s hard for even a jeweler like Wattsson & Wattsson to tell the difference between a lab-grown diamond and a mined diamond.

“I have had some training and I can’t tell the difference without using a testing machine,” said Wattsson. “Chemically and physically, there is no difference whatsoever except they’re about one-third of the price of a regular diamond that was mined on the ground.”

Over the years, one thing that has stayed constant for Wattsson & Wattsson Jewelers is being part of the Michigan Retailers Association.

As an MRA member since the family business began in 1987, the store has taken part in the Buy Nearby campaign annually since the program launched.

“Pretty much everyone downtown participates. The Buy Nearby program has really helped with getting people more focused on shopping locally versus always going online, so that’s definitely been a huge help for us,” Wattsson said.