This Rockford jeweler is sticking to his roots, and that means a hands-on approach with every item behind the glass.
Most days, you won’t find Luis Pavez working front of house at Zavius Jewelers, 2636 McFarland Road, Rockford. Instead, the president and founder of the company is usually behind the scenes at his workbench.
“That’s the difference between myself and others,” he says. “I work on the bench. That’s what I do. I direct my business to other people because my passion is to make jewelry and to be an artist.”
By all definitions, Luis is an expert at making jewelry. He does everything himself, without a computer for assistance. His store sparkles with a variety of already-made pieces, but he’s also able to custom-design just about anything a person wants. Customers also come to him for repairs, inspections and appraisals.
“Most jewelers are doing things by machine these days,” says Melissa Pavez, wife to Luis and Zavius Jewelers’ marketing director. “They start with a CAD [computer-aided design] and it goes from there, but he still does everything by hand.”
“It’s like being a mechanic,” Luis adds. “Sometimes, people who sell cars can’t fix or build them. But that’s the difference between me and the rest of the jewelry sellers. They have a store and sell jewelry. But we manufacture it, and we do everything to maintain the piece.”
A native of Santiago, Chile, in South America, Luis came to the United States in 1979 and landed in Rockford soon after. Having learned the art of jewelry-making from his father, who had a jewelry store back in Chile, Luis spent nearly a decade in the States further developing his craft before opening Zavius Jewelers in 1989.
During that decade, he spent three years working for B. Sanfield, a former Loves Park, Ill., jewelry store, and five years working for John Roberts, a casting company in Texas. He even briefly worked at Tiffany & Company in New York.
But ultimately, Rockford became his permanent home.
“I fell in love with the town and thought it was a nice place to raise a family and open a business,” he says. “Nobody used to make any jewelry here, and a lot of people would send pieces out. I saw there was an opening in the market. So, I opened Zavius as a wholesaler, doing the work for 40 companies from Madison to Freeport. At that time, I had about five jewelers working for me, then seven, and we did wholesale special orders and repairs.”
Typically, it takes Luis from a couple of hours to several hours to make a piece of jewelry. He makes sure his store maintains a variety of products priced from $100 to $100,000.
For the most part, customers want practical jewelry they can wear all the time, Luis says. But occasionally, a customer wants a more-extravagant custom order. In the past, Luis has spent weeks making custom-order necklaces with hundreds of diamonds.
“Everything has a season, and right now, the season is functional jewelry,” he says. “But, just how you buy a wedding dress that you only wear for one day, I make pieces that people wear just on occasions. I have a piece I made for almost $200,000, and the customer wore that piece three times. Hundreds and hundreds of diamonds, a beautiful piece, but it’s not to wear to the grocery store,” he laughs.
But it doesn’t matter to Luis how much a piece costs. Whether it’s a $100 ring or $200,000 necklace, he puts the same amount of passion into every creation.
“The most important part of jewelry is not the amount of money invested in it. It’s the appreciation for the piece of art,” Luis says. “People wear jewelry for two different reasons. One, to believe that it gives you some status is life. And two, for ornamentation. You ornament yourself with jewelry because you believe you look better. People have been wearing jewelry since the beginning of time. If you look it up in history, people are wearing something to differentiate themselves from the rest of the crowd. It’s probably one of the oldest arts.”
To ensure he’s always able to continue his passion, Luis keeps money in a savings account at all times. He advises aspiring business owners to be cognizant of not overspending. When the pandemic began, he had the savings to make sure he stayed in business.
“You know, we have a lot of ‘pandemics’ in business,” Luis reflects. “In 2008, businesses just collapsed and a lot of companies filed for bankruptcy. The economy changes every 10 to 15 years. Always. If you’re not in the right state with savings, the economy can tear you apart. You have to be able to go with the flow.”
In addition to having plenty in savings, Luis recommends aspiring business owners continue advancing their skills and education, especially when it relates to offering a better product.
“You have to educate yourself on how to make things better,” he says. “Not cheaper! But better. So many people think they’re the best and offer the cheapest product. But I say, just make good, quality products for the right amount of money.”
Reflecting on his 30-plus years in business, one of the best decisions Luis ever made was to relocate his store to a more-accessible location. Originally, Zavius Jewelers was located inside Stewart Square, in downtown Rockford. But that was only a 700-square-foot space, and before long, Luis needed something bigger. So, in 1996, he moved the store into a 3,500-square-foot building in Loves Park. However, that ended up being a poor location for his store.
“There was a country road and it was a nightmare to turn into that place,” Luis recalls. “That’s why I chose to come back to Rockford. The area I’m in now is very unique, and people feel safe and comfortable to come here.”
Since 2001, Zavius Jewelers has been in its current spot – a 6,000-sqaure-foot space with a broad inventory and welcoming staff. That’s important to Luis – that everyone feels welcome in his store.
“I believe what’s most important is the customer and what we can offer them,” he says. “You know, you start doing something, and pretty soon you turn around and ask yourself ‘How did I get here?’ I think it’s by being consistent and believing in yourself.”