What began as a dream one night in 1973 by a future business partner that they would one day own a jewelry store in Nevada City called Utopian Stone eventually became a reality and now Pat and Diane Dyer are celebrating 42 years in business and remain one of the few long-standing businesses under management by original owners.
In 1974, Pat Dyer opened Utopian Stone along with his first and last business partner, Mary Kay Hough, at 310 Broad St., the current location of the Earth Store. Pat and Mary Kay worked together at Diablo Manufacturing, a western silversmith known for Visalia saddle-making, until they decided to leave to open a store.
When Mary Kay and her husband left in 1975 for Montana, Pat and Diane decided to keep the store going by building and selling handcrafted silver and turquoise squash blossom necklaces, bracelets, necklaces and rings.
“At the time silver was very popular, gold was too expensive and it was too expensive for us to buy and work with, so we had a great run with silver,
Pat said. “In the late 70’s and early 80’s we got into gold. We could afford it because we bought quality gold and quartz from local miners and still do as often as we can.”
The road to Utopian Stone began when Pat and Diane were sophomores in high school in Chicago Park, where Diane was born and raised. Pat had recently moved there with his family from Sacramento.
“I asked Pat out on the school bus” Diane said. “And I accepted,” finished Pat.
They have been together ever since. Pat attended Cal Poly as an Agricultural Business major and left to work for the Grass Valley Group in their machine shop in Bitney Springs.
Diane also worked there on the assembly line and the two would meet for lunch. Pat’s jewelry-making talent was beginning to blossom during that time because, for reasons no one can explain, when bad transistors were being discarded, he would grab them, take them home and build them into earrings.
“He would come in to work the next day and sell the earrings to the ladies at lunch,” Diane said with a laugh.
It was later while working at Diablo Manufacturing in Castro Valley when Pat would meet future partner Mary Kay Hough. They met at Diablo’s Grass Valley location when the company moved there in 1971, occupying the first building in the Brunswick Basin after the Jolly Roger Bowling Alley.
“The roads there were still dirt,” Pat said. “The original Diablo building is where Smiley Guys BBQ is now.”
By then Pat and Diane had little children – oldest son, Marc, and twins Perri and Damon. During that time, the they lived in Diane’s family home in Chicago Park but in 1972, tragically, Damon died at the age of 19 months from a rare stomach cancer.
The young family, while stunned and suffering from the loss of Damon, stayed together and family ties grew stronger than ever. In 1974, Pat was approached by the University of Nevada to teach the Paiute Indians the art of silversmithing through a program the university designed to teach Native Americans viable wage-earning skills. The Dyers accepted and spent eight months at Pyramid Lake on the reservation teaching as well as honing their own skills.
Once their teaching job was over and Mary Kay and her husband were gone to Montana, Pat and Diane went to work full time at Utopian Stone. They called upon their emotional and physical rejuvenating experience at Pyramid Lake to catapult them to the next level of jewelry-making with their handcrafted silver work. Soon, they boasted such notable customers as Hank Williams, Jr.
“We went to a Hank Williams concert and couldn’t find Perri. Later, we found out he was backstage talking to Hank, and we only found out about it when Hank himself walked in the door one day, introduced himself and, smiling, said he was coming in on Perri’s recommendation – Perri was only 5 or 6 at the time – Hank remained a loyal customer for some time,” Diane said.
They would never look back; their course was finally charted.
Today, Utopian Stone employs five goldsmiths, including their oldest son, Marc, and Scott Martin, a graduate of Kent State. They have each worked at the business for 23 years.
Sheila LaRue, a graduate of the Gemological Institute of America, and newcomers Callie Kraus, a graduate from Revere Academy of Jewelry Art, and Emma Franzen, a graduate of Sierra College, round out the crew.
“We are excited about getting great young people working with us. We need them to keep Utopian Stone going when we’re ready to retire,” Pat said. The couple’s other son, Perri, is a pilot for American Airlines and lives in Dallas.
Between the oldest members of the Utopian Stone family – Marc, Pat, Diane and Scott – they have around 139 years of experience with customer orders, custom-jewelry design and implementation, precious and semi-precious gemstones and metals, repair and good ol’ customer service.
“One year we entered a necklace we designed and built in the annual Spectrum Awards Competition for Excellence in Jewelry Design, which is sponsored by AGTA at the Tucson, Arizona, Gem Show. And, as luck would have it, a longtime customer had just bought the piece but the rules for judging required that the piece be in the judge’s hands for three months,” Pat said. “I offered the customer the loan of any of our jewelry for a month at a time each month while her necklace was being judged. Needless to say, she really appreciated it and took us up on it. It was the least we could do, and she ended up buying more jewelry – we weren’t expecting that.”
Speaking to the unique opportunity to learn the vanishing art of hand-crafted jewelry, new hire Callie Kraus sums it up: “I came on full time at Utopian Stone six months ago in May after attending the Revere Academy for Jewelry Art. I want to be a jewelry designer and here I can do that and learn so much. I enjoy interacting with our customers because of the layout of our shop. The tools, equipment and designers aren’t hidden in some room, it’s all out in the open. That adds a valuable dimension and experience for the customer and us.”
Utopian Stone at 301 Broad St. downtown Nevada City is open from daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. For more information, call 530-265-6209., visit utopianstone.com or check out their Facebook page.