A Timeless Vocation

Regarded as “the town jewels,” Bob Eichhorn ’46 and Mary, his wife of 72 years, have prospered in the jewelry business in Galesburg, Illinois, despite the advent of shopping malls, big-box chains and Internet shopping. The store has thrived for six decades by offering top-notch, personal service. “My customers trust me, and I back what I sell,” Eichhorn said with obvious pride.

Entrepreneur and community philanthropist Bob Eichhorn ’46 has adroitly adapted to changing times. Eichhorn Jewelers on Main Street is the oldest business still run by its original owner in Galesburg, Illinois.

Withstanding the test of time, Eichhorn began his career 70 years ago after graduating from Peoria High School, eloping with his high school sweetheart and serving in the Coast Guard during World War II. Fondly referring to Mary as the “personality of the store and my partner in everything,” the master craftsman’s business evolved from watchmaking and repair, to gemology, to appraisal work, to handpicking and setting diamonds.

Recalling why he decided to attend horology school, Eichhorn said with a smile that his late brother-in-law, Billy Catcott ’39, and cousin, Paul Gangloff ’40, both watchmakers, “always seemed to have money, and I wanted to have money, too. I needed to make sure I was well-trained to build my trade and make a living, so I decided, like they did, that horology at Bradley was for me.”

After earning his certificate in horology, Eichhorn showed enough promise that his instructor asked him to be an assistant and help train other students in the art of jewelry making. But $50 a week from the horology school wasn’t enough to support his growing family, nor was his subsequent $60 weekly pay at a local jeweler. With their young son in tow, the Eichhorns moved to Galesburg in 1946, where Bob worked as a watchmaker and jeweler for O’Dell Jewelers. Ten years later, the couple opened their first small jewelry store, Eichhorn Jewelers. They have been at their current location, a former bank with a vault to protect the customers’ and store’s valuables, since 1969. That year, Eichhorn enhanced his specialized training in gemology through an American Gem Society correspondence course. His daughter, Priscilla Lindstrom, a retired teacher who has worked in the store for the past nine years, said her dad is quite proud of that additional accomplishment.

Building the Family Business

Eichhorn remembered the 1980s and 1990s as his favorite decades in the business, when engagement and wedding rings were their specialty. He designed hundreds of rings, including Mary’s and his children’s wedding rings, “and everyone else’s children’s, too,” he added. “You have to build confidence, and our loyal customers come from all over the country.”

One such loyal customer, Dr. Edith Baker, Bradley associate professor emerita of English, shared that her husband purchased her engagement ring from Eichhorn Jewelers 20 years ago, and she is pleased that her diamond ring was designed by a Bradley horology alumnus. “They know their metals, materials and market and have refurbished family heirlooms for me, too. Bob is highly talented with genuine skills that Lydia Moss Bradley would embrace.”

Now in his 90s, Eichhorn knows the time to retire is near. “I like working; I am a ‘Do it’ man,” he said. “I love Bradley, and the School of Horology gave me a strong foundation. Mary and I have lived an enjoyable life; our children — Tom, Priscilla and Barb — all have master’s degrees and are retired. We love people and our work; I am proud of making my living as a watchmaker and jeweler.”

 — By Karen Crowley Metzinger, MA ’97
Photography by Duane Zehr