About

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Like a diamond, which begins humbly as a lump of coal, Hands’ beginnings were humble as well. John Hands, the founder of Hands Jewelers, was born in Coventry, England in the 1800s and trained as a watchmaker.

He immigrated to America after he was offered a job with the Elgin Company in Illinois. Family legend has it that the promised job was not there for John when he arrived, but he may have worked there for a short period of time. In any case, he soon left Illinois and made his way to Iowa City, which in the later 1800s was the extreme western end of the railroad. He set up shop as a watchmaker and was kept busy with the railroad personnel that needed their watches cleaned and regulated to the exacting specifications of the railroad.

Business flourished, and in time, John bought out a jewelry store owned by Oliver Startsman, located in the present Hands’ location on Washington Street. As business grew, so did his family. A son was born; who remained unnamed for two years. Everyone simply called the infant, Babe. The nickname “Babe” remained with Harold Hands for the rest of his life.

Hands Jewelers is Born

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Like a diamond, which begins humbly as a lump of coal, Hands’ beginnings were humble as well. John Hands, the founder of Hands Jewelers, was born in Coventry, England in the 1800s and trained as a watchmaker.

He immigrated to America after he was offered a job with the Elgin Company in Illinois. Family legend has it that the promised job was not there for John when he arrived, but he may have worked there for a short period of time. In any case, he soon left Illinois and made his way to Iowa City, which in the later 1800s was the extreme western end of the railroad. He set up shop as a watchmaker and was kept busy with the railroad personnel that needed their watches cleaned and regulated to the exacting specifications of the railroad. Business flourished, and in time, John bought out a jewelry store owned by Oliver Startsman, located in the present Hands’ location on Washington Street.

As business grew, so did his family. A son was born; who remained unnamed for two years. Everyone simply called the infant, Babe. The nickname “Babe” remained with Harold Hands for the rest of his life.

Through the Depression

f4be65_789ef97b9f874b1c8308ca65c77a2708Babe was a soft spoken gentleman, but nevertheless held firm opinions and had a dry sense of humor. He believed, as his father before him, that people were at the heart of his business, and that building relationships was the most important thing to accomplish. It was Babe who steered the store through the depression, and although he sometimes took payments in chickens and produce, he always managed to meet payroll and hang on to the store.

Like his father, Babe loved watches, and set up a line of the best available. He also set about improving the stores appearance and the merchandise in it. He bought the mahogany cases in 1917 that are still in use today, and had air conditioning installed, making Hands the first store in Iowa City to do so.

After the death of his first wife, Maude Griffiths Hands, Babe eventually married Mary Rupener Nusser and adopted her two teenage sons. Mary was a character, outgoing, she was fond of the latest fashions and not averse to smoking the occasional cigar. Her style and outspoken charm coupled with Babe’s kindness and good business sense helped Hands Jewelers become a very solid business indeed.

Babe loved Mary’s sons, and the older boy. Bill Nusser, seemed to take to the jewelry business like a finger to a ring. He worked at the store learning everything he could. After his graduation from the University of Iowa, Babe asked him to come into the business, which he wholeheartedly did.

Expansions

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Bill Nusser, Sr. took Hands Jewelers to another level, In the 40’s and 50’s Iowa City was expanding and the world was becoming smaller. Bill branched out with better diamonds and began exploring colored stones.

The current owner, Bill Nusser Jr; says of that time, “I remember being astounded at some of the things we had. There were colored stone rings that seemed so magnificent; There was fine collectible giftware, too, like Cybis Porcelain. You can hardly find Cybis anywhere now.

We were the first people in Iowa to carry Dansk and we had Christofle, fine French silver and crystal from Waterford, Orrefors and Lalique.” Bill Nusser, Sr. remodeled the store in 1969 with an award winning storefront and installed the famous Waterford chandelier that is visible from the street.

Buying trips to Europe enabled local customers to obtain unusual, world class items without going abroad themselves; He went out of his way to hire outstanding people such as Linda Wertz, a gemologist and appraiser with some of the best credentials in the country; Bills son, Bill Nusser, Jr, also studied Gemology and came into the business.

Crisis

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Unexpectedly, gold jumped to $900 an ounce in the 1980s. Diamonds, which previously sold at $12,000 per perfect carat, zoomed to $64,000; The farm crisis left thousands scrambling to make ends meet and retail stores saw huge drops in sales.

These were difficult years for Hands but the loyalty of the customers and the willingness of the staff to work hard and find creative solutions, kept Hands afloat while many other jewelry stores across the state were forced to close.

Outstanding Staff

Slowly the crisis passed. Since then, Bill Nusser, Jr, has continued to fine-tune his father’s formula for success, responding to customer demands for the finest diamonds available, He recognizes the importance of the staff and encourages them in every possible way to become educated. In fact, most are graduates from the Gemological Institute of America.

At present, along with Linda Wertz, the staff includes Daniel Brown, one of the finest and most creative jewelers in the state- He has worked for Hands for well over twenty years. Anne Rizzo (Bills sister) is the stores comptroller, and is always there to fill in on short notice whenever necessary. Marcia Hoffbauer, who is well known in the food service industry has been working at Hands for over twelve years as a senior sales associate with an impressive clientele.

An interesting thing about the staff is that everyone has significant volunteer lives outside the store. Linda Wertz is involved with her synagogue, participating with their musical group, Kol Shira (Voice of Song). Marcia Hoffbauer works with Big Brothers and Big Sisters program. Bill is quick to give his outstanding staff much of the credit for Hands’ continued success.

The Best Times Are Now

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Today the inventory, overall, is on a higher plane than ever before. The gift department has expanded and there is an atmosphere of high quality combined with fun that is evident from the moment a person enters the store.

But the most important, and by far the best part of having a jewelry store, are the relationships with the customers; Nusser believes. “It honestly doesn’t matter what you spend here, what matters is the lifetime value of people.

We want to see you today and we hope to see your children and grandchildren.We want to know what’s important to you. After all, a person can spend $200 wisely or $20,000 wisely.

We have wonderful $35 stories and wonderful $10,000 stories. We love them all. Every customer deserves the very best.”

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