When people think of Memphis, they often think of the National Civil Rights Museum, barbecue, Elvis Presley and ducks swimming in The Peabody fountain. Memphis’ history is one that is saturated with both tragedy and beauty — one that has seen both trial and difficulty, but has consistently overcome. In the midst of such a dynamic history, one business has retained a steadfast vitality. Since its opening in 1891, Mednikow Jewelers has been making Memphis more beautiful — one diamond at a time.
The Mednikow family’s love for jewelry is not one that originates in Memphis. In fact, “Mednikow,” a Russian name, literally means “coppersmith.” Dating back to the 1400s, the Mednikows were in the coppersmithing business.
“It’s easy to see how coppersmithing develops into jewelry,” says current owner, Jay Mednikow, whose great-grandfather, Jacob, was a lifelong jeweler.
The Mednikows made their way to the United States when Jacob immigrated from Russia in 1891 and opened Mednikow Jewelers on Second Street in downtown Memphis, which he ran until his passing in 1935. At that time, his younger brother, John, became owner of the jewelry store. While he originally planned to take over the store for a short period of time only to close it down, John’s daily interactions opened his eyes to the potential of both the store and Memphis, and he decided to keep the business running — a decision that continues to prove favorable.
Shortly after taking over, John moved the store to Main Street. Mednikow opened in East Memphis in 1968 and consolidated to one location nine years later when they moved to Perkins Extended off Poplar.
After John’s death, his son, Bob, took over the family business. At 86 years old, Bob is still active in the business and works alongside his son, Jay, to operate the fine jewelry store. “We think that we’re in the perfect spot to meet the customer needs for the entire region,” owner Jay says of their current location. In their 25 years running the family business, the two have ushered the Mednikow jewelry brand through an impressive expansion. Mednikow Jewelers’ Atlanta shop has been open for 25 years, and two years ago, the duo opened a Nashville location.
Mednikow has evolved over the years, adapting to changing times and trends. After World War II, Mednikow, like many jewelry stores in the United States, expanded its offerings to meet the needs of the fast-growing affluent in addition to its traditional customer base. In 1990, when the first real wave of jewelry designers hit, Mednikow was one of the pioneer jewelry stores to carry such brands as David Yurman.
Their longevity and family roots set them apart in the industry. “Because we have been in the jewelry business for over 100 years, our family has developed relationships with designers, craftspeople and diamond and gemstone suppliers all over the U.S. and internationally,” says Jay. The value of these longstanding relationships is evident when you enter the store and marvel over the grand pieces within the jewelry cases.
Today, Mednikow is a full-service jewelry store, selling fine and designer jewelry, doing repairs, resizes and appraisals and designing and creating jewelry in the workshop on the second floor of the store. Its home in a diverse city is reflected in its offerings — from the finest diamonds to casual designer jewelry, they cater to the wants and needs of their beloved Memphis clientele.
And while Mednikow wears many hats as far as jewelry stores go, for Jay, the essence of Mednikow is found in the fine jewelry. “I was raised in a traditional jewelry environment and understand that subtle differences in angles and fractions of millimeters can make all the difference in a great piece of heirloom quality jewelry,” he says. “I stick to what I know best, which is these subtleties that few people understand anymore. I leave it to the designers we build relationships with to create the more fashionable pieces.”
“It’s my dream to make really fine pieces of jewelry for people who appreciate quality and know that it’s done right and that it will last a lifetime and that it can be passed to a son or daughter and still have a life beyond that,” says Jay, adding, “It’s fun. I deal with life’s happiest occasions.”
From Russia to the United States, from Second to Main to Poplar, from Memphis to Atlanta to Nashville, from “dinner-table conversation” about fine jewelry to crafting it personally, the Mednikow family has created a legacy that lives on the necks, wrists and fingers of thousands of people throughout the world — a legacy that we’re proud to say calls Memphis home.
Stop into Mednikow at 474 Perkins Ext. #100, Memphis, TN 38117. They are open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and can be reached at (901) 767-2100. Visit mednikow.com for more information.
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