A drive down the main drag through Nashville’s tony Green Hills area reveals high-end diamond and jewelry store billboards towering over big-name retailers from, Whole Foods to Pottery Barn. But underneath all the in-your-face jewelry marketing and a few doors down from the Hill Center sits the unassuming Grace’s Plaza, once home to the beloved Davis-Kidd Booksellers. Today, Grace’s Plaza is home to myriad retailers, one of its newest being E.J. Sain jewelry store located on the second floor.
Inside E.J. Sain’s doors, jewelry cases shine with diamonds and an array of sparkly items that beg you to come and take a closer look. And behind the counter are members of the Sain family who have been involved in the family business their entire lives.
A Little History
Ervin (E.J.) Sain started his career as a hand engraver, eventually deciding to open a small jewelry shop bearing his name in 1902 at 327 Deaderick St. in downtown Nashville. Since that time, the family business has been handed down through three generations and is currently run by matriarch Gennette Norman, granddaughter of E.J. Sain, and her daughter Frances.
The company logo still bears Gennette’s grandfather’s signature, and just like the diamonds and estate jewelry the business sells, this little gem has endured lifetimes of highs and lows and has come out shining. E.J. Sain has endured the Great Depression, multiple location changes and the opening of plenty of other jewelry store chains with massive advertising budgets. And they’re still going strong! They do very little advertising and have arguably the least visibility on Hillsboro Road, but it’s two simple things E.J. taught his children that has kept the business alive: trust and honesty.
“People come here because they trust us and because of our honesty with our customers,” Gennette says. “That is what has been owned and operated by the third and fourth generations. We tell customers the truth. Our reputation is the most important thing we have, and that’s why our customers keep coming back.”
Why E.J. Sain?
People keep coming back for the trust and honesty, sure, but also for the unique jewelry options that you won’t see on any other person in Nashville. For example, their front jewelry case houses a massive sapphire, diamond and emerald ring named “The Spark,” which was conceptualized, sourced, designed and assembled by Gennette’s new ace-in-the-hole jewelry designer Tim Stammen.
Priced at $230,000, The Spark and has more than 200 hours of Stammen’s artistic genius behind it. “The design for this ring started with the sapphire as the central stone,” Tim says. “My goal was to make it elegant as well as do something that can’t easily be found anywhere else. It has 23 different parts to it that I had to piece together. It’s a little bit of engineering and a lot of artistry.”
Although only 31 years old, Tim is a skilled artisan doing work that E.J. Sain founded his company on. Sain’s father was a watchmaker by trade, and Sain was a hand engraver, both trades that are rare today. Tim carries on the E.J. Sain tradition by not only designing his own creations, but by also working with customers to create designs based on their ideas as well. The process begins with a conversation, which results in what Tim refers to as a “sketch” but in reality, is a beautiful drawing.
“I sketch them to scale by hand, and then the client has the option to make any changes to the design,” he says. “I work it until the client is excited, and once they have picked out the piece, I source all the stones, then I create and make the entire piece by hand.”
He says in general, his pieces have between 18 to 35 hours of work in them and take four to six weeks from start to finish. “The end result is about 60% the client and 40% me,” he adds.
One Happy Family
Although Gennette and Frances are the only descendants of E.J. Sain who are involved in the business today, you can’t discount the staff, many of whom have been with the company for decades. Although not blood relatives, they are definitely family. “We are so proud of him,” Gennette says of Tim, smiling like a proud parent. “I am always amazed when I see his sketches and how he figures out the size the stones need to be to all fit together.”
Store manager Wayne Clark is also like family, having worked with the Sain family for 31 years. He tells some amazing stories about life with the Sains over the years, such as the ring he sold twice to the same man for different women. Or the one diamond he sold four times to different people.
“I had a customer with a diamond ring from Tiffany’s she wanted to sell, so I sold it to a gentleman who had the diamond set into a man’s ring,” Wayne remembers. “He wore it until he died. We then re-set the diamond into a woman’s ring for his wife. She wore it until she had to go into a nursing home. So, we sold it again. Diamonds don’t wear out, they just keep trading hands.”
And the same could be said of E.J. Sain. With a new location at Grace’s Plaza, fresh ideas and time-tested standards to which they hold themselves accountable, E.J. Sain is a diamond in Nashville’s retail crown that continues to shine bright generations beyond it’s founding.
Stop by the new E.J. Sain location at Grace’s Plaza, 4009 Hillsboro Pike, Ste. 212, Nashville, TN 37215. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; closed Sundays. Call (615) 385-1212 or visit ejsain.com to learn more.
This article is sponsored by E.J. Sain. Photography by Leila Grossman of Grannis Photography.