Thanks, Uncle Jimmy!

Contributed by Mr. Kelly J Swisher, President, Illinois Pawnbrokers Association

Some years ago, I was talking with a friend of mine, Jay Kantor from Jay Pays. I was showing him some stones that I had for sale. Written on the corner of one of the diamond papers was “MRBC 1.27ct”. As Jay looked at the paper, half to me and half to himself, he said, “Oh, a Marquise…” Upon opening the paper, he looked perplexed. It was a round diamond. He looked at the paper and then back at me and asked if I had the wrong stone in the paper. I said, “No it’s a Modern Round Brilliant Cut, hence the ‘MRBC’.” It was something Jay had never heard as a term used for a round stone and he found it kind of odd. We joked about it for a few minutes and moved on with our business. Over the years Jay has just accepted my odd diamond papers without comment.

Fast forward to 2017. My mentor, who introduced me to the jewelry and pawn industry, passed away unexpectedly this past February. His name was James Martin (Uncle Jimmy to me) and was from Sarasota, FL, formerly of Crown Point, IN. He was the person who introduced me to the jewelry business when I was just a 21-year-old kid working in the steel mills in Gary, IN. He would let me pick through his scrap gold and find chains and bracelets that I could polish and resell to guys I worked with in the mill.

The shop in Crown Point, IN was called “The Crowntique”. I would spend hours hanging out looking and learning about the magnificent antique jewelry they bought there. Jimmy and my Aunt Shirl ran the shop with finesse and class. It was no more than 400 square feet of show room with a small bench area in back, but it always felt huge because there was so much to look at. Jimmy, who was a Graduate Gemologist, eventually started to show me how to grade diamonds and suggested that I attain some formal training. I enrolled in the GIA home study course and learned about diamonds and colored stones. At the time, I had no idea how much that little shop would change my life.

Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Shirl, along with their daughter Shaun, moved to Sarasota in 1987. Shortly after that, they opened a little pawn shop in the First Florida Bank building in downtown Sarasota called, of course, The Crowntique. It was a small office on the upper floor of the bank building with no display cases, just a beautiful office where they wrote pawn loans by appointment only. They did mostly high-end loans and worked primarily on referrals. This is where I learned about the pawn business. I would vacation in Florida a few times a year and would spend days hanging out in their office, gathering every bit of knowledge I could. I continued to buy from their scrap gold for resale in the steel mill, and now armed with my GIA education, I moved into diamonds.

They ran the pawn shop for just over ten years and then decided to “retire” to the life of vest pocket diamond dealers. Despite my aunt battling brain cancer, and eventually having to be moved to assisted living, they ran the diamond business up until Jimmy’s death in February. By that time, I had been out of the steel mills for 18 years and had owned my own pawn shop for over 15 years.
This brings me back to the “MRBC” on the diamond paper that Jay found so odd. My cousin, Shaun, was in charge of handling her father’s estate which included the diamond business. I volunteered to help her with settling any memo goods that were still out and unaccounted for. She gave me his memo books, and hand written on the first page, the very first diamond was a MRBC 1.50ct GIA.

When I saw that, I couldn’t help but think about my encounter with Jay years before. I always knew that my uncle was teaching me, but never realized how much his influence would be felt in my business almost 30 years later. While I was in my 20s, he taught me to use “MRBC” on diamond papers. It was most useful in the late 80s and early 90s, when we were buying a lot of European cut stones; this way we knew it wasn’t a European cut without having to open the diamond paper. He would always call the stone by its “full name.” It always sounded special when he showed a customer a “Modern Round Brilliant Cut Diamond.” I looked up to Jimmy and saw his success, so why would I change what worked? Looking back now, “MRBC” is a silly thing to do considering we would always mark European cut diamonds with an E on the paper. That’s just the way Jimmy did things.

I look around my shop today and realize that a lot of who I am, and what my shop is today, is because of Jimmy’s influence. Another example of this is a laminated card hanging on the employee side of the pawn windows. The card has the millimeter spread of what a diamond should be: 5.2mm =.50ct, 6.5mm= 1.00ct etc. Measurements range from 1.0mm to 11.2mm. When other pawnbrokers and dealers have asked me for a copy, I have always given them one. Jimmy gave me that card in the early 90s, and to know that it is still being used by my staff and the staff of other pawn shops, would make him proud.

I hope you take a moment to reflect on those who have put you on the path to success and independence in the pawn business. Thank them if they are still around. If it hadn’t been for my aunt and uncle’s little shop in northwest Indiana, my life would have been completely different. They will forever be “MRBC” to me.

Thanks, Uncle Jimmy!

James Jarleth Martin (1940-2017)