Photo by Tessa Marie Images.
Having grown up in Paoli and Malvern, Michael Cook is no stranger to the tastes and shopping habits of the Main Line. He took over his father’s business in 1995 and remains at the helm as Paoli’s Walter J. Cook Jeweler celebrates its 70th anniversary this month. The younger Cook was passionate about the industry from an early age. And over the past three decades, he’s helped the business evolve, showcasing modern pieces alongside the classics.
MLT: How has jewelry design changed over time?
MC: It’s become much more fashion-forward. As with everything—in clothes, jewelry—everything circles back. There’s always going to be that new cutting-edge design and that new designer who takes the world by storm. It’ll be about five years before it gets to the Main Line. The consumers in this area are fairly conservative.
MLT: How have you been able to keep the business successful over so many decades?
MC: Perseverance. As with everything, the luxury consumer has become more and more fickle. We all want to be taken care of and experience wonderful, personal service. There’s nothing better than walking out the door and having no regrets about the transaction or the experience you’ve just had. What we try to do is exemplify that. We’re never going to hit a home run every time for customer service, but you want to try.
MLT: How has online shopping impacted your business?
MC: I’ve got people who’d think nothing of buying a $25,000 diamond over the internet. Everybody’s using social media. The younger generation isn’t so much brand-conscious as they are [interested] in a look. But my tried-and-true clientele isn’t searching for me on Facebook. I’d rather sell someone a smaller piece of higher quality with less embellishment than try to be everything to everybody.
MLT: What’s your favorite jewelry type?
MC: I like classic diamonds. Multicolored pearls and South Sea Tahitian pearls are always fun.
MLT: How do you help people with their purchases?
MC: If they’re repeat clients, we try to see what they’ve done in the past. For somebody we don’t know, we try to ask pointed questions—likes and dislikes, lifestyle, if they’re into designer or classic jewelry, do they go out, entertain? We don’t want to see somebody buy a piece of jewelry and have it never come out and see the light of day.
MLT: What do you see for the future?
MC: If, in the next 10 years, one of my sons wants to come into the business, I would be overjoyed, but I wouldn’t force them into it. We always have to make adjustments. We only have so many people walking through the door on any given day. Our challenge is to keep the selection lively and vibrant and always changing—but you can’t get too crazy.
MLT: What’s hot this year?
MC: We’re always into colored stones. Yellow gold is trending back again. Longer drop earrings [are popular]. Mixed metals have also been strong for years—silver-and-gold combinations. In bridal jewelry, the halo is still an important factor.
MLT: How have you adapted to meet changing styles?
MC: I try to have a little bit of everything. When I bought the company in 1995, I expanded the selection. I’m not just a designer-jewelry store—I search out things that are pleasing to the eye, but I don’t go crazy.