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Longtime jeweler set to retire after glittering career

STORY BY RAY McNULTY (Week of November 2, 2023)
Photo of John Michael Matthews.

At age 73, after two tours of duty as a Marine in Vietnam in the 1970s and what seems like a lifetime in the jewelry business, John Michael Matthews is ready to retire.

“It’s funny,” he was saying Monday, the first day of a two-month retirement sale at John Michael Matthews Fine Jewelry on Beachland Boulevard. “Most people retire at 65, but I’ve met some people who don’t think I should be retiring now.”

That’s because Matthews has been a fixture in the Vero Beach jewelry community since 1989, when he opened a store here. Thirty-five years later, he’s looking forward to doing something else, including driving his antique car and motorcycle and traveling with his wife, Carla.

After all, Matthews has spent most of his post-military years working in jewelry stores in Washington, D.C., Miami, Coral Gables and Tallahassee before moving to Vero Beach and going into business for himself.

Actually, Matthews was a mere teenager in search of a part-time job when he was introduced to the profession in which he would build a career.

“I needed to make some Christmas money,” he explained. “One of my friends got a job at a bowling alley. Another friend got a job at a burger joint. I ended up at a jewelry store.”

It was there that the store’s master jeweler began to mentor him, presenting him with what Matthews called a “rare opportunity you couldn’t really plan for,” adding, “I just got lucky. It just sort of found me.”

After receiving an honorable discharge from the Marine Corps in 1974, Matthews leaned on his teen experience and began working for various jewelers, who provided the professional education he needed to run his own store.

Matthews has enjoyed a wildly successful 35 years in Vero Beach, where he said he’s now selling jewelry to the children and grandchildren of his early customers, many of whom became trusted friends.

And for good reason: Matthews, who said he has made 45 trips to Belgium to buy diamonds, earned a reputation for selling high-quality jewelry.

He was so selective about the diamonds he would buy from dealers and sell to his customers that he was tagged with the moniker, “Mr. Picky.”

Matthews said he puts his jewelry under a microscope, which enables him to detect even the tiniest flaws. He’s especially careful with diamonds.

“Our diamonds are handpicked from Belgium, and we pick only the ones that are the best,” he said, pausing for a moment before adding, “Hey, if you can’t trust your jeweler, who can you trust?”

Matthews, who is a seventh-degree black belt in karate and continues to teach martial arts as the longtime owner of the Bamboo Dojo in downtown Vero Beach, said he’s grateful for the “loyal support” his jewelry store has enjoyed through the years.

“There was one couple that was getting engaged out in California, and they said they didn’t want anybody but me to make their rings,” Matthews recalled. “There are a lot of jewelers between here and California, so that meant a lot to me.

“It’s gratifying to know we have been a positive part of people’s lives.”

Matthews attributed much of his store’s success to a staff that focuses on the customers’ needs, rather than trying to persuade them to buy something they didn’t ask about.

“If they say they’re here looking for sapphires, we show them sapphires,” he said. “We also do free cleaning and inspections. Our staff has always strived to go above and beyond for when it comes to customer service.”

That’s why, perhaps, his store was so busy Monday afternoon, when Matthews said the parking lot was full and there were 10 people at each jewelry case.

Matthews said the retirement sale will continue through Christmas Eve, when the store will permanently close, but he urged shoppers to not to wait too long.

“It’s going fast,” he said of his merchandise, “so you might want to get here quickly – before it’s gone.”