Originally created 08/22/06

History's in the ticking



Many businesses have left downtown Augusta since Furman Jewelers opened its doors on Eighth Street in 1952, but the current store owners have stayed true to its founder's vision and remained in the central business district.

Kent Strickland owns the business with his wife, Fran, daughter of the late founder, J. Lester Furman. Mr. Strickland said he believes there's a place for an old retailer in downtown Augusta's ongoing revival.

"We've had plenty of opportunities to go out to Martinez and Evans, and a lot of my customers fussed at me because I wouldn't move out of downtown," Mr. Strickland said. "We have an excellent history here in Augusta; that's why we refuse to move. Downtown's coming back."

Customers can view a large selection of diamond rings and necklaces at the 212 Eighth St. store, but the business specializes in jewelry repair and the sale of clocks and watches.

Customers can expect to be greeted by the melodies of numerous mantel, grandfather and cuckoo clocks.

Some of the more unusual clocks include an Augusta National Golf Club-inspired display. There's also a clock featuring two horses bounding over a steeplechase jump and a showroom display cabinet containing brass clocks shaped like a Victrola phonograph, a globe and an American flag.

Mr. Strickland said that he often hears interesting stories from customers who bring their clocks in for maintenance.

"That's one of the few things that they'll tell me," Mr. Furman said while winding a 7-foot golden oak Bulova Imperial. "'I can remember my mama or grandmother winding it or my grandfather winding it on the mantel. That was their job and nobody else's.'"

Many of the clocks also have significant historical value, Mr. Furman said.

"The old 1700s English clocks are just fascinating pieces of history," Mr. Furman said. "If they could just talk it would be amazing. It's just a lot of history that you get to work on and keep going down the road for generations."

Visiting the store, longtime customer Eugene Wolfe spoke fondly of J. Lester Furman and said he well remembers the earliest years of his business venture.

"After he went in business, I knew he was available for anything you ever needed," Mr. Wolfe said.

Mr. Strickland said such close customer friendships have always been a significant characteristic of Furman Jewelers.

"That's the best reward about this type of business," he said. "It's a people business, and you get to meet a lot of nice people."

Mrs. Strickland recalled spending her youth in the shop around a father who "loved to tinker."

"I came down here every day after school," she said. "This is where I grew up."

Today, the couple use the same tools that J. Lester Furman used to repair teething gears, mainsprings and other mechanisms.

"A lot of these tools are special tools - especially in the watch-repair business," Mr. Strickland said. "You just can't pick up the phone and find them anymore."

A third-generation family member, son-in-law Chad Bearden, has expressed an interest in one day operating the business. The couple hopes he will because finding people with horologic experience is rare.

"The watch and clock repair business is a dying art," Mr. Strickland said. "We are few and far between."

Reach Nathan Dickinson at (706) 828-3904 or nathan.dickinson@augustachronicle.com.