After 20 years Grace Jewelers begins a new chapter

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News
David Ruland worked in Black Mountain business Grace Jewelers for 20 years before retiring in February.

There was no way to know what the future would hold when David Ruland first opened his Black Mountain business. He envisioned operating a store that would not only offer goods and services, but enrich the community as well. 

Two decades later, as he retires from the family business and turns it over to his son Nathaniel, he couldn't have scripted it any better.

"It was my hope and prayer that Grace Jewelers would be an asset to Black Mountain," David said of the full service jewelry store he opened on West State Street in 1999. "It was modest to begin with and we grew from there."

David began his career as a jeweler in Hendersonville, where he worked for nearly 20 years. 

"It found me," he said of his career path. "I didn't have an internal drive to become a jeweler or retailer, I have a degree in education from University of North Carolina and I taught for several years in Charlotte."

He moved with his wife Kirby to her native Asheville in the late 1970s and was approached about filling an open position in a jewelry store. He quickly discovered he had an aptitude for the work. 

"They sent me to some schools to learn more about the hands-on aspects of metal and goldsmith work, and working with gems," he said. "The lion's share of my work at that point was more behind the scenes, and not really on the sales floor."

When David decided to branch out on his own, he found a small space adjacent to the former home of Song of the Wood, where his wife was working at the time. 

"I remember the first day I opened the store in Black Mountain, you always wonder if you build it, will they come," he said. "I opened the door and a customer came in and wanted a battery for his watch. I put the battery in and after he left I was floating on the clouds."

Nine years later, Grace was ready to expand.

Nathaniel Ruland stands next to a framed photo of his father David, who founded Grace Jewelers in 1999. David retired in February and Nathaniel took over the family business.

"We really liked the old location, but we just outgrew it," he said. "I began to consider the long-range future of the business, being in Black Mountain and wanting to be a part of this community and that building made a lot of sense."

The interior was remodeled and improvements were made to the exterior of the building before Grace moved in. A few years later, David made another key decision that would impact the future of his business.

Nathaniel was introduced to the jewelry business by his father as a child.

"I started working with him as a teenager," Nathaniel said. 

After attending college and seminary, Nathaniel taught at Montreat College for a couple of semesters. 

"Then my dad had a nerve injury and lost a lot of the use of his right hand," Nathaniel said. "I came in to help out, part-time, about six years ago."

David quickly found his son to be a valuable addition to the business. 

"He was really invested," David said. "Nathaniel has always been more of a business man than I'll ever be. We really complement one another."

Nathaniel developed an interest in the design aspect of the jewelry business.

"I realized that I really loved that part of the business," he said. "I realized that a big part of my job could be sitting down with people and drawing custom pieces for them and making their vision a reality."

Grace developed its own signature line of jewelry, which remains popular to this day, according to Nathaniel.

"My job is to make every day a special occasion for the people who come in and see us," he said. "It's not like other sales, jewelry is all about stories and our customers are including us in their life stories."

Spending time with customers who are often celebrating a momentous event in their lives, has made David a "big part of the community," his son said. 

"He set out to start a business that would benefit this community," Nathaniel said of David. "It was one of his founding principles and I'm proud of the opportunity he's given me."

As he prepares to spend his retirement years reading his Bible and playing golf, David is optimistic about the future of Grace Jewelers. 

"I am so proud of him," he said of his son. "I'm amazed by the work he's done and I know he's going to keep doing a fantastic job."