By M. Scott Morris
TUPELO – Rare and beautiful things can become commonplace under the right conditions.
Since 1987, JoAnn McCollum has seen her perceptions shift while working at Way-Fil Jewelry in Tupelo.
“When I first got here, I wanted everything,” she said.
Her early days were spent on the sales floor, but her duties changed over the years.
“I do a little bit of it all,” she said. “I buy jewelry. I make it. I break it quite often. And I sell it.”
McCollum didn’t have a design background when she started, but she attended a class in Millington, Tenn., and worked over the years to turn individual diamonds and gemstones, as wells chunks of gold and slivers of silver, into showpieces.
“When you’re dealing with them so much you don’t realize how valuable they are until you get finished and put it on a receipt,” McCollum said. “You think, ‘Oh, that was a massive undertaking because of the gold and the jewels,’ but when you first start, it’s just about putting this stone in the square spot and making it fit.”
Her boss, Patti Thompson, has encouraged employees to wear rings, necklaces and bracelets to show them off to customers who visit the store.
“I remember going through the drive-thru at Wendy’s and handing money to the lady,” McCollum said. “I looked and had all the rings on and the tags were sticking out. I always wondered what went through that lady’s mind. Maybe she thought I was Minnie Pearl’s daughter.”
McCollum has daughters of her own, and they’ve accompanied their mother to work at times. It’s a prime opportunity for them.
“You’ll have them come in and say to some of the others, ‘If Mama asks, I still want that watch,’ or ‘I want those hoop earrings,’” she said. “They put in their orders.”
She’s often on the lookout, too, though not necessarily for jewelry she can buy for herself.
“A lot of times, I’ll see pieces when I’m out and about,” she said. “I’ll put on my glasses and look at it and try to see if there is a trademark on it and wonder how something like that would do in the store.”
Five or six years ago, a necklace with a heart caught her eye. She researched it and called the designer.
“She wanted a humongous opening order. I said no,” said McCollum, who took inspiration from the necklace and gave it her own spin. “I made them with hearts, circles and squares, different from hers but still similar.”
Every once in awhile, customers come in to help McCollum redevelop her appreciation for the value of all the pretty things that surround her.
“We have sold a few four-carat, five-carat and six-carat diamonds. It’s usually a big goal for them. It’s for a 50th anniversary or for their 50th birthday,” she said. “We bring them to the back of the shop and have a toast with champagne. That’s always fun.”