Long before they were set up on the blind date that would eventually lead to marriage, Gretchen and Gordon Raine were both determined for a life of jewels.
At an early age, Kirkland native Gretchen was first exposed to precious jewels through her grandfather, a local physician who was also amongst the first gemologists to graduate from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). “As a little kid, she played with some of the most rare and beautiful jewels in the world,” Gordon says. Although Gretchen went to college at Washington State University for speech pathology, she quickly returned to her childhood passion. “I always loved stones, so after graduating college, I decided I wanted to go to GIA because I wanted to do something more creative with stones,” Gretchen says.
In the meantime, across the lake, Gordon, a third-generation “Seward Park boy,” grew up in a family with a long tradition of entrepreneurship. But it wasn’t until he started traveling the world that he realized his passion. “In my early 20s, I traveled a lot and I ended up in Southeast Asia, where I got interested in gemstones. Then I came home and went to the GIA and got very interested in diamonds. I thought if I could buy and sell gems I could continue traveling. But I forgot you needed money to buy them first,” Gordon says with a laugh.
In order to make money to buy stones, Gordon started working for a local diamond wholesaler who eventually asked him to take over the business. Gordon was just 23 years old, but he quickly took the opportunity.
A few years later, both with separate jewelry careers underway, Gretchen and Gordon were set up by a friend and soon married. Gretchen, after graduating from GIA, began designing jewelry for a small batch of loyal clients at her own upstairs jewelry salon on the Eastside. Gordon kept gaining experience buying, dealing and designing.
Eventually Gretchen gave up her store and started focusing more on designing for Gordon and his emerging line. As the business progressed, they began manufacturing simple jewelry, stud earrings, tennis bracelets and so on, expanding their wholesale, increasingly elaborate jewelry line that “specializes in finer goods, high-colored goods, well-cut goods, the higher-end market,” Gordon says. “I always like to sell things that I would want to own.”
Upon working closely together, they realized they had different strengths.
“My favorite part is the buying,” Gordon says. “I’m like an addict.” And while buying diamonds might seem like a fairly easy task, Gretchen says the care he takes in choosing stones is second to none.
“He’s really good with numbers and measurements, which is why he’s a great buyer. He [creates] really intricate pieces, and he’s so particular about the diamonds; they are so meticulously coordinated and put together, and you need exact, specific stones to get the look you want,” Gretchen says, pointing to a diamond ribbon bracelet—Gordon’s signature piece—with over 500 diamonds in it as an example.
“Every stone has to be exactly the same otherwise it wouldn’t work. To get that many the same you have to buy about 2,000. But the finished product turns out like cloth because the depths of the stones are the same.”
Both agree that Gretchen’s forte, however, is in perfecting the subtle nuances of jewelry design. “We make a variety of hoop earrings, and most other posts are designed to connect to the top of the earring because it’s easier to design [and manufacture] that way. But what happens when you put it in the ear is it drops down and you see the earhole. Gretchen changed our design though, and we reconfigured everything we do and now we connect it to the bottom,” Gordon says. “It’s picky details; the finer details are everything with good design.” And this is just one example of how she designs with wearability, quality and style in mind. With an eye for detail, she scrutinizes every design, thinking about what will happen when the piece is worn: Will part of it snag on clothing? Will it sit upright in the ear or on the neckline?
The combination of strengths has allowed the Gordon James line to survive 39 years in an ever-changing business, dealing mostly in the wholesale side of the industry, but it also encouraged them to open their first retail store almost two years ago on Main Street in downtown Bellevue. They committed to their first store also in part because they now have help. Their son Matthew Raine followed in his parents’ footsteps, and he is a recent graduate of the GIA. He just recently officially joined in the family business, although he says it’s been in his blood all along.
“I think I kind of knew subconsciously for awhile. My summer jobs were to go down to measure out stones; some kids were mowing lawns, and I was measuring out stones,” he says. Matthew, who also holds a degree in political science from the University of Washington, admits his strengths and interests align more with Gordon’s talents, and he enjoys the buying and measuring aspects of the craft.
But, with all the diamonds, colored stones and precious metals that fill up the display cases of their store and their lives, the one thing that makes all three of the Raines light up the most are the stories of the people who come in to purchase a piece for an anniversary, birthday or, of course, proposal. “I really enjoy the young kids coming in and buying engagement rings,” Gordon says. “That’s a really fun deal for all of us.”
“You get to be a part of people’s milestones,” Matthew says. “Nobody’s buying jewelry because something bad happened, so you get to be a part of it.”
Aside from the three of them, their diamond dynasty extends to Lindsey Patrick, their marketing manager, and a second son, Michael, who is still too young to be hands-on, but who they hope will become the fourth Raine to enter the business.
Diamond Do’s and Don’ts: Advice from the Experts
“It’s important to find somebody you trust and are comfortable with. Ninety-percent of the diamond is the person you’re buying it from. Once that happens, the rest becomes very easy.” -Gordon Raine
“You just have to try something on. A lot of times people will rip out a photo of a ring from a magazine and say that’s what I want. But you have to try it on to see if it really works [for you]. You want [the piece of jewelry] to enhance your specific hand or your body.” -Gretchen Raine