Wes Door, who turns 92 this month, has been a jeweler and inventor for most of his life.
He owned a storefront in downtown Kennewick for many years before moving his jewelry business to his home at 2214 W. Fourth Ave., in Kennewick in 1970.
The Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce recently honored him for being a longtime member of the organization and attending just about every monthly meeting.
But though his business savvy and patented inventions have kept him in business since 1948, this lively senior citizen doesn’t slow down much after he closes his shop for the day.
He’s an avid Tri-City Americans hockey fan, invents jewelry repair gadgets that are sold worldwide, has been a member of the Kennewick Police department’s volunteer CHIPS, or Citizens Helping In Police Service, program for two decades, is a charter member of the local Toastmasters club, and is active in the Richland chapter of the International Folk Dance Club.
And when it comes to gems, Door is considered one by his customers.
Corvin and Dorothy Henderson of Pasco have been Door’s customers for more than 20 years.
“Wes has become like family to us,” Corvin Henderson said. “We’ve tried other jewelers through the years but none compare to the work Wes has done for us. He’s very creative and his designs are unique.”
That creativity was never more apparent to the Hendersons than when they commissioned Door to design a gold nugget necklace. The gold came from a dental bridge Corvin Henderson used to wear but no longer needed.
“The bridge had a lot of gold in it that I didn’t want to waste, so I talked to Wes and he had some ideas so I gave it to him and said, ‘I know what you can do, Wes, and I trust you so go for it,’” said the 81-year-old Corvin Henderson. “And he came up with a necklace that turned out simply awesome.”
Door’s interest in jewelry started when he was a boy growing up in Kennewick. He liked to take watches apart and put them back together.
He got so good at it that he was offered a job as a 13-year-old apprentice at Behrman’s Jewelry store in downtown Kennewick. “My folks weren’t too wild about it because they thought it would interfere with my chores. But Mr. Behrman drove out to our farm and told my parents he’d pay me $3 a week. They decided to let me do it as long as I made sure my chores got done first,” he said.
That first adventure in the jewelry business ended up as a lifelong passion that included several inventions, such as a ring holder tool, a diamond setting machine, and a gem plier, officially called the Wes Gem Plier, which he later patented after a Florida business decided to back the project financially. That year Door and his family moved to Puerto Rico where he perfected the design and manufactured it.
“We spent a year there before moving back to Kennewick,” Door said. “I still get orders for the plier.”
The gem plier was originally sold through the Bulova Watch Company out of New York and it is still found in many jewelry catalogs today. It sells for about $50. The plier has a 10-to-1 ratio of leverage with a fail-safe method that prevents breakage while jewelers ply their expertise repairing and setting gems or designing various pieces of jewelry, he said.
He has created several pieces of jewelry that he considers his favorites, but perhaps the one that’s most dear is a bracelet he made for his daughter, Debra Williamson of Kennewick.
“I am pretty proud of how that piece turned out,” Door said. “The diamond that sits in it can be placed in two different positions, which makes it kind of unique.”
His daughter couldn’t agree more.
“My husband, Ken, helped design the bracelet with my dad, and I just love it,” Williamson said. “I never take it off.”
Wes Door’s son James is a bit of a chip off the old block because he, too, fixes timepieces. He owns JD’s Time Center in downtown Kennewick.
When Door isn’t fixing a watch or designing jewelry, you’ll probably find him dancing with the International Folk Dancers group, which held its annual festival earlier this month.
Door has been thinking about retiring one day, though he has no plans to sit around and do nothing.
“I had a heart valve replacement in April that has slowed me down a bit,” he said. “But I can still find my way around a dance floor.”
He keeps his store open one day a week on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Customers can enter the store from the east side of the house. His workshop and sales counters are set up in the basement. He and his wife, Betty, welcome phone calls any day of the week. The number is 509-582-7772.
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