CHRISTIANSBURG – A childhood hobby of collecting rocks has led a local man to a profitable career.
Todd Ratliff was seven when he found an unusual rock near his Grundy home and picked it up. Now he is surrounded by hundreds of gemstones, and we’re not talking about the ones sitting throughout his store and also downstairs in a glass display.
Ratliff has spent over 20 years playing with rocks of splendid color and clarity as one of the area’s remaining “hometown” jewelers.
“There are not many people still left here locally that do repairs or help create unique treasures for people,” he said during a recent interview. “Most people farms out repairs and send them out, thus creating a long lag time for the customer.”
Initially, Ratliff was destined to handle a rock of a different color. Growing up in the coalfields of Grundy, his father worked in and around the local mines. He took a job in the mines shortly after graduating from college, and spent three years dealing with the black rock.
After a layoff from the coal mine, Ratliff was looking for a new career choice when his sister, Ginger Mumpower, decided to open a jewelry store in Radford.
She persuaded him to come on board as her jeweler and repairman, which he did for over 30 years. His mom also operated a small jewelry store in Grundy, so it might have run in the family.
During that time, he became a master jeweler with a degree as a gemologist.
Ginger’s Jewelry ceased to operate a short time later, and again Ratliff was left scratching his head about employment.
“I thought about selling cars or real estate when my wife encouraged me to start working on jewelry out of our Radford garage. I was blessed that work was good and kept me busy,” he said.
So busy, he thought about branching out and building a place where he could not only work on jewelry but sell it.
He and his wife recently purchased 6.9 acres of property along Peppers Ferry Road in Christiansburg not only for a new shop but a residence. Ratliff opened a separate shop in a 2,200 square feet building and, he said, business has almost tripled since its opening in July.
That garage hobby has now led to Ratliff becoming an artist in his own right as he makes a lot of things from charms to rings.
“It’s a fun thing to take old jewelry and turn them into something new,” he said pointing to the fact that custom work is his niche.
“My wife laughs at me that when I’m not at work I am creating something in my mind or on paper that can be a new piece of jewelry.”
During a recent bout with a severe cold, Ratliff took care of his wife, giving her medicine and while she rested, it was off to the shop to work on jewelry.
“I don’t really do anything else. So in my spare time, I work on jewelry,” he said.
Ratliff has mastered a technique where he can make a wax casting of what someone envisions and then he can turn it into a work of art.
“I have done several original diamond engagements rings and charms from older pieces of jewelry that might have been handed down from one generation to another,” he said.
The master jeweler also takes those older pieces of family treasures and turns them into something new again.
A Blacksburg woman dropped off her grandmother’s engagement ring recently that had been discovered while compiling items from the estate after her death.
“The daughter asked me to fix a missing stone and repair the side of the ring, so I did,” he said.
Now his son, T.J., has joined the family business ,so the idea of master jeweler is being continued to a second generation.
“It’s really nice having him work with me and beside me. He has been around jewelry repair all his life, so it just comes natural I guess,” Ratliff said.
His wife, Jeanie, has also taken time away from her real estate business to handle the financial side of the business so it truly has become a family affair.
Ratliff also finds himself repairing watches and other pieces of jewelry, and his location at 1050 Peppers Ferry Road, Christiansburg, has become a hot spot not only for his business but also his new family residency. He calls it one of the New River Valley’s hidden treasures.
The early years of collecting rocks has now turned into display after display of pretty ones—diamond and other gemstones for sale in his Christiansburg store.