As the longtime co-owner of Geiss & Sons Jewelers in Greenville, Rose-Marie Geiss can be forgiven for using jewelry terminology when telling a story.
Take the time she met her husband and business partner, Fernando Geiss. It was the late 1980s, and Rose-Marie was busy running her French restaurant Rose-Marie’s Café, when she saw Fernando walk through the door.
It was, she says now, “instant sparkle.”
The couple have now been together for almost as long as Geiss & Sons has been in Greenville. Having just celebrated its 30th anniversary in its Haywood Road location, Geiss & Sons Jewelers has earned its place as a local institution for those looking for their own “instant sparkle” moments.
But the story of Geiss & Sons goes back even further than 30 years — a full 70 years further, to be exact.
A family legacy
One hundred years ago, in 1919, Fernando Geiss’ grandfather opened up the first Geiss jewelry store in Brazil. He had no way of knowing that it would be the start of a family tradition that would go on to span a full century — and expand to a different continent.
It was the whims of political fate that swept the Geiss family into North America. In 1964, Brazilian President Joao Goulart was thrown out of office, in what is now known as the 1964 Brazilian coup d’état. When the military took over the Brazilian government, establishing an authoritarian dictatorship, Fernando Geiss’ father decided it was time to take the chance on a new nation.
Fernando Geiss was just nine years old and spoke not a lick of English when he and his family arrived in the United States.
“It was difficult,” he says now. “We didn’t know anyone, and we didn’t speak the language. It was a major adjustment. But after a couple of years, we fit right in.”
His father quickly made the most of their newfound home, opening the first local Geiss & Sons location in Spartanburg in 1967. Fernando Geiss grew up immersed in the world of jewelry, developing a keen eye for the intricacies of color, cut, clarity and carat. To further expand his knowledge, he spent three years in Pforzheim, Germany, mastering the art of goldsmithing at Goldschmiedeschule (a jewelry school) before coming back to open up his own Geiss & Sons location in Greenville.
That’s when Rose-Marie entered his life.
An immigrant herself, Rose-Marie hails from the French-speaking region of Switzerland around Geneva. And yet here she was in Greenville, South Carolina, running her own restaurant. That enterprising spirit, coupled with a shared love for European culture, drew her and Fernando together. They’ve been working side by side at Geiss & Sons ever since.
But to hear Rose-Marie tell it, the beautiful jewelry that gleams in every corner of the store isn’t what draws her to work each day.“We’re really selling emotions,” she says. “That’s what makes me come into work every day, knowing that we’re going to make somebody happy at a special moment in their lives with a beautiful piece of jewelry that they’ll have forever, and beyond forever even — something to give to their children and grandchildren.”
Not unlike a family business that passes from grandfather to grandson, Rose-Marie hopes each piece of jewelry will stand the test of time, providing an emotion that strengthens with each passing year.
“If you don’t feel that emotion for the jewelry,” she says, “you cannot sell it.”