Wilson Diamonds: a Provo staple’s unconventional story

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BYU students Richard Wilson and Keith Wilson sell their first diamond. Founded in 1974, Wilson Diamonds has been a popular Provo destination to go engagement ring shopping. (Photo courtesy of Wilson Diamonds)

From selling diamonds out of their small Provo apartment to being the most successful diamond jeweler in Utah County, Wilson Diamonds has a unique history.

BYU students Richard and Keith Wilson

“We were two of the most unlikely people to ever be in the diamond business,” Richard Wilson said.

Richard and Keith Wilson came from a big family of 10 kids living off a government salary in Ridgecrest, California. Richard Wilson said they had not grown up with much and referred to his family as “do-it-yourself” kind of people.

Richard Wilson served a mission in Belgium for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and upon returning, attended BYU with his brother Keith Wilson.

Both brothers were in rigorous undergrad programs and knew they did not have time for 20-hour-a-week jobs. However, like any college student, Richard Wilson said they needed money and for them, their solution was to find something they could sell.

“I just mentioned to Keith that I met a guy on my mission that sells diamonds and Keith said, ‘Oh, all kinds of people need diamonds here at BYU. Let’s send him some money and see what happens,'” Richard Wilson shared.

Richard Wilson did not give it another thought after talking with his brother. They sent $300 to Belgium and the man sent back some small diamonds.

Richard and Keith Wilson began the process of valuing those diamonds at various local jewelers and learned how to grade them.

It was during this time they learned there was a lot of room in Provo for someone to come in and give students a better price on their diamonds.

Running the shop out of their house

In 1974, the brothers began selling their diamonds from the front room of their house in Provo.

“The first diamond we bought, one of them we bought for $200, we sold it for $220 and we were thinking, ‘Wow, we just made $10 an hour’ when the prevailing wage at the time was $1.85,” Richard Wilson said.

Richard Wilson cuts a diamond in New York during the early years of Wilson Diamonds. Founded in 1974, Wilson Diamonds has been a popular Provo destination to go engagement ring shopping. (Photo courtesy of Wilson Diamonds)

Their diamond business quickly started to grow as people began to realize the Wilson’s charged half of what the other stores do. “Even though we weren’t buying very well, we were marking up so little that it was still way less money for the students,” Richard Wilson said.

Though the brothers’ booming business was popular among students, it was not as popular among other jewelry stores. According to the Wilsons, these jewelry stores began raising the price of their rings.

“We realized right away that we had to get rings,” Richard Wilson said.

The biggest ring manufacturer at the time was Feature Ring, and the Wilson brothers were able to get an appointment with a California representative. “This was actually in the middle of my honeymoon for which my wife will have eternal leverage,” Richard Wilson said.

During the appointment, the brothers discovered they needed to pick out $25,000 worth of rings in order for Feature Ring to open an account with them, but they only had $3,500 in the bank at the time.

The brothers later went to the bank to get a $25,000 line of credit, but quickly realized they needed some sort of collateral. They contacted everyone they knew and asked for as much money as they could give for a week.

“People gave us tuition money, they gave us grocery money, they gave us rent money and we raised the $25,000,” Richard Wilson said. They were able to secure the line of credit, get the rings, give the people their money back and now had to sell the rings within six weeks in order to make back the $25,000, which they did.

Richard Wilson goes into detail about what happened during the essential Feature Ring appointment. Founded in 1974, Wilson Diamonds has been a popular Provo destination to go engagement ring shopping. (Made in Canva by Anna Hair)

Wilson Diamonds continues to grow

Having the rings in store put Wilson Diamonds on the map. In 1980, they opened their first office in southern Provo on 900 East.

The first Wilson Diamonds office in Provo, Utah is located where Little Caesars now resides on 900 East. Founded in 1974, Wilson Diamonds has been a popular Provo destination to go engagement ring shopping. (Courtesy of Wilson Diamonds)

The business continued to grow and by the time Richard Wilson graduated and went on to get his master’s degree, they had 10 employees. “I decided at that point that I am not going to start over, I am going to be a jeweler,” Richard Wilson said.

Keith Wilson said he decided to step away from a full time role at Wilson Diamonds to pursue his dream of being a religion teacher.

In 1983, Wilson Diamonds moved to University Place Mall where they continued to do business.

Richard Wilson said the move was a big mistake. “The only people that move to the mall are the people that can’t generate their own business,” he said. “They are counting on the mall to bring them business,” Richard Wilson said.

They did not realize that Wilson Diamonds generated all its own business, Richard Wilson said.

The Wilson Diamond office in the University mall stayed at this location for 20 years. Founded in 1974, Wilson Diamonds has been a popular Provo destination to go engagement ring shopping. (Courtesy of Wilson Diamonds)

Things really started to take off in 2002 when they got out of the mall and moved to their current location on the corner of University Parkway and 2230 N. in Provo.

Richard Wilson said when Wilson Diamonds first started there were 31 retail jewelry stores in town and now there are only five retail jewelry stores.

The current Wilson Diamonds store has been at this location since 2002. Founded in 1974, Wilson Diamonds has been a popular Provo destination to go engagement ring shopping. (Anna Hair)

“We weren’t trained in anything in jewelry and that was more of a help than anything because we didn’t do things the way other jewelers did them. We showed people how to tell quality and invited them to compare,” Richard Wilson said.

Wilson Diamonds customer McKenzie Anderson said, “For those of us that didn’t know a ton about diamonds, they really teach you a ton about what your diamond is.”

Once the ring is purchased, they then update the customer frequently on the various stages of ring development.

“I’m a risk taker and I can kind of shoot more from the hip. I would have been a good gambler. Richard is more organization and more security minded, more analytical and thinks things through a lot,” Keith Wilson said.

According to the Wilson brothers, the balance of these two opposing personalities contributed to what Wilson Diamonds is today.

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