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Union St. biz a gem in town full of jewelers

Ikhwan Rim shows off some of his shop's finery to customers. Photo by Joe Anuta
TimesLedger Newspapers

A Flushing business owner has combined classic artisan techniques and modern investment knowledge to keep his shop going strong into its third generation of ownership.

Rim’s Fine Jewelry first opened in Korea in 1929 by Ikhwan Rim’s grandfather, who then taught his father the ropes. The family moved to America about 30 years ago and then settled at the Union Street location about 10 years later.

When Rim took over, the business was one of many in downtown Flushing, but the shop derives its singularity from behind the glimmering counters — and beneath the floor.

In the back of the shop lies a workshop where all of Rim’s custom pieces — which make up about 80 percent of the wares — are produced.

“It’s a little different here,” he said. “Almost everything is made by hand.”

Many of the one-of-a-kind creations are fashioned by carving wax models and casting them in cement. Molten metal can then be poured into the hardened mold to be later polished and shaped.

In one instance, a woman lost a diamond-studded earring that was part of a unique pair. Rim’s jeweler was able to make an exact copy from scratch. Another customer brought in an emerald brooch she had refashioned into a ring.

Down a set of stairs in the back, Rim has a series of machines in the basement that require the operator to have the same skills perfected by his grandfather.

One device melts down gold and other metals, where they are stretched out between two rollers resembling an antique mop squeegee. Eventually, the pieces can be stamped into coins using a hydraulic press.

Aside from bridal and other jewelry sales, Rim has a deal with banks, including JPMorgan Chase, to stamp out commemorative coins made of various metals — a fitting arrangement, since part of his job is tied to investment.

“The jewelry business has been changing,” he said. “A lot of people like to by gold and silver as an asset.”

And that means Rim must keep close tabs on the ebb and flow of the global commodities market. The price of gold, for instance, fluctuates with the stock market and season.

But even when the market remains steady, the prices at Rim’s are not always fixed.

The practice of haggling for deals, common in Korea and China, is the norm at many Flushing locations.

On a recent Monday, a persistent woman argued with Rim for more than 10 minutes over a gold bracelet featuring an emblem of Hello Kitty, a popular cartoon character.

“It’s not really about the money,” he said. “People just want to know they got a good deal.”

In addition to his vocational duties, Rim is also the host of a talk show on Flushing-based Korean Radio Broadcasting and is the president of the Union Street Business Association.

He has worked on a variety of civic issues in the neighborhood and has been vocal about the impending reconstruction of Municipal Lot 1, which will be turned into a large, mixed-use complex, and its effect on the surrounding small businesses.

On any given day, civic activists, other local businessmen or even members of the borough’s political class might be found filtering in and out of the store, which is even further proof that despite the myriad of other jewelry shops in the area, there is nothing quite like Rim’s.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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