Melba Walton first began selling jewels in the 1960s, from a blanket thrown on the hood of her car. Each weekend she’d park outside the Nashville flea market, where she sold and sifted among the antique treasures and honed her eye for fine quality.
Soon, Melba turned her dealing into a brick-and-mortar business—one that’s commemorating 40 years in 2014.
On January 1, Walton’s Antique and Estate Jewelry launched a year-long celebration for the four successful decades and three generations in the business: Melba, son Michael Walton, and granddaughter Julie Walton are all involved in the daily operations of the family-owned shop on downtown Franklin’s Main Street.
“It’s amazing to be part of such a rich family history and my grandmother’s legacy,” said Julie, general manager at the store. “People who bought jewelry from her 50 years ago still buy from us today, and some of their family members do too.”
Melba first opened Walton’s in Carter’s Court in 1974, where the store gained a reputable name for its pre-1940s antique and estate pieces—an era that remains the foundation for the shop’s merchandise today.
With the help of a real estate friend, Melba had the insight to purchase Walton’s 410 Main Street building in the early ‘80s.
Today, the store is a delightful trove of 1920s diamond and emerald rings, vintage pendants and cameos, and sterling silver flatware and dishes. There are even Civil War-era guns and coins to entertain those not interested in the more dainty items.
In addition to its cultivated collection of fine items (Walton’s just got their hands on a signed Cartier cigarette holder from the Prohibition era), Julie says the store’s jeweler also catches steady repair work.
Julie, who is currently earning a degree from the Gemological Institute of America, remembers growing up in the store: first bouncing in a Johnny Jumper while her dad worked the show room, then playing with the various instruments as a curious child, and later helping around the place as a teenager.
Today, she goes on buying trips with Michael and helps manage the day-to-day side of the business. Oftentimes, she says, that means examining and purchasing jewelry that walks in with people through the Walton’s front door.
“Because we’ve been in business so long, we’ve established a reputation in antique and estate jewelry. People come from all over to sell us items, and my grandmother and dad still have relationships in New York’s diamond district,” she said. “Sometimes, buying is as fun as selling because you hear about the stories behind the pieces.”
When Julie began working at the shop, one of her first objectives was to attract the younger generation. Soon, Walton’s began renovations to open up the store and allow for a more customer-centric experience. The jewelry store also gained a more viable presence on social media, which Julie says has served as a valuable marketing tool.
“We want to convey that everyone is invited to share in the passion of antique jewelry, no matter who you are. We don’t work on commission, and we hope everyone feels comfortable here. Recently we’ve been getting a 30-year face lift!”
Julie says that the family is proud of their deep Franklin roots, and is looking forward to the next four decades on Main Street.
“My grandmother knew that this was going to be a popular spot, and we are right in the heart of it,” she said. “Franklin is such a cool community. Business is booming, and weekends are especially crazy.
“Being in Franklin is the best investment she could have made.”
The jewelry store is open Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
To celebrate 40 years, Walton’s is giving away an antique item each month in 2014. To learn more, or to enter, visit their social media sites and their website at www.waltonsjewelry.com.