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August 18, 2010

Polished to perfection

Fifth generation jeweler opened shop in 1955

GREENVILLE — Ernest Odeneal Jr. has been repairing jewelry since the age of 12 and has never once considered pursuing an alternate career path.

“Well, I did think about becoming a lawyer,” he said. “I had lawyers in my family, but I was already a jeweler and was making more money than most starting lawyers were making at the time.”

Odeneal is a fifth generation jeweler and something of a dying breed.

The first jeweler in Odeneal’s family line was William Cayce, 1803-1878, who operated his jewelry store in Franklin, Tenn. He taught his son-in-law, Alexander Odeneal, 1846-1914, the trade and he, in turn, taught his son, William Odeneal, 1871-1937, who eventually opened stores in both Paris, Texas and Dallas.

The fourth generation jeweler was Ernest Odeneal Sr., 1905-1977, who had jewelry stores in both Dallas and Denison, making his son, Ernest Odeneal Jr. the fifth generation jeweler.

Now Odeneal is the watchmaker in Hunt County.

“I started out sweeping the floors of my father’s store in Denison,” said Odeneal. “That was during World War II, when I was about 12. His partner would give me tiny wrist watches to repair and my father gave me old antique pocket watches to learn on. By the time I was out of high school I was a first class watchmaker.”

The Odeneals moved to Greenville in 1953 and opened up Odeneal’s Jewelry in 1955 at 2411 Stonewall, what is now a parking lot.

In 1978 they purchased a building downtown that used to contain Love’s Hat Shop and Narramore’s Shoe Repair and completely remodeled it to suit their needs.

“We’ve seen a lot of changes in our 55 years,” said Jeri Odeneal, Ernest’s wife of 62 years this November. “You used to have a family jeweler like you had a family doctor but that ceased to be.”

Four years prior to that their son, Michael joined Odeneal, becoming the sixth generation jeweler in the Odeneal family. He worked with his father, learning all he had to pass on, until he moved from Greenville in 2003.

Odeneal Jewelry is a “Mom and Pop” operation, along with being the only jeweler downtown. The pair offer personal service with sales and repair in watches and jewelry, all done in-house.

“At one point there were about six jewelry stores downtown and now we’re the only one’s left,” said Jeri. “I think it’s persistence and determination. We enjoy being downtown immensely and look forward to all the changes taking place.”

The Odeneals run the store themselves with very little help from the outside.

“Jeri’s the best employee you could ask for,” said Odeneal. “She’s the secret behind the success of this outfit. She truly is the best there is. I’m the introvert and she’s the extrovert, so it works out well.”

While many ask the Odeneals about retirement, their answer is always the same.

“We have no immediate plans to retire,” said Jeri. “We’ve slowed down a bit since Ernie’s kidney removal in January, but we would miss seeing all our customers and friends too much to retire. Working here gives us a reason to get up and dressed in the morning. What would we do all day?”


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