A Jewel on Fire in the Motherlode
Tick Tock, Tick Tock…
“My father was a watchmaker and ever since I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by the inner workings of a watch. You could say I’ve got a fixation with time pieces. Old gold watches, with those intricate yet sturdy parts that are keeping time moving forward in the palm of your hand.” Paul Coca, along with his wife Noreen, are the owners of Firefall Jewelers located on main street in Angels camp and in Valley Springs. I recently stopped in to see how business was going and learn a bit more about what they do.
“We don’t sell a lot of watches now, but maybe again in the near future…” Paul explains as I ask him about his craft. “I started my career as an engineer, putting pen to paper as a draftsman, engineer in Silicon valley. I always loved the artistry and math behind design and the process of creating.” Paul explains that it was an obsession with opals that propelled his re-birth into the jewelry world. In 1983 Paul Sr. took a year sabbatical to learn how to cut opals, and that led to a major decision, to switch careers and become a respected goldsmith – trained by a Master European trained goldsmith at the Revere Academy in San Francisco to which he was offered a full scholarship.
As the only American Gem Society members in the 49 corridor, Firefall has a very high GIA rating – similar to that of Harry Winston or Tiffany’s. It’s a lot of hard work to be a GIA graduate and be AGS certified for appraisals, yet both Paul Sr. and his son Paul Jr. have completed the certification and undergone years of training. GIA is a non-profit, educational institution founded in the 1940s and is recognized throughout the diamond industry for its unbiased integrity and strict, comprehensive grading standards. Between the two of them, Paul Sr. and Paul Jr. have modernized the jewelry trade in the Motherlode, forging a marriage between draftsmen design skills and digital creative with the first laser and CAD design in our area in 2006.
“One of the major benefits we have seen of working here in Angels camp, is the amount of foot traffic we get into the store on main street. Tourists come in and connect with our story and our jewelry and buy unique pieces once, then the next year, and every year thereafter. We get a lot of repeat business from being in this location”.
When I ask about his best selling pieces, Paul pauses, “The best selling pieces we have are the heirlooms people bring in to have re-created and reimagined, these are very sentimental memories that we handle with care and love”. He continues on and tells me how they see so many people at the highlight of their dreams, life’s most glorious moments, and then again in times of sorrow, death and loss. “What we are really doing here is ministering to people, helping them however we can. Our desire is to be trusted, calming advisors who can lend a hand in an important moment, the jewelry is just the vehicle to our most important mission. People typically walk into a jewelry store with trepidation, doubt, or concern that they are going to get taken advantage of, our goal is to be warm, honest and 100% professional and to know beyond a doubt the quality of our work so that we have the opportunity to care for our clients.”
As we wrap up our interview, Paul leads me on a tour of the newly remodeled workspace in their new Main Street location and demonstrates some of the tools they use in their creative process. I ask him casually about how the name Firefall came about – assuming it had something to do with the Yosemite phenomenon that occurs annually 2 weeks a year. He stops again as if to see how interested I really am, then opens up to me about a ministry they were involved with in San Jose. “Every Friday night for 11 years, we would play music on the streets of San Jose, ministering to runaways and throwaways, many of whom we “adopted”. To those kids, we were Mama Noreen and Papa Paul. He shares with me a CD of their music, an album of serious quality produced with the help of known artists. As it turns out, Firefall was the name of that ministry. “When we moved our business here, we wanted to carry that mission of caring for people over to what we do in every aspect of our life. It doesn’t just start or stop at home, it’s a life.”
Whether it’s high profile customers who are looking for their high end custom designs (which sell out immediately despite the fact that they employ 2 additional goldsmiths in house), the Citizen watches shining in the case, or whether it’s a surviving relative with a heartfelt desire to carry the memory of their loved one with them in a redesigned piece, the Coca family will go out of their way to make sure that each customer is treated with great respect and appreciation. With so many facets revealing great depth and radiant light from this jewel of a business, there is indeed something more than meets the eye for anyone who walks in the door at Firefall.