Tom Eblen: After 82 years, a Lexington gem is closing

Russell Pattie, owner of Miller & Woodward jewelers, changed a watch battery for a customer at his engraving desk. Pattie said he may be the last hand-engraver in Central Kentucky.
Russell Pattie, owner of Miller & Woodward jewelers, changed a watch battery for a customer at his engraving desk. Pattie said he may be the last hand-engraver in Central Kentucky. Herald-Leader

When brothers Russell and Jack Pattie were teenagers in the 1960s, they spent time hanging around and working in their grandfather's jewelry shop in downtown Lexington.

Russell Woodward was an expert engraver, and he wanted to teach his grandsons his craft.

"My grandfather taught him to engrave, and he just took to it," said Jack, 61. "I think I was shown once and was told that radio would be a good field for me to get into."

Jack Pattie went on to become a legend in local radio, mostly as a morning drive-time talk show host on WVLK-AM.

His older brother, Russell, 65, found success in the jewelry business.

A skilled engraver and businessman, Russell Pattie built their grandfather's Miller & Woodward Jewelers into a Lexington institution. But after 50 years in the business, he has decided it is time to retire and close the 82-year-old family store.

The store, now in the Zandale Shopping Center at 2220 Nicholasville Road, will begin a clearance sale Nov. 1. Pattie plans to close after the holidays.

"I'm ready to retire," he said. "The business is fine, but it's not what it used to be. The Internet has changed everything."

Pattie and his wife, Miko, founding director of the Kentucky Virtual Library, look forward to traveling more. They also want to spend more time with their son, daughter and two grandchildren, ages 4 and 7, in Brooklyn, N.Y., where the siblings run an accounting business.

Dennis Meade, a jewelry craftsman who has worked at Miller & Woodward for 33 years, plans to continue making jewelry on his own. He said he didn't want to continue operating the retail store.

Miller & Woodward was always more about making jewelry than selling it.

Russell Woodward and Ben Miller worked together for Lexington jeweler Victor Bogaert before starting their own business in 1931. Their second-floor shop on Main Street mostly did work for other local jewelers, from engraving to making and repairing jewelry.

After a few years, the business moved to another second-floor store, on Short Street near Limestone. (The Patties' father was a printer and not involved in the business.)

Russell Pattie took over from his grandfather and expanded the business to include more retail sales. The business expanded downtown and then moved to Zandale Shopping Center in 1993.

The company has sold new and estate jewelry for years, but custom work has always been a specialty.

Pattie said Miller & Woodward made presentation medals for the Heritage Foundation in Washington that were given to former President Ronald Reagan and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

For years, the company made full-size sterling silver bats that Major League Baseball officials presented as awards. When silver prices skyrocketed in the 1980s, the bats were made of aluminum with thick silver plating.

Pattie said home run king Hank Aaron hit a few balls with one of the silver bats. "That didn't work out too well," he said.

Miller & Woodward also made some pieces for the late George Headley, a renowned jewelry designer and local character who started the Headley-Whitney Museum on Old Frankfort Pike. Pattie didn't want to discuss customers who are still living out of a concern for their privacy.

Pattie said he might be the last jeweler in Central Kentucky who does hand-engraving the way his grandfather taught him. Over the years, he has engraved julep cups presented to former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

"I learned the old-fashioned way," he said. As with many other jewelry-making techniques, that work has been speeded up with electric tools, lasers and other technology.

Pattie said he's ready to retire, but he has enjoyed his business, which served six generations of some Lexington families.

"Fifty years is a long time to be doing anything," he said. "We've had some excellent customers, and getting to know them has been the best part."

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