Written by Arthur Treff | Photos by Linda D. Cluxton & Anthony Harden
The young boy sits at a workbench next to his dad, mesmerized by the tools, sights and sounds. He is amazed by what he sees: pieces of shiny metal are cut into wonderful shapes and neatly arranged, then…
A torch pops to life, the soft hissing pushes out the prettiest multicolored flame, which turns the metal to tiny, silver puddles: it’s Magic! His Dad, Paul, moves the torch until all the pieces have been mysteriously joined together. The lad giggles his delight.
He loves coming to the shop with dad; it’s never boring, because most days, he is encouraged to pick up a tool and work on his own. His name is Michael Greene, and this scene took place back in 1959.
Little did Michael know that he would become a Registered Jeweler, a Graduate Gemologist (Gemological Institute of America), a Certified Gemologist and a Certified Gemologist Appraiser (American Gem Society).
Nor could he foretell that by 2012 he would be in charge of his father’s business: Wick and Greene Jewelers, a store that has been creating, selling and repairing custom jewelry for the citizens of Asheville since 1926. Michael Greene is the third generation of jewelers in the family business, but to understand the magnitude of that statement, the story needs to be told from the very beginning.
In 1926, two craftsmen from Tiffany & Co. left New York City to become self-employed in Asheville. One was a talented silversmith named Paul Greene; the other was an enamelist, engraver and jeweler named Ernie Wick. They opened separate shops in the booming little city, where retail space on Haywood Street commanded identical rates to New York’s 5th Avenue, but with a better quality of life.
While Paul hammered and soldered silver into wedding gifts and sports trophies, his son, Paul, Jr., sat beside him, absorbing the craft. Years later, the boy was a young man of 14 when his dad, the silversmith, died suddenly.
Driven by the need to earn a living and influenced by his love of working with silver, Paul, Jr., offered himself as an apprentice to Ernie Wick, the jeweler across town. Under Mr. Wick’s tutelage the young man improved his silversmithing skills and learned jewelry fabrication and repair. He also mastered the extremely demanding craft of hand engraving. By 1953, Paul Greene, Jr., became a full partner in a new venture: Wick and Greene Jewelers. Six years later, Ernie Wick died, but Paul and his wife, Lucia, decided to carry on, retaining Wick alongside Greene on the storefront sign. “Paul had good hands,” says Lucia Greene, “he could fix anything. Folks brought him damaged heirlooms and he could revive them, whether it was straightening a dent in a silver teapot or resetting a diamond.”
Lucia and Paul had a son named Michael, the boy who appeared in the beginning of this story. By age seven, other boys his age were building airplane models, but Michael made jewelry…the Greene apples, it seems, never fall far from the tree.
In his Dad’s shop, young Michael discovered WWII insignia that Wick and Greene had used to fashion military jewelry during the war. He had a perfectly boyish idea: he’d make his own line of military rings for his friends. Yes, if you were lucky enough to ‘play army’ with Michael Greene, you were given a silver ring bearing the insignia of the particular branch of the military you represented.
Michael served a childhood apprenticeship to his father, and in 1975 became a full partner alongside his mom and dad.
In 1986 the store was moved into their current location at 121 Patton Ave. Paul Jr. and his family grew the jewelry store business with hard work, dedication and a desire to be better every day. The store is open six days a week, (seven during holidays) and if the lights are on, the Greene family is there.
On November 6, 2011 Paul Greene Jr., the second-generation Greene Jeweler, passed away due to mesothelioma. Sixty-nine of his 83 years were spent working the craft learned from his father and Mr. Wick. True to his hardworking nature, Paul was riding his motorcycle and working in the store two weeks before he passed.
Paul made countless friends and contributed lavishly to many local charities during his lifetime. It was no surprise to anyone that his funeral became an outpouring of community gratitude; it seemed as though every soul he touched attended. His legacy of hard work and customer commitment lives on through the extended Greene family and their loyal employees.
(article continues on page 2 and more photographs are at the end)