By Kaitlin Hill
Photos by Callie Broaddus
Tucked away down South Madison Street is Thos. Hays and Son Jewelers, a Middleburg mainstay for fine jewelry retail and repair. The 18th century house, complete with original fireplace, is unassuming and intimate, but don’t let the modest space fool you. Inside you will find a magnificent collection that would dazzle even Holly Golightly and a proprietor with an impressive skill set and inviting personality.
Thomas Hays’ journey to jewelry is perhaps a little unconventional. He was born and raised in Washington, D.C., where he learned the ins and outs of running a boutique at his family’s Mexican import shop, The Phoenix, which still stands today in Georgetown. Though he had an early exposure to proprietorship and customer service, he would walk a variety of career paths before becoming a self-taught jeweler and business owner.
He moved to New York for college and spent a decade there, working as a handyman, taxi-driver and an occupational therapist. Interestingly, it was through occupational therapy that he was first introduced to jewelry production and design.
He remembers, “The other occupational therapists at this hospital were teaching drug addicts how to make silver jewelry, which is an odd thing to even think!”
He adds, “But I was drawn to them; I was drawn to the field, and I would spend my lunch hour looking over their shoulders. I vowed that when I settled down, I would start the process of becoming a jeweler.”
With little instruction and no classic training, Hays taught himself the basics of jewelry design, a skill he’s mastered over the past 40-some years. He explains that he started, “first with silver jewelry for quite a while, and then I moved into gold and platinum. It was a labor of love…I basically learned as I went.”
After learning the technique, Hays focused on another part of that process, finding a place for his life as a jeweler to begin. He and his first wife packed up and, “headed out for one of those amazing adventures, not knowing where it was going to end up.”
He jokes, “I spent a year looking for Middleburg in 1972. My first wife and I lived in a van with our Siamese cat, and we drove through Middleburg one day. As we drove through this little town, we said, ‘This looks like it!’”
A local realtor showed him the storefront and a farmhouse to rent nearby.
Thos. Hays and Son Jewelers opened in 1972, named for owner Thomas Hays and his very young son. “The ‘and son’ is a funny story,” Hays says with a laugh. “I put the ‘and son’ on the masthead when he was 3. It was fun because those who knew me knew I had a very young child.”
And though the shop was new, Hays says, “I really wanted to be able to establish myself and give the impression that the shop had been here for a very long time, even a couple of generations.”
It began as a boutique, but it didn’t take off immediately. Hays recalls in the early days, the people of Middleburg were not big consumers. “They spent a lot of money on horses and parties, but they didn’t consume an awful lot of material things,” he says.
However, as the business evolved into a jewelry shop, the town changed, too; many of the new crowd were tech executives. “They bought up these big estates and kept them intact, which was wonderful,” he says. “And they were consumers, whereas the generation before them had not been. And that’s when my business took off.”
Forty-six years later the business continues to thrive, although his son never joined the family business, with the patronage of locals and regulars coming from the District and Northern Virginia as well. Hays believes part of the appeal is his variety. He fills his display cases and stocks his shelves with an alluring blend of contemporary and estate jewelry, silver and antique clocks. “It’s an interesting mix that you rarely see in a jewelry business; it has its own personality,” he says.
His design and repair skills are also a big draw. He often agrees to take on tasks other jewelers might not, restoring family heirlooms or designing custom pieces from scratch. He even mixes his own rose gold.
“My skills allow me to produce pretty much anything in the field,” says Hays.
Above all, it is Hays’ obvious affection for his craft and his warm personality that makes him a success story. When asked about his favorite part of the business, he lists every aspect from customer interaction to private moments of creativity. He even describes buying trips as “like Christmas morning.”
Hays concludes, “You have to have a personality to draw people to you. You do whatever you can to make people happy,” which he certainly does. ML