From graduations and engagements to birthdays and anniversaries, meaningful life celebrations for generations of Saultites have started with a trip to Savoy’s Jewellers.
Working in the family business from a young age, Nicholas Rosset has helped guide many a customer through the process of choosing the perfect gift or memento for a loved one.
The smiles on their faces as they leave the store with a new engagement ring or anniversary pendant in tow gives him the most satisfaction on the job.
“That’s the main reason why I love this industry,” said Rosset, who co-owns the business with his cousin, Ryan.
“It’s not just things of necessity. You’re coming in because it’s a happy time, and it’s a marker of an important milestone. It’s almost always a positive experience with everybody coming in.”
This year, the business will observe an important milestone of its own — 70 years in operation.
A downtown staple since 1952, the Savoy’s name has become synonymous with quality jewellery and personalized customer service.
The business carries a range of jewellery and gifts; offers related services like cleaning, repair, and appraisals; and buys gold, all from two locations.
Yet it all began with just four rings, 16 watches, and a meagre $200 worth of jewellery.
That’s what John Anthoine and Edmond Rosset started with after immigrating to Canada seven decades ago to make a better life for themselves.
The pair had grown up together in Haute-Savoie in France, a small village on the Swiss-Italian border, when they decided to move to Canada and go into business together, opening their first location on Queen Street.
By the late 1970s, Edmond’s twin sons — Rodger and Richard — had joined their father in the business. As the enterprise grew, Savoy’s opened two more locations, one in the Station Mall along the Sault waterfront and one in Cambrian Mall in the central part of the city, although the latter location closed a number of years ago.
Rosset got his first taste of the business as a kid, tailing along with his dad, Richard, on weekends where he would be given small jobs to keep busy.
“Saturday mornings I would come to work with my dad and wash the windows out in the front and hose down the front of the sidewalk, and do cleanup tasks like that, probably until about 10 or 10:30 in the morning,” he said. “And then my mom would come and pick me up.”
As he matured, he moved to the back of the store where he’d sit alongside the jewellers to learn the skill of engraving, which was done with the help of a semi-mechanical machine that applied the stencils for the designs.
By the time he reached high school, Rosset had mastered the craft, and he’d catch the city bus after class, two or three days a week, to work in the store.
It wasn’t a surprise then, that Rosset decided to continue in the business after graduating, even though his father tried to persuade him to follow a different path.
“I was always doing it anyways,” Rosset laughed, about his desire to follow in the family business. “I don’t think I really seriously gave any consideration to anything else.”
Rosset earned his diploma in jewellery and metals from Georgian College in Barrie, followed by his goldsmithing certification, before moving to California to study gemology at the Gemological Institute of America. He’s additionally earned the title of Master Valuer, which enables him to specialize in valuing jewellery for appraisals.
By contrast, his cousin Ryan took a more circuitous route to the family business, working a number of years as a carpenter before deciding to switch gears.
After completing his studies in gemology and goldsmithing, Ryan joined Savoy's full-time as a partner in 2013, and the pair purchased the business from their fathers in 2018.
Rosset oversees the flagship store on Queen Street where he’s focused on the administrative and repairs end of the business, while Ryan manages the Station Mall location where he concentrates on sales and customer service.
Having his cousin join him in the business has been exciting, Rosset said.
“I hadn’t worked with Ryan before, but it’s turned out to be a great partnership,” he said. “My weaknesses are his strengths and vice versa, so we make a good team.”
Like other retail businesses, Savoy’s has faced its share of challenges over the decades — economic recessions, staffing shortages, and the advent of online shopping among them.
But Savoy’s has set itself apart by providing personalized, one-on-one service, Rosset said, whether it’s helping a customer find the right fit or providing a quick turnaround on the repair of a beloved heirloom.
Purchasing jewellery tends to be an “emotional” experience, he noted, and customers seem to feel more at ease when there’s an expert on hand who can answer questions and provide guidance, especially with pricier purchases, such as engagement rings.
“Diamonds are something not a lot of people are experts in, so in-person knowledge and the lesson that you get coming in to speak with us is what keeps us relevant against something like an online competition,” he said.
Since the cousins took over the business, they’ve pushed to keep abreast of industry trends, in both the equipment they use and their inventory.
Savoy’s is equipped with laser welders and engravers for fine-detail work, uses computerized point-of-sale and inventory systems, and maintains an active website and social media presence to engage customers.
Nicholas and Ryan travel annually to Las Vegas to attend the JCK jewellery show — the largest North American event of its kind — to familiarize themselves with new brands and trends and bring them back to the Sault.
When COVID-19 arrived in March 2020, the cousins were initially worried about how the business would fare.
Provincial restrictions shut down most non-essential retail in the early days of the pandemic, and later, as people tightened their pocketbooks, the Rossets questioned whether non-essential items like jewellery would be the first luxuries to go.
Surprisingly, Rosset said, they found the opposite to be true.
“As things played out, people were saving a lot of money not going out for dinner, not travelling, and then getting bored at home,” he said.
“So we really ramped up our social media and we found it was really bringing a lot of pleasure to people being able to treat themselves to something new and nice.”
Big, lavish weddings were cancelled, but couples were still getting engaged, celebrating anniversaries and birthdays — and coming to Savoy’s to commemorate them, he noted.
Though they held off on taking in repair work, Savoy’s introduced delivery and curbside pickup to give customers safe shopping options, and the public responded.
“We have great staff and everybody worked really hard. We were worried, but it worked out.”
Beyond COVID, Savoy’s staff deserves the bulk of the credit for the company’s success over the years, Rosset said.
So many began their careers there as teens and stayed through to retirement; even many of the current 23 employees have worked there for 20 or more years.
It’s moving to know they’re happy to work at Savoy’s, Rosset said, but it also provides a great experience for customers who establish long-term relationships with those behind the counter.
“A lot of people remember the experience of buying these markers of a particular milestone,” Rosset said. “It’s just important to have a good relationship with the people you’re working with.”
This article is one in a series focused on the rich histories, journeys and long-term successes of generational businesses in Northern Ontario.