Foster Jewelry has been in central Illinois for 67 years, but its 95-year-old owner is not showing any signs of slowing down.
With an eye loop attached to his glasses, owner Ed Foster is able to detect the finest details in the jewelry brought into his store.
“When you go to school, this is what you get,” Foster said of the tool.
Foster graduated from the jewelry and watchmaking program at Bradley University in 1950. He opened the jewelry store first in Eureka in 1951. In 1959, the store came to the Washington Square. Foster Jewelry has been at its current location at 106 N. Main St., Washington, Ill. since 1971.
But the history of the store starts first with Foster. He first learned about the trade from his grandfather, a Swiss clockmaker from the Tyrolean Alps. Foster said he originally learned “the old way” from his grandfather.
Foster shrugs off working at his age of 95. “What else is there to do? I’m too young to retire,” he said.
Today, his son, Steve, works with him in the store.
Foster has seen a wide range of jewelry over the years, from watches with self-winding calendars to a railroad watch. Foster said that a railroad man brought in the watch, which wasn’t working.
“He didn’t want to fix it,” Foster said. “He just wanted to trade.”
Foster took the trade for the watch. Once he took it apart, cleaned it and put it back together, the watch started working and has kept working since.
“Whatever was wrong with it, I don’t know what it was,” Foster said.
The variety has only increased in what gets brought in to Foster. He said that a lot of people now buy jewelry on the internet.
“You don’t know what you’re getting,” he said.
Once a customer brings in jewelry, Foster can use testers on it. One woman brought in a jewelry piece where testers showed that one stone was a cubic zirconia, the infamous fake diamond. Another stone was a moissanite. Foster said that someone took out the real diamonds before it was sold to the woman. But he understands how people get dubbed.
“It’s really hard to detect unless you have the right equipment,” he said.
Foster was twice a veteran - first in World War II and then in the Korean War. Foster Jewelry now offers a military discount at the store.
Another current store feature is the brand-new Seiko Melodies in Motions clocks that line the wall. Foster said they set the clocks’ chimes to go off 15 minutes apart from each other. “Every 15 minutes, we get music,” he said.
Foster said that the store tries hard to keep up with the newer watches that come in.
“The new ones aren’t watches,” Foster said. “They’re computers.”
Still, Foster tries to consult his customers with what to do with their broken watches.
“I have an expression,” Foster said. “It’s ‘We try harder.’”
In spite of his time in school, the new pieces surely bring new issues.
“Everyday I pass the test in here,” Foster said.