Kristine’s climbed the ranks from receptionist to president and store manager since she joined the custom fine jeweler twenty years ago
By Renee Ambroso | Photography by John Michael Simpson
There was a classified ad in a newspaper, Kristine Wylie recalls, maybe in The Herald-Sun or The News & Observer, for a part-time receptionist position at a jewelry store. It was 2003, and Kristine had recently transferred to N.C. State University to study communications after earning her associate degree from Durham Technical Community College. “I had just gotten laid off from working as a receptionist at an IT recruiting firm [that closed],” Kristine remembers. “I made the most out of unplanned events that seemed devastating at the time.”
Kristine got the job at Jewelsmith and has worked at the custom fine jeweler ever since.
Having spent most of her life in the Bull City (she’s a Riverside High School grad who frequents nostalgic favorites like Hope Valley Diner), Kristine is proud to work at a homegrown business that, as she puts it, “is one of Durham’s original cool kids.”
She’s spent the past two decades receiving a hands-on education in jewelry manufacturing and gemology, photography, marketing, accounting and just about any other task that the business needed doing. “ The best way to learn was to be immersed in it and learn from my colleagues, most of whom had been at Jewelsmith for 10 or 15 years already,” Kristine says.
Jewelsmith’s founder, Linda McGill, was often Kristine’s cheerleader as she took on roles of increasing authority. “[Linda] was like my second mom because I feel like I grew up [at Jewelsmith] … and I learned a lot from her,” Kristine says.
Linda died in 2021 after a battle with cancer, but she had appointed Kristine as Jewelsmith’s president the year prior. After Linda’s passing, Kristine found herself making big decisions for the business and overseeing all day-to-day operations at the Erwin Square showroom and workshop.
“My biggest achievement is moving up the ranks, [having] started with hardly any responsibilities to now being one of the owners,” Kristine says. “[Linda left] the store to me and five other employees.“
“Another huge achievement is getting through the pandemic unscathed,” she says. The storefront was closed to the public, of course, during those early months of 2020, the same year of Linda’s diagnosis. They operated with a skeleton crew of just five employees allowed inside at any one time in order to keep production from stalling completely. Kristine was there daily, hoping to keep the ship afloat “so Linda had something to come back to,” she says.
Despite the difficulties of those months, Kristine led Jewelsmith to record-breaking sales last year. “I’m really proud of that,” she says, “Especially because of us losing Linda and having to navigate such uncertainty.”
Kristine’s always relied on simple hard work to pull through the rocky moments. She points to a Michelle Obama quote that’s printed on her weekly planner – where she still pencils in meetings and tasks the old-fashioned way – that says, “The only limits for the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work hard for them.”
It was Linda who convinced Kristine to hire an assistant to help with her workload when she noticed her staying late most evenings. “I did work very hard on my own,” Kristine says, “but the reason I’ve also achieved so much in my career here is because of the team that I work with.”