Iron Heritage Is Gem at Bruno Fine Jewelers
MERCER, Pa. – Longtime jeweler Larry Bruno wanted to find a new site for his store, Bruno Fine Jewelers, a little more than a decade ago. He directed his real estate agent to find a “unique property.”
Bruno got that in spades – a location that not only has a picturesque gorge but a source of raw material for a distinctive line of jewelry that incorporates the industrial heritage of Mercer County, Pa.
The Ironmaster’s Gem line offers jewelry made from slag, the waste smelting produces, at the site of the Springfield Iron Furnace in Mercer.
Bruno had operated his store in Hermitage 28 years before moving his shop in 2009 to the site just off U.S. Route 19. In response to Bruno’s request, the real estate agent asked, “How would you like a waterfall?” Bruno recalls.
The jewelry store – also known as “Diamonds by the Waterfall” – is situated on seven acres at the rim of the Scollard Run gorge, overlooking a stream and waterfall.
It rests above the site of the Springfield Iron Furnace, the oldest in Mercer County, in production from 1837 to 1862. And it is where the late John White, an archeology professor and department chairman at Youngstown State University, initiated an excavation in 2007.
When he first bought the property, Bruno recalls, White asked him if he could continue the dig.
White and his students uncovered many artifacts, including a blacksmith’s fireplace that still stands at the site.
“We found a lot of stuff,” including iron ingots and tools, says Debbie Zetts of Struthers, who participated in several of White’s digs, including the Springfield furnace. The dig turned up lots of slag, the silicon-based byproduct of smelting.
“Some of it was just good-looking,” Bruno recalls. As a jeweler, he considered the possibilities and sent pieces out to be cut into smaller pieces of regular shapes he could work with and polish to be mounted in jewelry.
Pictured: The Ironmaster’s Gem line at Bruno Fine Jewelers is made of polished slag, homage to the area’s industrial history.
Once the pieces of slag were returned, Bruno’s goldsmiths and silversmiths mounted the gemstones. Ironmaster’s Gem is “a great side business for us,” the storeowner says, drawing customers not only from Mercer County but Youngstown and Pittsburgh as well.
“It’s very popular. Women and men like this, and they like that it’s local,” he says. “It’s like buying something that’s historically significant.”
“It’s amazing that he makes jewelry out of it,” Zetts says.
The jewelry store itself has incorporated antique pieces. The fireplace features a mantle, originally in an Ohio tavern, that is more than 200 years old, he says. The oak doors at the entrance came from a castle in Belgium.
“They’re acquirable today because antiques today have gone down in value,” Bruno says.
The waterfall and gorge that the jewelry store overlooks are a popular backdrop for customers to take selfies or have photos taken of themselves, Bruno says. In August 2014, trade publication Instore recognized Bruno’s as one of “America’s coolest jewelry stores.”
Bruno’s Fine Jewelers continues to draw from the customer base the storeowner says he built in Hermitage. Its proximity to the Grove City outlets provides traffic as well, “which attracts so many people from all over, just millions,” the storeowner says.
“We do our own jewelry,” Bruno says. “People like it that their jewelry work isn’t all sent out.”
Pictured: Larry Bruno moved his jewelry store, Bruno Fine Jewelers, to the site of the Springfield Iron Furnace in 2009.
Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.