Touch of Silver,
Gold, and Old
by Rachel Perry
photo by George Bredewater
One of the charms of a good jewelry store is the window display. The well-established “A Touch of Silver, Gold and Old” across from Nashville’s Old State Bank Building is no exception. Tiny bejeweled Fabergé eggs hang from a golden tree behind an array of precious rings, inspiring fantasies of exotic riches and royal costumes.
When customers enter the jewelry store at 87 East Main Street they soon realize that the shop is more than displays of rings and earrings. A man sits behind the counter during most days working on various intricate projects. An assortment of tools including small torches, saws, polishing wheels and cleaners can be seen behind his chair. “We run a working jewelry store in addition to a retail jewelry store,” proprietor Al Drake explains. “We are one of the few to actually repair, alter and create original pieces. We also do appraisals.”
Mr. Drake, who designs and makes custom jewelry, has taken courses in gemology, silver, and goldsmithing. But his first experience with the business was modest. After returning to Florida from Viet Nam in the late 1960s, Mr. Drake took jobs in construction work. “I was there in 1970 when the ‘spoon ring fad’ was in full swing,” he recalled. “I decided I could make better pieces than were being sold.” He started making the popular rings, then relocated to Nashville with his wife, Carol, in the early 1970s. “We set up a tent on the sidewalk in front of the ‘Gypsy Pot’ (formerly at Tucker Building on North Van Buren) for a few years.”
The Drakes then moved their shop into Albert’s Mall just west of Nashville for eight years. In 1982, they moved to their present location. Mrs. Drake does all of the display work, ordering and payroll, and the jewelry store now employs five people. Despite the long hours and variable business, Al and Carol Drake seem comfortable with their niche. “I like working for myself,” Mr. Drake confirmed. “If I mess up, it’s my own fault.”
The name of the jewelry store changed as it became more diverse. “We started with the name, ‘A Touch of Silver’ because we couldn’t afford to buy gold,” Mr. Drake smiled. “Later we started selling gold and antique jewelry. I initially started handling antique things because I liked the quality.” The antique jewelry case often contains estate pieces. A number of cameos, carved from conch, onyx and coral reveal the wide variety of sizes and colors available for the enthusiast.
After twenty years in their present location, the Drakes have accumulated loyal clientele who value the quality and customized service that the store provides. The most popular items are rings and earrings, and the most common repair is sizing rings. “Everybody’s fingers change all the time. They gain or lose weight, have babies, calcium settles into their knuckles, etc.” Lately, Mr. Drake has noticed that people are willing to spend more for better quality and fewer pieces. “The general public is more cognizant of quality,” he said.
Despite the fact that the store is open seven days per week in all seasons, some regular visitors to Nashville neglect to stroll up East Main Street while doing their shopping. “After coming two or three times to Nashville, visitors get locked into a pattern with the shops they visit and what part of town they explore. I’ve had people come in who have been coming to Nashville for seven or eight years and tell me they never had come into my store,” Mr. Drake explained.
The Drakes’s interest in their business extends to the town of Nashville as well as the community. For the past seventeen years, “A Touch of Silver, Gold and Old” has sponsored a major jewelry sale in January or February. A certain percentage of all sales during this time are donated to a local charity. This past winter, the money was donated to the Community Foundation since every dollar is matched by the Lilly Foundation. Other years, the money has helped Riley Hospital, Red Cross, the Brown County Library, Habitat for Humanity and the Food Pantry among others. In addition, the winter sales help bring people to town in the ‘off season.’ “My sale has helped winter business in Nashville measurably,” Mr. Drake commented.
The Drakes’s sons, Robert and Joseph, have encouraged their dad’s participation in the local boy scouts. Al Drake has served as a Scout Master and is still active as an Assistant Scout Master, participating in regular camping and canoeing trips and traveling as far as Florida and Ely, Minnesota, to the Boundary Waters. Robert received a Lilly scholarship to Rose Hulman Technical Institute and Joseph is still enrolled in Brown County High School.
Never content with the status quo, Al Drake continues to pursue excellence for his store. He has recently purchased a digital camera to help with appraisals and possible website visuals. “A Touch of Silver, Gold and Old” offers a broad range of quality jewelry styles that can be custom altered, redesigned or modified. Their prices are reasonable and hospitality is a priority. “We try to recognize each and every person and not have people feel as though they are not valued,” Mr. Drake said. The store is open from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily and can be reached by phone at (812) 988-6990 or 800-988-6994.