Bixler’s Jewelers 231 year historic run is still picking up speed. Bixler’s 1785, North America’s oldest jeweler, has been acquired by Devotion with Forevermark®, an American jewelry manufacturer.
The 18th Century
Christian Bixler III was born in Reading, Pennsylvania in 1763. In his teens he studied to become a clockmaker and a silversmith with his father, Christian Bixler II, and apprenticed with master clockmaker, John Keim. After serving in the American Revolutionary War he moved to Easton, Pennsylvania where he opened Bixler’s Jewelers in 1785 locating it on the northeast corner of Bank and Northampton Streets on land that he purchased from William Penn’s son, John.
Bixler was a perfectionist of Swiss heritage, hallmarking all of his clocks with his distinctive signature. His careful drilling and polishing of pivot holes in the plates of his clocks, along with his use of solid brass movements attained an accuracy that rivaled any American jeweled clocks of that day. His artistic dial decorations were truly distinctive. They featured garlands of flowers, fruit and cherubs. Today, many of these superb sought-after clocks are still in operation over two centuries later because of their fine craftsmanship and detail.
Bixler also excelled as a silversmith. Meticulously working with the crude colonial tools of the time, he designed and crafted fine silver tableware from silver coins. Bixler’s teaspoons, tablespoons, ladles and sugar tongs were used throughout the region in the 18th century. Christian passed his knowledge and skills to his sons setting the stage for future generations to experience true American luxury jewelry on par with the finest jewelry from Paris and Vincenza.
The 19th Century
Clock making declined in the United States during the 1820s due to an influx of cheap British imports. By 1812, Bixler had already discontinued making clocks, concentrating his efforts on fine jewelry creations. In 1825, the torch was passed to his sons William and Daniel L. Bixler (2nd Generation). The sons produced very few clocks in the early 1820s. Following Christian’s death in 1840, William and Daniel continued operating the business under the name W. and D. L. Bixler. Later, as Easton’s population grew, the sons separated, each operating his own jewelry and silver business. William continued working in his shop until his death in 1850 at which time his son, J. Elwood Bixler, took over and operated it until his death in 1891.
Daniel Bixler continued the clock and silverware shop that is today’s Bixler’s Jewelers. By the early 1820s Daniel went into the hardware business. His son, Rush H. Bixler continued operating Bixler’s Jewelers at 406-408 Northampton Street along with his younger brother, C. Willis Bixler, and a family friend, Walter Hamman (3rd Generation).
In 1890, C. W. Bixler and Co. relocated to the Smith Building, on the southeast corner of Fourth and Northampton Streets. A 1900 newspaper story reported that “the store was fitted with a number of antique-finished brass chandeliers that will be lighted by electricity.” The story also noted the store’s policy was to “afford customers a complete selection of products in packed cherry wood display cases”
The 20th Century
Upon C. Willis Bixler’s death in 1908, his son Arthur Brookfield Bixler (4th Generation) took over, vastly expanding the store’s sales. He was known throughout the area as a gentleman and well-respected craftsman.
In 1911, Arthur leased and renovated space in the Pomp Building, moving Bixler’s to the Northwest corner of Fourth and Northampton Streets. Eight years later he purchased the building. In 1919, Arthur moved the store again occupying half of the Jones Building at the Southwest corner of Center Square where it remained until its move to Allentown, Pennsylvania in 2008.
During the Great Depression few people could afford fine jewelry and silverware. As a public service, Arthur created a reading library in the rear of the store and expanded the product lines to include necessities such as eyeglasses and dry goods. Yet despite Arthur’s efforts, the Great Depression took its toll on the store. He died in 1945 leaving only $11,000 of inventory remaining and no apparent heir to continue.
Arthur’s sister, Clara, realized that Bixler’s fate was more perilous than at any time in its history. At Arthur’s funeral, Clara coaxed her daughter Kathryn and her husband Kenneth Bixler Mitman (5th Generation) to take over. Kenneth Bixler Mitman was an engineer in the defense division of Western Electric and admitted he knew nothing about the jewelry business. The risk in him taking control was big. It was a defining moment for the future of the brand.
First, Kenneth Bixler Mitman expanded the meager inventory by selling his automobile. Next he instituted modern business processes and joined the American Gem Society. He eventually became one of the Society’s vice presidents. He required all of his sales associates to become registered gemologists. Last, he undertook and completed renovations of the store from 1955 through 1959. His careful planning and shrewd business sense soon filled the display cases with the finest merchandise. Bixler’s Jewelers became downtown Easton’s gift center and the benchmark of a full-service jewelry store. Customers responded. In 1965 Bixler’s received a telegram from Tiffany & Co stating:
“Heartiest congrats on your 180th anniversary. You are 52 years older than we are. We bow to you on your birthday.”
By 1966 the store doubled in size occupying all of the Jones Building. In 1975 Bixler’s again received a telegram from Tiffany & Co this time stating:
“Congratulations on your anniversary. Today not only the oldest but one of the finest jewelers in America. We salute you”
Kenneth Mitman’s son, Philip Bixler Mitman and his sister, Joyce Mitman Welken (6th Generation) successfully ran the store from 1968 with until 2008 when the store moved to Allentown. They expanded the diamond and fine jewelry inventory and added china and sterling to the bridal department. They launched an aggressive advertising campaign in the New Yorker and the Wall Street Journal proclaiming it a “gratifying success.” Joyce continued her association with the store’s new owner, Devotion with Forevermark®. Bixler customers can find Joyce warmly greeting them today at the Allentown store.
The Bixler family has preserved Christian Bixler III’s hand-drawn original plans for his grandfather clocks, thirty-hour quarter clocks and bracket clocks. They will be on display at a soon-to-open museum dedicated to Bixler’s history along with original molds, shaping tools, silver tableware, and silver spoons created by his sons.
“We survived because, from the beginning, our family established a trust factor, good value and integrity with our customers,” Joyce Bixler Welkin explained. “It is a concept passed on by our parents and their parents that we are not just selling — we are selling to a friend.” These are the same values that built the Devotion with Forevermark® into the foremost American luxury diamond brand.
The 21st Century
Christian Bixler III set the standard for excellence more than two centuries ago. Today that tradition continues as Bixler’s has become part of the Devotion with Forevermark® family.
As part of Devotion, every Bixler piece is hand crafted in North America within the Devotion with Forevermark® production shops in Burlington, Vermont and Montreal using responsibly sourced diamonds, gemstones and metal. Its jewelers, diamond setters, designers, casters, lappers, hand-engravers and gemologists, amongst other specialists, all work with pride meticulously creating jewelry that would meet with Christian Bixler III’s approval.
Christian Bixler III served the community as a burgess, firefighter, mayor, bank founder and bridge builder, a tradition that has continued throughout more than 231 years. Today Perry Sporn, CEO of Devotion with Forevermark® continues to lead the entire Bixler/Devotion team with a spirit of excellence, endeavor, creativity, community, tolerance, inclusiveness and pride.
Surely, Christian Bixler III is looking down upon the Bixler’s of today with pride.
Compiled by Roy Ziegler
September 19, 2016