Dwaine Ferguson’s Passion for Jewelry, Untarnished After 48 YearsSep 28, 2022 09:06AM ● By Joel Stevens
Photo by Bill Sitzmann
Something shiny drew Dwaine Ferguson to jewelry smithing.
And it wasn’t gold or silver.
“I wanted to buy a Jaguar XKE and I didn’t have any money,” he said.
Ferguson did eventually get his Jaguar, a bright white 1961 coupe, but not before an infatuation with jewelry smithing sparked an unlikely career pivot. He took over Goldsmith Silversmith in Omaha’s Old Market in 1974. Today, Ferguson is known far and wide for his fine and custom jewelry and restoration, drawing happy customers from all over the city—and even the occasional celebrity—to his little Howard Street retail shop.
“I bought into the store, and I had about $4,000 in inventory, and that first year I made $30,000 dollars,” Ferguson said. “Which isn’t a lot of money, but to me at the time, it was a lot. The second year I doubled that. And at some point, I set myself a goal that I wanted to do a million dollars in a year. I haven’t done that yet. But I’m working at it.”
Ferguson’s path to the trade was a circuitous one. Growing up in tiny Brewster, Nebraska, he was always good with his hands and had an eye for line, detail, and architecture. It wasn’t until after he was discharged from the U.S. Navy in San Francisco in 1968 that those skills began to coalesce. As he walked the city, he saw artists hawking handmade jewelry and trinkets, and thought, “I can do that.”
A few months later, Ferguson hit the road in his MG Midget convertible headed for Nebraska to kickstart a career in architecture. But he couldn’t stifle his creative juices.
He started by making, then selling metal sculptures out of a cart he’d lug around to art fairs. Then Ferguson sat next to a jeweler and it all clicked.
“All he had was a folding table, a chair, and a suitcase,” he said. “I knew I could do that.”
Ferguson sought out mentorship in jewelry smithing at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He learned the form and eventually grew skilled enough to teach his own classes. Jewelry smithing is as much science as it is art. The process requires a chemist’s understanding of the malleable states of gold and silver with an artisan’s touch for ornamentation
“It was something I could do with my hands, and growing up on a ranch, I knew how to use tools, so I wasn’t walking into it blind,” he said. “I enjoyed it. It was fun working with the public. I think that’s the big reason why we’re still here. It’s our customer service. I want my customer to walk out happy and with a piece of jewelry they can enjoy for many years. That’s always been our goal, and I think we do a pretty good job of it.”
Ferguson purchased the Goldsmith Silversmith shop from its previous owners for $15,000. On his first day, the former owners told the then 29-year-old to bring in $100 in change and they pledged to stick around a week to show him the ropes.
“They handed me the keys that night, and I never saw them again,” he said. “I went back to work the next day and I’m like ‘I’m a store owner and I’m selling jewelry and I have no idea what I’m doing,’ and here I am 48 years later, and I still think I don’t know what I’m doing. But I must have done something right along the way.”
What Ferguson did along the way was develop a sterling reputation for quality work and a hands-on approach with both customers and their precious, often valuable jewelry. For many years it was Ferguson who greeted customers, handled their jewelry, discussed settings and designs, and did the work in his backroom shop.
“When you enjoy what you do, it’s more fun,” he said. “You’re more absorbed in it. I still work six days a week and I still enjoy coming to work.”
Ferguson’s little shop has seen its share of celebrity clients walk through the doors. Monty Python’s John Cleese. ZZ Top bass player Dusty Hill. Liberace. And then there’s Mick Fleetwood. Ferguson fixed a ring and a necklace for the Fleetwood Mac co-founder and drummer but didn’t score any backstage passes.
“He told me he lives in Maui and there are probably jewelers there, but he didn’t know if he could trust them,” Ferguson said. “That was pretty cool.”
Ferguson presumes most clients, celebrities or not, stumble upon his shop. He doesn’t advertise much, and word of mouth seems to be his best promotion.
“Trust is a big deal in the jewelry world because there’s thousands of dollars in jewelry around,” Ferguson said. “Customers want to trust you’ll take care of [their jewelry]... it’s part of why they come here.”
This article originally appeared in the October 2022 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.