I’m Joey Torres. I was born and raised right outside of Chicago, in Crete. Right now, I made the transition to working full time at the store [Torres Omar Jewelers] as the marketing manager.
As someone who comes from a lineage of jewelry designers, what’s your earliest memory of jewelry?
Earliest memory of jewelry was definitely the family parties. As Latinos, we like to celebrate everything – whether that’s Communions, Baptisms, Birthdays, etc. My whole family was into jewelry and my uncles each had their own store. They would always flash out when it came to the family parties. The chains, the rings, the bracelets, everything.
What was the first piece of jewelry you had?
It was either my name ring or an ID baby bracelet. The baby bracelet I still wear to this day, I’ve just kept extending it.
What was the first item you ever made?
The first piece that I was full hands in on was Mano’s St. Michael piece. That’s not a piece I designed myself. Mano commissioned us to create the St. Michael, and he teamed us up with Tim who designs and creates jewelry himself. He was able to create the beautiful 3D design and wax, and we fabricated the piece in gold and put all the finishing touches. It was a cool experience because it was the first piece I was able to be apart of from start to finish.
Talk us through the history of Torres Omar Jewelers and how the company has evolved over the years
We have a very long history, but in short, it started with my grandparents. My grandma’s brother had a jewelry store in Mexico, and one year my grandparents decided to try selling his merchandise to their co-workers at the factories they worked at. My grandpa saw the potential there, and dedicated a lot of time and effort to build up a book of business. Essentially he was slinging jewelry out of his car, doing house calls, etc. He had enough money to open his own store, which actually failed, but he got another opportunity for a second store. He learned from his mistakes, the business grew, and my dad started to get involved at a really young age. My dad would work at the store with my grandparents, but also did his own thing with my mom at the flea markets. My parents built their book of business as well, opened up their own storefront right on Sheridan, kind of by Wrigley, and we essentially had two stores in Chicago. When the recession hit, my grandparents wanted to leave the business, so we had to consolidate to one store, which is where we’re at now; Milwaukee and Kedzie. That was a tough time, but my parents worked their asses off to keep the business afloat. Since then we’ve just been working hard to build the business and create different opportunities for ourselves. Lately, we’ve been doing a lot of custom work, and with the help of social media, we’re able to get our work in front of a lot of people. The work speaks for itself, and it gets a lot of new customers through the door.
While you’re able to create pieces for high profile customers, how important is it to be able to provide for the local community and everyday people of the neighborhood for the past 25 years?
It’s very important. The one thing I always tell my Dad is that from a marketing perspective we have to be very self-aware as a business. The everyday people are the reason why we are here today. Providing unparallel customer service, making sure we cater to everything they need provide affordable pricing. Even though we might have a name in the neighborhood and the history in Chicago, it doesn’t mean that we have to jack up our price. We want to make sure that people come to us for everything that they need. Baptisms, Communions, Quinceaneras, literally everything. Not only do we always make sure to provide high-level customer service, but also provide a large variety of merchandise. Our store really focuses on getting merchandise from different parts of the world. Lastly, it’s really important for us to treat everyone like family. I think that really sets us apart. People feel comfortable shopping with us, and I love knowing that we’re able to create that type of shopping experience for our customers.
Last year you were able to create your first ever piece with your dad. How was that experience for you?
That experience in itself was completely eye-opening. It showed me that not only did he want to work with me, but that we can actually work together. That was super important to me. If we are going to be seeing each other all day every day and we can put our ideas together and make something as beautiful as that – I’m sold. My Dad and I were actually born on the same day, July 31st. I was his only son and always calls me his gift from God, especially cause I wasn’t supposed to make it because of pregnancy complications. The Leo piece has a huge significance in my life and my Dad and I just share that bond of having the same birthday. Creating that together not only showed that we can work together, but we can create something so amazing.
Talk to us through the process of how a piece gets made…
It’s about a 5-6 part process. It starts off with the initial design consultation where we go over the specs, sizes, etc. From there it goes into the 3d design process where we have our in-house designer design everything. We’ll then go over the rendering, which is a simulation of what the piece will look like in real life. Once we do that, we get the greenlight and print it in wax. From there, we cast it in gold (usually all of our pieces are 14k gold). Then lastly, it gets down to the polishing and making the piece look nice. All of those steps lead to a beautiful piece of art.
As you’ve been able to work with your family, what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned?
The most important lesson I’ve learned from them is that hard work and perseverance will take you a long way. My parents are both here at the store 70+ hours a week and they don’t bat an eye. They know that they’re building something for their family and to be honest, a legacy. Something that we’ll be able to pass off to our kids. Everything they built came from putting their head down and working. Through all of their hard work, we are now celebrating 39 years.
Out of all of the pieces you’ve been able to work on – what has been your favorite?
While I’ve been able to work on a lot of pieces, the ones that tend to mean the most to me are just nameplates. I like them because it recreates a memory for the customer. A lot of times they had a piece like that as a kid and wanted to recreate it. The small stuff means just as much to me as the big stuff. The reason why I love jewelry so much is that I get to meet so many new people and then I get to create dope shit that they can wear every day.
Now that you’ve decided to step away from your 9-5 and pursue the family business full time, how inspired are you to collab with the Chicago community and grow the business even more?
I feel unstoppable to be completely honest. I wake up way happier than I ever did working at any of my past jobs. I feel very excited to come here every day because I’m able to create something different each day. I love hearing people stop by the store and tell their old stories or finding the solution to a problem when it comes to a custom piece. I just feel very inspired because of the support I have. My family and friends were very proud of me for making the jump. I didn’t realize I had the opportunity to make a difference, but now that I have that confidence I feel on top of the world.
You’ve been talking about this Carne Asada party that is taking place September 29th. Tell us a little bit about this event and what we can expect
That is something I am very excited about. The Carne Asada’s are where I fell in love with jewelry, so that’s how I came up with the idea. But the party is all about bringing everyone together for an authentic experience. Good food, music, drinks, everything. It’s all about recreating my childhood memories, but more importantly, creating new memories with all my friends and family. We’re going to be showcasing a lot of Chicago brands and artists, whose roots intertwine with the theme itself. We’re going to be putting in a lot of work for this so I can’t wait to see the end product.
If you could give some final last words to your parents – what would they be?
Thank you! Thank you for everything, thank you for your love, thank you for your support, thank you for you selflessness, thank you for the encouragement, thank you! thank you! thank you!
Written by: Nico Rud