In 1890, brothers Gustaf (Gus) Jonson, a watchmaker, and Johannes
(Joe) Bengtson Sylvan, a jeweler, completed their apprenticeships and
made the momentous decision to leave their home in Sweden to seek their
fortune in America. They booked passage to the port city of Savannah,
Georgia eager to set their plans in motion. It was the dawn of a new,
modern era defined by innovation, exploration and optimism. Anything and
everything was possible.
The brothers quickly found work with a Savannah jeweler and began
to build for their dream. Four years later they were ready to find the
right location for their shop and split up to explore the possibilities.
Gus made his way to Columbia, South Carolina and Joe went to
Montgomery, Alabama. Gus arrived in Columbia to find a vibrant city with
a growing economy - everything they were looking for.
On September 22, 1897, Gus opened the doors to Gustaf
Sylvan's High Grade Jewelers at 1524 Main Street. The next day an
article in The Columbia State extolled the elegance of the new
store..."Mr. Gustaf Sylvan has opened a high grade jewelry store at
number 1524 Main Street. He has fitted his store handsomely with walnut
and glass cases, which show his elegant stock off to good advantage. Mr.
Sylvan proposes to cater to the best trade of Columbia."
Joe joined Gus in Columbia six months later, and on March 1, 1898, the
last ad for Gustaf Sylvan's Jewelers ran in The State. The following
day, the first ad for Sylvan Brothers Jewelers appeared. Their dream had
become a reality.
In 1905, the brothers acquired a Second Empire style building on the
corner of Main and Hampton Streets, the first large building constructed
in Columbia after the Civil War. They opened at the new location on
June 24, 1905, where Sylvan's Jewelers is still headquartered today. In
1906, the brothers installed a beautiful four-sided clock on the
sidewalk in front of the store, now a beloved local landmark.
In 1985, Arnold Schiffman, the owner of Schiffman's Jewelers,an
independent luxury jeweler based in Greensboro, NC, received a call from
Ned Lipscomb, an old friend who had married into the Sylvan family of
Columbia, South Carolina. Sylvan's Jewelers was a company much like
Schiffman's - both firms were family owned and operated carriage trade
jewelers, and both firms were among the oldest retailers in their
respective markets. Ned, a former star football player at the University
of North Carolina, had been managing the firm for his wife's family.
With no one in the next generation to take over, Ned had decided to
sell. Arnold and his son Tony drove down to Columbia to see Ned. After a
quick look around the store, Arnold and Ned shook on a deal, leaving
Tony and Ned's sons to take inventory. Because the company was three
hours from Greensboro by car, they decided to retain the Sylvan name.
Through the years Sylvan's has provided jewelry, silver, china and
timepieces for many of the state's business and governmental leaders,
including many orders for the Governor's Mansion. One of the firm's
first commissions was the design of the first University of South
Carolina ring. True to company heritage, the firm stays involved with
the community supporting organizations such as the Palmetto Health
Foundation, the Columbia Museum of Art and the Community Arts Foundation
and the Columbia Ballet.
The Sylvan's Building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.