Muhl Jewelers celebrated 100 years in Coronado this year and is among the island’s oldest family-owned businesses. Located in the historic Coronado Bank Building at 1130 Orange Avenue, visitors to the store can admire not just the artistry in the jewelry on display, but original features of the building and store as well. The chandelier at Muhl Jewelers is the last remaining original chandelier from the Coronado Bank Building, and the store makes use of the original display cases, safe, and cashier till that add to the historic charm of the space.
Today, Renae Johnson-Wease owns and runs the store, taking the mantle from her father and grandmother before her. The Johnson family is one of just three previous owners over the past century of operation; the Hughes family originally opened the jewelers store in the location before it passed on to the Muhls and then the Johnsons.
The history of the shop can be traced back to 1921, which Johnson-Wease mentioned is the first iteration of leases on the building that weren’t in John D. Spreckels’ name. “H.G. Hughes was a member of Coronado Yacht Club…he was a watch maker and he opened the store in 1921,” she explained. “All of the spaces previous to  were occupied because the building opened earlier than that, but the leases were written in Spreckels’ name so [Hughes] may have been here sooner – that’s just as far back as our historical records go. …As far as we know it’s always been a jewelry store since the business here was opened.”
Kitty and Elmer Muhl were also members of the Coronado Yacht Club where they met the Hughes. “[Hughes] sold them the business and they took over here in 1942,” Johnson-Wease recounted. Her grandparents bought the business from the Muhls in 1971 and decided to keep the name. “It was already well-established as Muhl Jewelers and there was no reason to change the name so we just carried the name forward,” she told me. The Muhls continued to work at and run the shop after selling it for a few years as well while Johnson-Wease’s grandparents studied at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), located in Santa Monica at the time.
“My grandmother was a gemologist and my grandfather was a metal smith,” said Johnson-Wease. She went to explain, “My grandfather went to join the Marine Corps when he was 17, got out as a captain, and then worked on the Apollo missions. At that point, after raising my father, my grandmother decided she was going to do something and this is what she wanted to do. So they purchased the business and it was her thing.”
Her grandfather passed away not long after they purchased Muhl Jewelers and the business really became her grandmother and her father, Rodney Johnson’s, thing. “My father walked in the door at 19 and he worked here until he passed away. He loved sitting at his bench and making and designing.”
Johnson-Wease can remember practically growing up in the store where she would walk to after school at Christ Church Day School and help her father out. She didn’t initially think she would follow in his footsteps and take over the business and spent seven years teaching in San Diego before her father falling ill brought her back to Muhl Jewelers. “If I would not have gone out on my own and done my own thing first, I think I would have felt encumbered or saddled, and now I’m grateful because I know now this is where I was meant to be and what I was supposed to do.”
When Rodney Johnson passed away 10 months later, Johnson-Wease had to consider what she was going to do with the business. “Do I sell our family business that we’ve had forever, and it dies with me? Or do I leave my teaching and do I run the business?” She and her husband, who was in the Marine Corps at the time and often deployed, discussed it at length and Johnson-Wease said his thought was that if she thought she could do it and it was something she wanted, to go for it. “I was born and raised here, I knew the business inside and out, and I gave it a go. The first couple of years were hard; I had a lot of proving myself to do and I had some really big shoes to fill, but it came around. …Now I’ve been running [the store] and this past February was 10 years for me.”
These days Johnson-Wease can be found designing and creating her own pieces and working with customers to provide them with something special. She loves being able to play a part in those special moments of people’s lives, whether it’s helping create the perfect engagement ring or wedding band or restoring a beloved family heirloom that keeps family memories alive. “I really love someone coming to me and saying, ‘I want this and I would like to make it this,’” she explained. “That back and forth to make something authentic to that person? I love that; finding that fit and being able to use that creativity.”
“We’ve always been about community,” she added. “We’re families four or five generations deep in their jewelry in some cases.” Johnson-Wease mentioned a customer she spoke with earlier that day where her grandmother, her mother, and her own engagement rings all came from Muhl Jewelers. “I’m going to build a couple of rings for her out of family pieces. She lives in Nebraska now and she says she feels so much better [having the work done here] knowing our family, and to me, that speaks volume. My grandmother made her engagement ring.”
While she does get clients and referrals from all over, Johnson-Wease’s main focus is Coronado. “I’m more about supporting our local community. I love when people walk in the door and maybe I haven’t seen them for a few years but then they’ll remind me of a story (‘This one time at Christ Church when you were five…’) and it all comes full circle. Yes, they’re a client, but they’re more than that because they’re part of my roots and they’re a part of my community. And that’s huge. Without that, what do we have?”
As a former educator, it’s no surprise that Johnson-Wease also enjoys the ever-evolving nature of her industry. “I love the constant learning. I’ve always been kind of a science dork that way,” she mentioned with a smile.
Every couple of years she goes through recertification so she can stay up to date with everything at the GIA (Gemological Institute of America), and everything she learns helps with her craft not just in making jewelry but on the business side as well. Johnson-Wease is constantly reading up on new techniques and findings about the molecular structures of gems and how to manipulate them and she loves being able to pass that knowledge on to customers, especially when working with them on designs or telling them how to best care for their pieces, or the history of a stone they’re purchasing. “If I can pass that education on, even if they go and buy somewhere else, then they know what they’re doing and that’s important.”
Building and maintaining good relationships and doing so with integrity is what Johnson-Wease tells me has been integral to what has kept Muhl Jewelers thriving in Coronado for 100 years. “Everbody dreams in this business of being the next Harry Winston, but that doesn’t appeal to me. I just want to service this community and the people in it, and be accessible to them,” she told me.
As a jeweler, Johnson-Wease believes everyone should feel welcome in her store and that everyone should be able to have something nice, of quality that’s personal to them. She makes a conscious effort to have pieces that cover a wide price range, from the hundred dollar range up, so that there’s something at Muhl Jewelers for everyone. “This town is responsible for who I am and what my family has, and I’m grateful. So I see myself more as a service business rather than a luxury business.”
Johnson-Wease doesn’t foresee her work as a jeweler ending anytime soon and as a thank you to the community for their support over the years, she’s hosting a raffle for a GIA one carat, cushion cut, internally flawless, Fancy Yellow diamond. Customers who make a $1,000 purchase from now until Dec. 24 will be entered into the drawing.
Muhl Jewelers is open Tuesday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.. For more information or to contact the store, call 619-435-4541 or visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100057400812240.