At Eaton Turner Jewelry of Helena, owner Corey Johnson spends his days crafting unique and timeless pieces his customers are proud to wear.
Johnson can still recall being 13 years old and standing in his father’s jewelry store learning right alongside him how to craft gold and precious stones into wearable works of art. Johnson’s father, Don Johnson, is a master goldsmith who taught jewelry design and metalsmithing at the State University College of New York in Oneonta, New York for 12 years. His work has been exhibited in numerous juried national art exhibitions and even has pieces featured in collections of the Smithsonian.
Johnson shared that he couldn’t have asked for a better mentor and instructor to learn from than his own dad.
Growing up, Johnson admits to always being naturally creative. This led him to pursue a degree in the fine arts with an emphasis on graphic design from Montana State University in Bozeman. During school, Johnson explored design work across a variety of media.
“I honestly didn’t think I would come back to jewelry,” said Johnson.
But Johnson’s roots kept calling him back. After working a stint at a Bozeman jewelry store, he found himself reliving his childhood memories of crafting jewelry alongside his dad. Johnson began reconsidering what he wanted to do with his life.
In 2000, Johnson and his wife, Katrina, were lured back to Helena after being offered a job at Eaton Turner by his dad, who had assumed ownership of the store. Not long after working at Eaton Turner, Johnson’s custom jewelry creations earned him “best of show” several years in a row at the Montana-Wyoming Jeweler’s Association Design Competition.
“After those recognitions for metal smithing, I was confident I was in the right place doing the right thing,” said Johnson.
Johnson went on to become a Graduate Gemologist with certification from the Gemological Institute of America to further the skills he was able to offer.
In 2013, Don and his wife Deanna began transitioning ownership of Eaton Turner over to Corey.
For Johnson, the most enjoyable part of what he does now is being able to be creative every day.
There are many techniques used to craft fine jewelry into heirlooms of the future. Johnson explained that one of the processes begins with a customer bringing in photos or sketches of pieces they like and/or browsing the cases for what they are drawn to. After discussing the design, Johnson then uses computer design technology to generate a 3-D image. This image gives customers a more realistic feel for what the finished piece will actually look like. From there, the 3-D image can be turned into a wax mold via a 3-D printer or milling machine. At that point customers can physically see, touch and hold the model replica before it’s finished. After upwards of two weeks to a month of consultations, design work, and metal smithing, Johnson gets to present the finished piece to his customer.
“Getting to see their face light up is the most rewarding part for me,” said Johnson. “That moment is full of lots of hugs and happy tears.”
Johnson recalled that one of the most memorable pieces he’s created over the years was a large pendant with upwards of 20 elk ivories inlaid into it. Johnson’s wife also fondly remembers the promise ring Johnson crafted for her when they were high school sweethearts.
“It’s an honor to have someone wearing my piece and to trust me with such an emotional purchase,” said Johnson.
Johnson is dedicated to more than just the customers he works with, however. The community of Helena as a whole also has a special place in his heart.
From Intermountain’s annual Festival of Trees event and Florence Crittenton’s Paint the Town Pink fundraiser, to the St. Peter’s Hospital Foundation Gala, Johnson’s regularly designs and donates pieces to be auctioned off to help raise money for local organizations.
“We accept the responsibility to give back to this wonderful community that has supported us for the last 132 years,” said Johnson.
“He is generous and cares not only about his customers, but also our community,” said his wife.
The rest of the Eaton Turner staff shares a similar sentiment.
“As an employee, he treats you like you’re family,” said Daniel Bruno, salesman at Eaton Turner for the last five years. “He genuinely cares about you and what’s going on in your life outside of work. Not a lot of bosses do that.”
“Nobody can touch what he does,” said Bruno. “He has a real talent and we’re lucky to have him in Helena.”