Links in the Chain
It’s all in the family for David and Will Firestone, the father and son duo behind Firestone and Parson, the fabled jewelry and silver firm located in the heart of Boston. This is true for their business, as well as their deep connections to NBSS: David has been an energetic volunteer at the School since 1980, when he was first invited to join the Board.
He remembers, “I was working for my father back then, and North Bennet already had a reputation for supplying strong bench workers to the jewelry business.” As someone who believed in the trades and cared about building the future of the North End, David eagerly contributed more of his time, connections, guidance, and philanthropy over the decades.
Now David is passing his role on to his son Will, who has just joined the Jewelry Making & Repair Program Advisory Committee (JM PAC), and grew up hearing his dad’s stories of NBSS craft nights and meaningful fundraising campaigns.
In his many capacities, David has advised NBSS, supported scholarship programs, and served as both a resource and employer to both students and alumni. He’s also actively worked with four Presidents. He believes that the School is in strong hands these days, saying, “Sarah [Turner, NBSS President] is just fantastic. I’m very impressed with her understanding of the life of a craftsperson and what it takes to run a trade school.”
David’s father and Will’s grandfather, Edwin I. Firestone, and his business partner, Kenneth B.G. Parson, first opened their firm’s doors at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in 1946. It moved locations several times but survived recessions, natural disasters, and the pandemic, while continuously remaining an industry leader in fine jewelry and sophisticated antiques.
Keeping the doors open is no easy feat for a family-run jewelry business. Doing so has required constant innovation as globalization made it easier to access gemstones and settings from anywhere in the world. Firestone and Parson remains well known for acquiring a rare Paul Revere II silver teapot, helping to build private collections, and for offering specialized valuations, repairs, and consultations. Even for its national reputation, the business is still rooted in Boston. Its Arlington Street location is just a short walk through the City’s Downtown to the front doors of the School.
During our interview, alumni Alex Bitzel JM ’17, who began as an intern polishing silver at Firestone and Parson and now works there as a bench jeweler, is melting down a platinum ring just a few feet away, producing a bell-like harmony as the Firestones’ share their story.
With a nod towards Alex, David explains, “What we love are fantastic objects—and we’ve been fortunate to have bought and sold many, many truly wonderful objects. It’s the quality of the pieces that is the thing that keeps me excited.”
Will thinks of the School as Firestone and Parson’s neighbor and would do anything to help the community. He often asks Faculty for technical advice on projects and likewise, is excited to speak to or advise students and alumni seeking career guidance. That’s why joining the JM PAC has been an obvious next step.
He says, “I’m probably the most active jewelry buyer and seller of the group, but we are all jewelry making professionals giving some insight into the School curriculum. We all have an eye towards preparing students for the demands of the industry.”
Ann Cahoon JM ’02, Jewelry Making & Repair Department Head, couldn’t agree more. “The members of the Committee are my boots on the ground,” she says. “They give me steady and useful feedback about curriculum decisions. I have a pretty good big picture idea of what’s needed because I’m still in the business myself, but I absolutely rely on them.”
For example, last year Ann decided to incorporate a training component on Computer Assisted Design software, commonly known as CAD, into the program—a competency that American employers are increasingly requiring.
The JM PAC was able to tell her exactly what the students needed to learn when it came to gaining proficiency with the relevant new tool. They worked together to remove a standard project from the jam-packed, two-year program curriculum without sacrificing the essential hand skills which really make NBSS graduates stand out in the job market.
In recent years, Ann has worked to make the JM PAC represent more diverse facets of the jewelry making industry. Some of the newer members invited onto the Committee have included entrepreneurial NBSS graduates running independent businesses—like Ilah Cibis JM ’05 of Ilah Jewelry, and Colleen Matthews JM ’02 of Colleen E Matthews Jewelry. Other committee members are managers at large, commercial jewelry labels and can offer a valuable corporate perspective on what makes for a strong bench jeweler.
When it comes to Will’s presence, Ann is clear on the unique viewpoint that he contributes. She explains, “I’m most excited to work with Will to understand how existing jewelry businesses are evolving in the current environment. He and his dad represent a unique, multi-generational business with a single storefront.”
David has seen the jewelry business change tremendously in his time, with advancements stemming from the advent of the internet and the ability to authenticate, design, sell, or acquire jewelry across borders. Meanwhile, Will boards planes and trains to attend trade fairs and conferences in Europe and Asia, gleaning the latest knowledge about their craft and bringing it back to Boston.
Between trips he’s delved into manufacturing himself, designing at his other company, Facet Labs. The futuristic line of pendants is handmade in Boston, and each piece contains a small computer that is used to render a digital artwork.
David believes that his son’s modern outlook is exactly why he should be involved with NBSS. He shares, “Handwork provides both a rewarding occupation and lifestyle. I’ve always believed in the School. It’s always a good time to get people with new ideas to join and advance the understanding of the jewelry making field.”