written by Paul Holewa
In his early entrepreneurial years RB Grampp, Sr had a knack for identifying trends, making a profitable run at distribution and sales, and then exiting at just the right time to pursue his next venture. But in 1978, when he founded Bluestone Trading, he focused exclusively on a single company and its possibilities.
This clarity of vision on diamond manufacturing and sales blazed a lifetime career path for RB. After four decades of business evolution and innovation, RB also created a thriving diamond and diamond jewelry company for his family with his eldest son Ritchie Grampp as president of the Bluestone.
“RB has always had an entrepreneurial mindset starting as a child,” says Ritchie.
As the Grampp family history chronicles, RB had a paper route and used to sell fireworks to his friends as a young boy. Identifying products and services people wanted carried into his early adult years when RB sold airline vouchers. In the early 1970s, RB imported black lights from overseas sources then sold them to retail outlets of many sizes including Pier 1 Imports and Spencer Gifts.
RB’s dabbling in the novelty business would do more than just turn a buck with trending consumer wares. It would also form a fortuitous knowledge base for the future. “In his novelty business he also imported mood rings and eventually made a jewelry line that fit that time period which gave him a basic understanding of jewelry and precious metals,” says Ritchie.
RB sold that distribution company and then opened a string of Goldfinger gold buying shops. He and his business partner at the time owned and operated 12 Goldfinger outlets. A network of gold buying stores required moving gold and having enough cash on hand for each store to maintain the flow of incoming precious metals and outgoing dollars. RB could have hired any number of armored security companies to handle this portion of the business but decided to do it himself.
“He used his motorcycle to drive from location to location picking up the daily buys and refilling the cash registers,” says Ritchie. “In the winter and cold months he drove a used Lincoln. His goal was to look as discreet as possible and never draw too much attention to himself.”
When the gold boom went bust, RB held on to some key parts of his Goldfinger years. The first was his Kawasaki Enduro dirt bike. It wasn’t just a discreet mode of transporting goods and cash. Dirt bike riding was also a fun hobby his family enjoyed.
The second was his customer base. Third, a sizeable inventory of diamonds, precious gemstones removed from mountings and settings saved over the years. And finally, a large number of fine jewelry pieces he did not scrap.
RB had acquired much in terms of product knowledge, but needed to learn more to properly assess the value of the inventory he had. Tapping into his network of industry professionals, RB hired three diamond and jewelry experts he’d become acquainted with over the years.
“These men worked on commission and showed RB how to grade, sort, and sell the inventory that he had,” says Ritchie. “From there, RB was off to the races. He began buying and selling locally on the wholesale markets and started Bluestone.”
Bluestone Trading was established in 1978. As with all start-ups, the early days are always lean on cash with a glut of work to be done. For the first two years it was RB and his bookkeeper. Two years later RB finally had enough cash flow in the business to hire his first Bluestone gemologist, affectionately known as Uncle Jerry. “He stayed with us all this time until he passed away a few years ago,” says Ritchie.
Uncle Jerry helped RB build Bluestone in the formative years by catering to local retailers, pawnshops, and jewelers. With business successes came business evolution. The company transitioned into a national mail-order company. At the same time RB was going nationwide he was also developing connections with overseas diamond companies, increasing imports from diamond centers all over the world.
As the mail-order memo business took hold and then expanded, RB hired a sales team to handle the accounts. And as international connections grew stronger, RB was able to import and sell larger, more substantial diamonds.
“Today Bluestone Trading is known as a source for diamonds of all sizes, from melee-sized goods on up to 10-carat-plus diamonds,” says Ritchie, as well as buying and selling estate and modern jewelry.
Reinvesting in Bluestone Trading helped grow RB’s business. But RB also knew the importance of investing in the industries he served. “RB helped found the National Pawn Association and he also helped found Polygon.net,” says Ritchie.
Polygon was started in 1984 as a network company bringing jewelers together across the US. This opened up possibilities for sales beyond local vendors and allowed for competing offers as all Polygon members could see the messages simultaneously. Then, in the mid-90s, when many in the gem and jewelry industry were doing their level best to get some footing in the burgeoning age of the Internet, Polygon’s new website helped many traditional jewelers iron out the steep learning curve.
Similar to many of RB’s business investments and interests helping others in the industry gain knowledge remained with him and is a trait his son carries on. “In an effort to help customers grow and become more competent, I offer free Diamond Fundamental classes,” says Ritchie. “We send out real samples and toolkits to stores and then schedule a two-hour Zoom class to teach staff how to identify Moissanite, enhanced diamonds, and talk about lab-grown diamonds and common scams on the market. This was especially helpful during the COVID lockdowns.”
Turning adversity into opportunity brought about other lockdown-related changes. With layoffs and reduced work, consumers demanding more price-point friendly diamond jewelry became a common theme with Bluestone’s retail clients. The company responded with affordable diamond-set jewelry of all types.
In looking back at over 43 years in business, RB’s early chapters in the Bluestone memoirs became natural extensions and progressions of the diamond business his son Ritchie presides over today. Gold buying helped RB later add estate jewelry to Bluestone’s mix of inventory and offerings to retail jeweler customers.
His early knowledge of trendy jewelry gave him a framework of knowledge for jewelry making. Today, Bluestone Trading is producing its own jewelry and “In time, we’d like to do more in-house jewelry production,” says Ritchie.
Being based in Ohio isn’t just about a place to call home and do business. For RB, Ritchie, their family and the staff, it’s a location that fosters Midwestern values and work ethics. And the Midwest has lots of open space for riding dirt bikes. RB doesn’t hit the dirt like he once did on family vacations, but it was all part of growing up in the jewelry business with RB Grampp, Sr. at the tiller.