Finger Mate Celebrates 40 Years of Expanding Ring Shank Sales
(Hallandale, Florida) - During the Christmas season of 1963, second generation New York City diamond dealer Joseph Kelrick sold a large diamond ring to one of his best customers. Right after the New Year she came back to him to tell him that while she loved her new diamond, she could barely squeeze the ring over her knuckle, and when she did, it spun around on her finger.
No matter how the ring was sized (and it was sized a number of times, Joe remembers) the ring just couldn't be made small enough to fit snugly in the wearing position, and still get past the knuckle. The North Carolina born and raised Joe Kelrick saw the biggest sale of his career about to unravel.
Unhappy with the alternatives available at that time, Kelrick, an army veteran who spent two years based in Augusta, Georgia, knew there had to be a better solution. So, with all of his Tarheel "stick-to-itiveness", he set out to develop the finest possible expandable ring shank.
Working in his basement at night and on the weekends, while still running his diamond business, Joe faced many early developmental problems such as how to bend a hollow gold tubing without having it collapse (like a bent drinking straw), and how to make a catch and spring locking system, made of gold, that would be durable enough to last a lifetime.
After many attempts and prototypes, Joe finally came up with a successful working model and received the first of many patents on Finger Mate in 1964. The product was introduced at that summers' jewelry shows to rave reviews.
In 1977, needing more space and help, his son Howard joined the business, and the factory was relocated to Florida. The business now serves over 11,000 retail jewelry stores in all 50 states and Canada.
Joe, now 75 years old, "officially" retired years ago, but still comes in every day to tinker with the shop machines and to check on production and quality. He travels to six or seven jewelry shows across the country each year (and until recently, piloted his own twin-engine airplane to get there) where he loves seeing his old friends, many of whom claim to be Finger Mate's first customer back in 1964.
His son-in-law Robert is now in the business too, but Joe's eyes really light up when his four young grandchildren talk about joining the company in the years ahead. With the population getting older, and leading active and more affluent lifestyles, the market for expandable ring shanks continues to grow. "We are already lining up the fourth generation management team for the next 40 years!" Joe proudly claims.
"Today it is very surprising to see a business that's been around for over 40 years, especially in our industry," Joe says. "And when you think about it, for all these years, we've been doing it with just one product, and that's even more amazing!"
-Editor's note: Our beloved Joe Kelrick passed away in 2006. He is survived by two generations of family members still working in the Finger Mate family business. Our beloved Robert Brooks passed away in 2014.