In medieval times, it was presumed a son would learn the trade of his father and carry on the family tradition—as a shoemaker, carpenter, fisherman or woodworker. Even in modern culture, children are often pushed to follow in their parents’ footsteps.
Mario Ricardo “Rick” Gonzalez, 42, a Palm Desert resident for the past 15 years, was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and raised in Indio. He’s the fourth of five children, with two older sisters, an older brother and a younger brother. His father, George, was born in Texas but left for Mexico at 13, where he eventually met Gonzalez’s mother.
“My parents met because of the jewelry industry,” says Gonzalez. “They all did silversmithing in Mexico. My dad is a traditional man who commands respect. He made his own life, with the odds against him, but he always came through. He grew up without his dad, so he didn’t really know how to be a dad. I understand. He’s very old school—machismo. I respect that to this day; he lives his life the way he wants to.”
Gonzalez describes his mother, Teresa, as very patient, quiet and a good listener, a woman who values loyalty to her family above all else. “From her I got an understanding of unconditional love,” he says.
After graduating from Indio High School, Gonzalez went to Cerritos College then into the Army Reserve. He worked for a time in the hotel and hospital industries. “When I worked at the local hospital, I learned how to talk to people, and to listen, and the importance of customer service,” he says.
Gonzalez then went to work with his dad at Jewels by George for a year before heading to the Gemological Institute of America at their main campus in Carlsbad.
“It’s the Harvard of jewelry,” he says.
After four years working for a jeweler in Carlsbad, he then returned to the desert in 2003 to once again work with his dad.
“I had more ideas and experience then,” he says, “and it was easier and more rewarding. I listen to what people say they want, and I look at someone’s finger and can see how a ring should fit. I know what a stone can do and can’t do. When it comes to gold, I can manipulate it. I couldn’t change a sink for the life of me, but I can see what a design would look like on someone’s hand.
“I stick to what I know and what I’ve learned from my dad. He likes challenges, and I do, too. It’s about how to get from nothing to a design that will work. My dad taught me that nothing’s impossible.
“When people come in for jewelry repairs, there’s always a story. It really matters to me when a piece of jewelry means something to somebody. When it comes to repairs, my job is to make it look like nothing ever happened, that they not see any change. It’s important that they know I’m going to take good care of their piece. We also take some special pieces on consignment.
“Jewelry is sentimental. I even cry sometimes when I give it back and see their reaction. I can’t remember names, but I can remember the story of that ring or pendant. People tell their stories through their jewelry.”
The shop is truly a family affair. It was originally established in 1984. He describes his mother as “the finisher. She has patience when it comes to intricate jewelry. I do everything—design, marketing, soldering chains. And people like to talk to me.”
What’s the most challenging work he’s done? “Repairing filigree,” he says. “It’s hours of work, and sometimes so fine and intricate.” He showed me a lacy filigree pendant; it was impossible to see where repairs had been made or how anyone could have manipulated the finely detailed work.
Gonzalez had mentors—but he bitterly recalls working for jewelers who took credit for work he had done.
Gonzalez was married for 10 years and has two daughters, now 13 and 16. “They have some artistic talent,” he says proudly, adding with a laugh, “and they don’t complain when they’re here at the shop.”
Gonzalez takes great pride in showing off the Incogem pendants the shop carries, with acrylic-encased diamond initials floating inside gold pendants. They were originally designed in 1978 by Charles Weinstein, a Belgian separated from his family during World War II (later reunited when the war ended); he eventually located in the Coachella Valley until his death in 2013.
Gonzalez is a soft-spoken young man who clearly takes his job seriously. How does he handle working with his traditional father? He smiles as he says, “He will sometimes say to me, ‘Good job, boy.’ He probably never got that himself in his life.”
Going into the family business is not always easy, but Rick Gonzalez is clear: “When I came to work with my dad, one day, everything just made sense.”
When you see his commitment and the quality of his work, you know Gonzalez made the right choice.
Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. Email her at Anita@LovableLiberal.com. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.