BY KATIE MATTESON
Question: What’s the oldest continuously operating retail store in the Racine area and the oldest jewelry store in Southern Wisconsin?
Answer: Rasmussen Diamonds, now located at 6220 Washington Ave. It was founded by Rasmus Peter Rasmussen as Rasmussen Jewelry on State Street in 1900. The 120-year-old business is now run by the third generation of the Sustachek family, who purchased the business in 1977 from Frank Rasmussen, who had moved the business to West Racine in 1968.
Calvin Sustachek, a certified master watchmaker since 1951 had been subcontracting watch repair work from Frank Rasmussen for years when the jeweler approached the watchmaker to buy the store when he decided to retire.
Meanwhile, Calvin and Marilyn Sustachek’s son Bill gave up a sales career to go to school in California to become a graduate gemologist. He graduated from the Gemological Institute of America and joined the prestigious American Gem Society, where he continued in classes to become a registered jeweler and a certified gemologist. He also became a certified gemologist appraiser, a title that is very difficult to achieve and is only shared by approximately 400 jewelers worldwide.
So in 1977, Calvin and Marilyn bought the business and Bill left his job managing a jewelry store in Milwaukee to become the manager of his parents’ store. Calvin left the business in the care of his son and hit the road to work as field trainer for Bulova Watch Company. For five years he traveled the Western United States to teach other watchmakers how to repair the “new” Bulova Accutron watch.
In 1988, Bill and his wife Kathy, bought the store from his parents and moved it to the Washington Avenue location in 1998. Bill managed all of the buildout of the former PDQ convenience store himself, while Kathy tended to the West Racine store.
Bill even incorporated the solid birch jewelry cases from the original State Street store into the design on the new store. The movers actually had to bring in the cases before the foyer could be completed.
Bill and Kathy’s middle daughter Kristi Widmar took over the reigns as general manager of the business and her husband Daniel Widmar was named company president on March 17, 2019.
Kristi grew up in the jewelry business, as did her four siblings. She’s worked for Rasmussen Diamonds since 1990, except for the five years she worked for Molina Fine Jewelers in Phoenix, Ariz. She was the administrative manager of the Molina Design Studio that has created multi-million dollar diamond and colored stone jewelry. Her work there included assisting in the creation of the Fiesta Bowl championship trophy and cataloging and assisting with the appraisal of the jewelry items found on the Titanic.
Kristi returned home in 2004 with her husband Daniel. She got her old job back at the store, while Daniel went to work for the Racine Fire Department. The couple have four children, now 15, 13, 11 and 9.
Kristi and Daniel’s kids were young when Bill and Kathy first offered their children the opportunity to take over management and eventual ownership of the store in 2011.
Kristi’s brother-in-law Joel Hassler took on the challenge, but Kristi took over the management role after Joel left the business in 2017.
Since then she’s been taking care of all the buying and staff supervision, while Daniel helps manage the business side of things.
Today, Kristi and Daniel carry almost all of the responsibility for the business, while Bill and Kathy are still there for support. Bill is semi-retired and does appraisals on his own schedule. Kathy still works full time, but takes care of the “fun stuff” and handles charitable giving.
The family is proud that since 1977, Rasmussen Diamonds has donated merchandise or gift certificates valued at more than $1 million to support area nonprofits.
As the first retail store in North America to have a Sarin machine (which maps the cut and quality of diamonds), they’re proud of the store’s legacy and reputation for offering high gemstone and precious metal quality at fair prices.
The family places a high value on the importance of staff education. With 40 years of continuing education, their team has more than 50 certifications combined in gemology, diamonds, gemstone grading, metalsmithing and jewelry design.
The store will celebrate its 120th anniversary throughout 2020 by highlighting a decade each month with a grand event planned for early August.
For more information, call (262) 884-9474 or visit rasmussendiamonds.com.