In 2019, Rio Grande celebrates 75 years in business. We've been honored to work with jewelers of every kind from across the globe. We wouldn't be here today without you, our customers. Thank you for making jewelry with us—and here's to the next 75 years!
Explore the timeline below to learn more about our story.
Rio Grande founder, Saul Bell, is born in St. Louis, Missouri. He is the seventh of nine children.
Saul Bell starts as an apprentice in his uncle John Blitzman's jewelry shop at the age of 8. He goes on to work at the bench doing repairs and custom work for other retailers before opening his own retail store in St. Louis in 1922.
Saul's retail store is not immune to the effects of the stock market crash of 1929. Saul responds to the economic pressures of the Great Depression by establishing a contracting company that provides building upkeep and remodeling services. It is while working in Missouri on a remodeling job that Saul meets Olive, his future bride, in the summer of 1937.
In September of 1937, Saul Bell moves west to Albuquerque, New Mexico, with his new bride, Olive, and little more than their dreams and his bench tools to his name.
After over six years working at the bench and as a store manager for an Albuquerque jewelry manufacturer, Saul Bell purchases White Eagle Trading Post, located at 209 Central Ave. on Route 66, for $66,330.15. He keeps the trading post open while working to establish Rio Grande, which is initially a regional wholesale distributor of fine jewelry serving retailers in New Mexico, Colorado and West Texas.
Though the precarious startup years were made more difficult by the economy and rationing during WWII, Saul successfully retires the White Eagle Trading Post enterprise entirely. The name on the door is now Rio Grande Wholesale Jewelers.
Saul builds a 2,500 sq. ft. building that provides space and security for the business to grow for years to come.
Saul becomes critically ill and begins cancer treatment. His two oldest sons are in the military and serving away from home; five dependent children are still at home. One son, Hugh, receives a hardship discharge and comes home to help. Another, Eddie, is still in high school but puts in all the time he can after school and on Saturdays, as Rio Grande is a six-day-a-week business at the time. Saul goes on to make a full recovery and returns to work with his family in the years to come.
Son Alan Bell joins Rio Grande in January, and daughter Molly Bell joins the family business in August, bringing the total head count of the company to ten, most of whom are Bells. Over the years, Saul, Hugh, Eddie, Alan and Molly work in nearly every area of the business, from shipping to marketing to the supply chain. Today, Rio Grande's executive team continues to be devoted to their customers, following Saul's example.
Early in 1972, Rio Grande recognizes another shift in the market, which the Bells embrace as an opportunity. After decades of decline, the artisan/craftsman is making a comeback. The growing interest in hand-crafted goods (including jewelry) spurs an expansion of product offerings. The company prints its first brochure, promoting its line of silver metals.
Rio Grande moves its operations to 6901 Washington NE in Albuquerque. Over time, operations grow to five locations.
Rio Grande prints its first few mail-order catalogs. The 22–46-page black-and-white books are predecessors to the substantial full-color catalogs provided today. Note the name change to Rio Grande Jewelers Supply, Inc.
Rio Grande begins manufacturing stamped findings, many of which are still found in the company's product line.
Rio Grande creates and documents its principles-based participative management philosophy, which continues to provide the foundation for the company's structure today. To read the 15 principles, visit riogrande.com/landing/aboutus.
Eddie Bell co-founds a not-for-profit gathering called Santa Fe Symposium® to foster the exchange of ideas, innovation and networking in the jewelry industry. The Santa Fe Symposium goes on to draw participants from every aspect of the industry and from every part of the world for its annual symposium.
Rio Grande launches its first educational initiative, called Rio Tech Albuquerque, to teach casting skills to jewelers. Today, Rio Grande continues to support the next generation of jewelers through a variety of in-house classes, the Rio for Schools program, hundreds of educational videos, the Jewelry Schools Directory and the Rio Grande Jewelry Tech Team.
The first line of cast findings is launched from Rio Grande's manufacturing operation. Today Rio Grande is constantly expanding the offering of stamped, formed and cast findings that are designed and created in-house.
Manufactured in Rio Grande's Albuquerque facility, the first Neutec® casting machine is sold. Today the Neutec brand is known worldwide for its innovative and top-of-the-line casting and laser welding machines for jewelers.
Rio Grande's five locations throughout Albuquerque are consolidated into the company's current 185,000+ sq. ft. building at 7500 Bluewater Rd.
After a long and well-lived life, Saul Bell passes away at the age of 96. He continued to work and serve customers at Rio Grande until just over a week before his death.
A 100th birthday party honoring Saul's memory is organized by associates and customers. Inspired by the stories shared about how his influence launched careers and set high standards of excellence, Rio Grande inaugurates the Saul Bell Design Award Competition to honor and celebrate his legacy.
Building off its original company website (created in 1996), Rio Grande launches its ecommerce site, marking the first time it makes a sale online.
Nearly five acres of solar panels are installed above the associate parking lot, generating 1.1 megawatts of electricity, enough to power all of Rio Grande's operations (and then some).
Preparing for the future of the company and allowing for the eventual retirement of family members, Rio Grande joins The Richline Group, a Berkshire Hathaway company.
Today Rio Grande employs more than 400 associates, carries more than 40,000 products, and serves thousands of jewelers, manufacturers and metalsmiths across the world. Saul Bell's influence continues in the spirit and values he represented. We maintain the values and sense of fun that were his gift to all of us.