Wearing a Glittering Memory

High-end custom jewelry helps people commemorate their time in Wyoming

When Dan Harrison arrived in Jackson the summer of 1975, there were only two fine or contemporary jewelry stores: Hines Goldsmiths and Thoenig’s Fine Jewelry. The other jewelry options in town were Native American and Southwestern styles: silver with large turquoise stones. That summer Harrison worked on the grounds of Teton Pines, plotting his return the next year after he graduated college.

Harrison and his then-business partner Shelley Elser didn’t want to open just another jewelry store. Harrison wanted to design the pieces.

The first bank they approached for a loan to start their own store turned them down, saying people only wanted turquoise. The next bank’s staffers said people loved handmade items and would appreciate the choice. Harrison and Elser hoped the second bank was right, opening DanShelley Jewelers.

At first Harrison and Elser worked primarily in silver, because it was all they could afford. Soon enough they found themselves working in gold and with rare gemstones.

DanShelley’s jewelry was more contemporary than many of the other shops at the time.

“We didn’t offer such a Western statement, which still holds true today,” he said. “It was an evolution, but still a direction we were consciously headed toward.”

Harrison never got complacent. As the demand for jewelry in the valley grew and changed he went to a technical school for additional training to allow him to design more modern pieces.

The scene for modern accessories has blossomed. Today there are newer options like Tayloe Piggott Gallery and JC Jewelers while, some of the original stores, like Hines Goldsmith, Thoenig’s and DanShelley, are still in business. Clothing stores and boutiques have increased the interest in jewelry with trunk shows, Harrison said.

Now in almost every shop in downtown Jackson you can find some type of jewelry in different styles and at different price points, Harrison said.

After 39 years in business, Harrison, who bought out Elser, is still challenging himself as a designer, and adjusting to what his customers like.

He finds customers seek out his store looking for something unique or personalized. He often works in elk ivory, Wyoming black jade and other stones found in the region. That’s what makes the jewelry in Jackson special, Harrison said. People don’t seek just high-end designs, but to preserve memories of the place where they bought it.