Family owned and operated, Susann’s Custom Jewelers makes it their mission to ensure your purchase will sparkle for lifetimes to come.
By: Kathleen Naderer
Photos by: MC Studio Workz
Glittering gemstones and precious metals fill the cases at Susann’s Custom Jewelers in the Town and Country Shopping Center, the atmosphere warm and welcoming. Audie and Karla Bartel, a dynamic husband-and-wife duo, focus on making those who walk into Susann’s Custom Jewelers feel like part of their family, and their passion for breathtaking, quality jewelry has inspired their legacy. The couple works alongside their son, Colton, and his wife, Morgan.
Additionally, many of their long-time customers have become their extended “jewelry family,” with children and grandchildren of clients turning to the Bartels as a trustworthy cornerstone in the jewelry industry. “We like to take care of our customers rather than just do one-time sales,” Karla explained. “We like to build a relationship through generations. And they get all of us!”
Some loyal customers even plan mini-vacations to Corpus Christi in order to visit and shop with the Bartels in person. Others follow the family’s business online via website and Facebook to place orders. These dedicated jewelers have taken road trips to hand-deliver items, and have shipped special orders as far as Germany.
The Bartel family has owned and operated Susann’s since moving to the Coastal Bend in 2012. Before Corpus Christi, the Bartels lived in Liberal, Kan., where they had another jewelry store that they acquired in 1981. Several factors contributed to their decision to close that store and seek a new location. “He slipped and fell on the ice one too many time,” Colton joked, gesturing at his father.
Audie and Karla spent three years searching for the right fit for their big move. The Bartels traveled from Florida to California, even as far as Panama and Costa Rica, until they came across Susann’s Custom Jewelers, a Corpus Christi jewelry store first opened in 1982.
Susann’s was exactly what they wanted: A store with a well-established name and a good reputation, located in a city they were quickly falling in love with. “We knew we wanted something more tropical, and everybody here is so friendly,” Audie said. “Corpus has a small-town feel like we had in Liberal, but with more people.”
“Whenever people ask me why we chose Corpus, I just show them a picture of the bay and tell them that’s just a few blocks away,” Karla added. Although Colton stayed behind in Kansas to run the store for two more years, he was eager to join his parents in South Texas.
The swaying palm trees, ocean breezes and amiable environment might have drawn the Bartels down here initially, but they quickly put down roots and became part of the local community. The entire family enjoys talking and building relationships with people, so it comes as no surprise that the Bartels also love to give back to their community.
They had been heavily involved with every organization possible back in Liberal, from the Chamber of Commerce and Lions Club to the art museum and area school systems. They still remain essential contributors for the International Pancake Day Race, providing silver tray awards to the winners in both Liberal, Kan., and Olney, England. However, the family soon realized that the Coastal Bend’s larger population translated to more organizations.
Rather than spreading themselves thin, they decided to focus on giving back to a handful of local groups that they know have a direct and immediate impact on local people, most notably the New Life Refuge Ministries. New Life Refuge Ministries is a local charitable organization that aims to raise awareness for and give assistance to individuals, especially minors, affected by human trafficking.
Susann’s Custom Jewelers partners with New Life Refuge Ministries not only at major fundraisers, but throughout the entire year. Besides helping with the organization’s annual Celebration of Courage event, the Bartels collaborate with other local businesses such as Coffee Waves to orchestrate other fundraisers like their recent golf tournament.
They also sell “Courage Coins” in-store and promote the organization on their website year-round. These “Courage Coin” pendants feature a gold or rhodium plated penny, which represent the lives changed by New Life Refuge Ministries. Like a penny that has been tossed aside, many of these survivors may feel forgotten or overlooked. By transforming these coins into shiny jewelry worn close to the heart, the Bartels are sharing the message that every life is valuable and worth celebrating. Susann’s donates half of the profits for each “Courage Coin” pendant directly to New Life Refuge Ministries.
Other community involvement includes their annual Town and Country Christmas festival. The Bartels established this family-driven, community event in 2014 by joining with neighboring businesses to celebrate the season. The event showcases local talent and brings families together for a fun holiday outing.
The Bartels are also firm believers in education. As Karla warns customers, they cannot learn everything about the jewelry industry from skimming a short Internet article. Without the right help, an uninformed buyer may end up with something that looks like “frozen spit.” Both Audie and Colton Bartel are graduate gemologists from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), the most prestigious and comprehensive program in the industry.
“It’s basically the Harvard of jewelry schools,” Audie said. “There was a lot to learn, but [my certification] gives me much more confidence in what I’m buying and selling.”
Although a license is not required to buy or sell jewelry, the Bartel men explained that their education helps them as they research and inspect diamonds and other precious stones before purchasing.
Navigating the jewelry industry can be tricky, which is why it’s necessary to find jewelers willing to walk their customers through purchases or repairs and to teach them how to properly care for jewelry. “Our biggest deal is education,” Colton said. “Even if they’re not buying from us, at least they have the knowledge to make an informed decision when they do buy.”
Part of this education outreach is done through the “Family Jewels” video series they post on Facebook. People can watch the weekly live stream or view past episodes on their website to learn about gemstones, metals, custom castings and more.
Most importantly, the Bartels emphasize the need to purchase items in-person from someone trustworthy, and to pay closer attention to quality and beauty rather than price and size. “Go buy what’s beautiful to you,” Karla encouraged.
This may include lab-grown rather than natural diamonds. Karla praised the stunning quality of the lab-grown diamonds available at Susann’s. Because of their lower price and environmentally friendly creation, these diamonds are experiencing a rise in popularity.
They are also in the process of manufacturing their own high-end watch line. These customizable Bartel watches will feature Swiss manufactured movements with all other materials proudly Texas-made, and will be crafted in-store. Each watch will have a unique serial number and be part of a limited line. “We want to go back to the way watches used to be made, when there was a lot of attention to detail and design,” Colton said.
Susann’s recently moved and remodeled to a new location within Town and Country Shopping Center during a brief three-week period. The Bartels anticipate exciting growth in the near future, and are embracing the changes and challenges ahead.
Visit Susann’s Custom Jewelers at 4226 S. Alameda to see their beautiful collection for yourself. You can also contact them by phone at 361-991-7565 or online at www.susanns-jewelers.com for more information or to set an appointment with a graduate gemologist.