There is a business here in Knoxville, a big business, that sells jewelry and gems by the thousands. It generates hundreds of millions in profits, but it wasn't always this way. Just ask the three founders.
Gems of all colors, shapes, sizes and quality are sold out of Jewelry Television's headquarters right here in East Tennessee.
"Delta Burke came and visited us some years ago and when she saw the buckets she's like, 'Can somebody please just put me in a bathtub and pour jewels all over me?'," says Bill Kouns, co-founder of JTV.
Jewelry Television has a state-of-the-art facility, but it started with the bare necessities. "To go from one camera to one graphics generator to what we have now, it boggles my mind," says Jerry Sisk, co-founder of JTV.
The minds of these three people, the co-founders of JTV, are truly innovative and smart, too. Sisk has a masters degree, can speak five languages and plays three musical instruments. He worked with Bob Hall, a Blount County native and expert in the cable business. Together they decided to sell stuff on television.
"Everything from coins to knives to glass figurines to quilts, everything you can imagine," says Sisk. That's when Kouns, who has a doctorate in bio-chemistry and was working in pharmaceuticals in Switzerland, came into the picture and the three honed in on jewelry.
"We found out pretty quickly what we really did love and we knew well would be jewlery and gemstones," says Sisk.
And they did a lot with a little. "You had one camera person and often if they were busy doing the graphics you would just reach around operate the camera yourself," says Kouns. "We all have been on camera. We've all bought and sold. We did every job there was to do in the company."
It's now a whole lot different. The studio is high def and high tech. The jewelry even has it's own studio.
"We reach around 80 million households, maybe a little more than that," says Kouns.
And they go all over the world mining for gems. "We've been to mines in just some of the strangest places you can imagine. We try to bring that back and educate the customer," says Sisk.
And they bring with them the best jewlery for the best price to wear, to collect. "You wouldn't believe some of the crazy things they have done with gemstones. We had people actually making fishing lures with some of these," says Sisk.
All their effort has translated into big business. "We are the largest retailer of gemstones anywhere in the world," says CEO Tim Matthews. "Our gross revenues would exceed $400 million dollars a year."
"It's an opportunity to be part of something that's pretty neat," say Bob Hall, co-founder of JTV.
Jerry, Bill and Bob are more than business associates, they are great friends.
"We're a team and we are very close," says Sisk.
"We've survived through so many things together. We know each other so well that we can get mad at each other and angry and it's okay. And we all know that's okay and we love each other," says Kouns.
Jewelry Television, the largest gemstone retailer in the world located right here in East Tennessee and started by three very humble men.
"These are people with tremendous integrity, honesty. I respect their values. I think that they are sincere people that have a lot of heart. And they are very unselfish and these are people I want to work with," says Matthews.
One of Your Stories. There's no place like this one.