My Biz: Cedar Rapids custom jewelers keep the brand their own

Search for unique pieces led couple to start own business

  • Photo

Sandy Freese recalled that she and her husband, Rick, had been shopping for a memorable piece of jewelry for their 20th wedding anniversary. They weren’t having much luck.

So they decided to start their own jewelry store.

“I was working as an insurance clerk for a family practice at the time,” Sandy Freese said. “Opening this store was my husband’s idea.”

Being a well driller, Rick had a natural interest in all things geological, Sandy said.

“We used our two daughters’ middle names in naming the business,” Freese explained.

That first Karen Marie Jewelers store, in 1990, was located in a small strip mall behind the Springhouse Restaurant on Center Point Road. The business also did a short stint in a building next to Panera on Collins Road, before the building was sold to Panera and taken down for parking.

In 2008 they moved to their current location near Target on Blairs Ferry Road.

Today, Rick is the nighttime jewelry repair person and manages two other business concerns while Sandy runs the day-to-day operations, with the assistance of their two daughters, Alethea and Alicia, and one other part-time employee.

Alethea, who holds a diamond degree from the Geological Institute of America, does most of the custom jewelry design work for the store. Alicia is a graduate gemologist.

“People tell us that our jewelry is unique,” added Sandy, “and most of the pieces we design go out the door,” she added, noting they are not on display in their cases.

“We sell a lot of wedding sets and right-hand rings along with the repair work and changing watch batteries or shortening watchband links,” Sandy said, “but the custom jewelry design part of our business has grown.”

The custom work, in fact, has increased by 50 percent, according to Sandy and Alethea.

“I love making the piece that a customer has envisioned,” Alethea added.

The Freeses go to market once a year for buying — “The big one is out in Las Vegas and, of course, the gem stones market is out in Arizona.”

Freese said their store doesn’t buy from any one particular supplier, but works to market their own store’s name.

“We would rather brand our store than another jeweler’s,” she said.

  • Owner: Sandy and Rick Freese
  • Company: Karen Marie Jewelers
  • Address: 1100 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Suite 116, Cedar Rapids
  • Phone: (319) 393-1370
  • Website: The store can be found on Facebook

Know a manager or company in business for more than a year that should be considered for “My Biz”? Contact business editor Michael Chevy Castranova at

Like what you're reading?

We make it easy to stay connected:

to our email newsletters
Download our free apps

Give us feedback

Have you found an error or omission in our reporting? Tell us here.
Do you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.