After 35 years in business, husband and wife team Irene and Rudy Patton — the owners of R&I Patton in Mongoose Junction — have created some of the most beautiful and recognizable jewelry on St. John.
While the pair have seen plenty of changes over the years, they still love the island, the park, and each other and the secret to their success is a simple one, explained Rudy.
“Stop doing the things that don’t work and keep doing what does work,” he said.
“And have a wonderful sister,” added Irene, whose sister JoAnne Keele has worked alongside the Pattons since she moved to Love City after graduating college with a degree in sociology.
“We told her she would never get a job in sociology so she should come down here,” Rudy joked about Keele — who is now production manager and talent developer at the shop.
The jewelry-making Pattons first met before they ever touched a soldering tool, when they were both pursuing degrees in education at Florida State University.
Finding Something Else To Do
The couple, who were married while Irene was in graduate school, sailed to St. Thomas from Florida in 1971 to teach at what is now Addelita Cancryn Junior High school.
“It didn’t work out,” Rudy said about the teaching stint. “Which was good for us because we had to find something else to do.”
With their boat tied up at Yacht Haven close to a jewelry maker’s vessel, the Pattons decided to try their hands at something other than classroom instruction.
“We told our neighbor we were thinking of doing something other than teaching, and she said, ‘why don’t you apprentice with me,’” said Rudy. “So that’s what I did for three months one summer. And being teachers, we believed we could teach ourselves the craft.”
“We were living on our boat and making jewelry on our boat — it was a big adventure,” Irene added.
The Pattons lined up several clients and sailed around to nearby islands selling their wares.
Not Today’s Cruz Bay
“We sailed to St. Croix a lot and other islands selling our jewelry,” said Irene. “We came ashore in St. John and anchored right in Cruz Bay. Rudy had been here, but I had never really stayed here before.”
The Cruz Bay the Pattons found in 1972 was not the same place one sees stepping off the ferry dock today. There was no Wharfside Village, no Joe’s Diner, no Cruz Bay Realty, and very few tourists.
“There was a little spot at the back of Ms. Meada’s building,” said Irene. “It was about eight-and-a-half feet by eleven and was in the back of this building. There was a huge lime tree in the backyard though which was nice.”
Other than Caneel Bay Resort and Inga Hiilivirta’s Islandia Real Estate, there was not much going on in the streets of Cruz Bay except a passing peacock and some chickens, the Pattons explained.
“There were a few small gift shops, but not much,” said Rudy. “Somehow the tourists at Caneel found us and insisted on buying our jewelry. We were only open three days a week, but you can’t do that because people get outraged.”
“They would come all the way into town to find the shop closed and were not happy,” Rudy continued.
It was around this time that Rudy first created one of his most enduring designs, explained Irene.
“A wife of one of the Caneel managers came and asked Rudy to make a petroglyph,” she said.
“I thought it was the hotel’s logo at the time,” said Rudy. “But she explained that, no it was a petroglyph in Reef Bay and I could use it for a design.”
Besides the Pattons’ shop, Linda Smith Palmer had a small painted clothing studio in Cruz Bay. Palmer is the one who asked her friend Glen Speer to build her a new shop, explained Irene.
“Linda asked Glen to build her a shop and we said, ‘oh, us too, us too,” Irene said.
Moved To Mongoose
Not long after, Speer did just that and constructed Mongoose Junction I, where Palmer opened her store in 1976. The Pattons soon followed, moving down the road in 1978.
“People kept asking us, ‘why are you moving so far out there — no one will ever find you,” said Irene.
“It was us and the Canvas Shop and Donald Schnell all in this one building,” added Rudy, standing in the very same building in the Cruz Bay shopping complex 30 years later.
Palmer did a successful job of promoting the burgeoning shopping area and Mongoose flourished. Mongoose II was constructed in 1989 and in 1991 the Pattons took over the whole building they used to share with two other artisans.
The jewelry store eventually expanded to include a second floor which includes four work stations. There is a third station downstairs in the main shop as well.
“It all went from simple to crazy gradually,” said Rudy.
“We still make 80 percent of the jewelry and we have a few vendors whom we know personally,” said Irene.
Fairness, Socially Conscious
Another key to their success might be their basic principles of fairness and doing business with a conscious.
The jewelers use only recycled gold, strife-free diamonds which are safely mined and adhere to strict Federal Trade Commission ethical practices.
“You need customer service, good designs and fair prices,” said Rudy. “It really works.”
While their roles overlap and their respect for each other is evident, the Pattons don’t step on each other’s toes.
“We don’t do the same things,” said Irene. “Rudy does layouts, advertising work and hand-designs. I do one-of-a-kind things, specialize in beads, pearls and gem stone jewelry and take care of the physical operation of the building.”
“JoAnne is in charge of all the production and she finds everyone’s hidden talent,” Irene continued. “Everyone who works here learns this craft in some way.”
Linked To VINP
They also credit their success to the establishment of the Virgin Islands National Park for its part in keeping St. John a desirable destination.
“We can’t say enough about Laurence Rockefeller and his vision and the National Park,” said Irene. “Our success is directly tied to the success of St. John.”
And the Pattons do more than just talk about supporting organizations. One hundred percent of the sale of their popular bronze Zimi pendants — designed after an artifact found at the Cinnamon Bay archaeology lab — goes to the Friends of the V.I. National Park.
The Pattons also donate 100 percent of the sale of their St. John sea turtle pendants to the World Wildlife Fund.
R&I Patton is filled with a wide variety of exquisite jewelry for every taste. From black diamonds to Rudy’s branch coral bracelets and Irene’s incredible flatware, there is no shortage of selection.
The Pattons are still excited to share their knowledge of gems and stones from around the world and when asked what her favorite part of the business is, Irene’s eyes still light up.
“My favorite part is the challenge of the big picture,” said Irene. “I love doing it all, from the concept to the design to creating the piece to finding the right customer.”
With the Pattons now welcoming a third generation of customers who first found their hidden shop behind Ms. Meada’s, they have definitely found the key to success.
Another lesson the Pattons seemed to have picked up all those years ago before Mongoose Junction was even built is to keep regular hours.
R&I Patton is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. except three days a year — Thanksgiving, Christmas and the Fourth of July. For more information call 779-4816.
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