Our History


In The Beginning

Having just graduated from a watchmaker’s school at Peoria III., James H. Ellis struck out for Indiana, intent on making a living. He worked for a jewelry store in Bluffton for a few years, then for Claude Howard’s Jewelry on the west side of the square in Frankfort. In 1916, Ellis and a partner, Chris Arnkins started their new business on the north side of the square. It was at 62 E. Washington, next to what would later be the Camera Shop and is now Heather’s Flowers. Arnkins died a few years later and Ellis took Al Boeckman as his new partner. Tough economic times of the 1930s caused the dissolution of that agreement and Ellis moved around the corner to 208 N. Jackson, next to the bus station.

Ellis Jewelry started in this store in 1916 at 62 East Washington. James H. Ellis (left) is shown with his second partner, Al Boekman. His first partner, Chris Arnkins, died a few years after the store opened.


Continuing Dynasty

James A. Ellis started working at Ellis Jewelry while a 17-year-old at Frankfort High School. He was drafted into the Army two years after graduating from the Bradley University School of horology in Peoria, III. When his father passed away in 1952, Jim returned to Frankfort to help his mother run the store. Elizabeth Ellis was 56 when widowed but began working full time. Illness forced her to retire 32 years later. Jim bought his mother’s share in the store in 1982. In the intervening years, Jim Ellis also became a husband, marrying Carolyn in 1958, and moved the store to its current location at 52 East Washington, in 1963. “We service what we sell” had become the store’s motto.


The New Location

It was a courageous step when Jim Ellis moved his store to 52 East Washington in 1963, Ellis Jewelry had occupied a spot near the bus station with only 324 square feet of room. The new quarters, formerly the Style Shop, offered more than 1000 square feet. WILO Radio continued to operate on the second floor. Ellis Jewelry’s staff consisted of four full-time and one part-time employees. In the coming years, Ellis Jewelry would occupy the entire upstairs and the staff’s size would, at times, more than triple. It became an anchor store for the entire downtown.


New Product Lines

In 1965, Jim Ellis felt ready to take on new product lines. He seized the opportunity to establish a bridal and gift department. New Brides-to-be were able to register gift ideas, thus avoiding the duplication of wedding gifts. They could choose between 110 china and 90 flatware patterns. The store also offered 300 watches, 2000 rings, 675 necklaces, 900 ear ring pairs, and 220 bracelets. Men could choose, besides jewelry, electric shavers, wallets, and deluxe writing instruments. Consultants were always available to help with decision making.


All Things Mechanical

Anyone who knew Jim Ellis, realized that he had a passion for all things mechanical. Maybe it grew from his training as a watchmaker. He had a contract to keep the clocks on the courthouse tower running in unison. For a few years, he drove around Frankfort in a tiny Italian automobile that could be entered only from the front. And he renovated a 1941 Taylor craft airplane that still flies today. Jim worked on it in a building near his home for 12 years. He flew it for a few years and sold it to Russ Kaspar of WILO Radio in 2005.

Among his many interests in things mechanical, Jim Ellis drove this tiny Isetta car around Frankfort. Here, in 1972, it carries a sign, ‘Don’t honk! I’m pedaling as fast as I can.” With a one-cylinder engine, it traveled up to 70 miles on a gallon of gas.


Ellis Originals

In 1979, Ellis Jewelers hired Sally Stuve to design and handcraft jewelry using a client’s own gems or those bought at the store. “The term jeweler is defined as a manufacturer of jewelry,” Jim Ellis said. As demand for Ellis Originals grew, Brian Hardesty and Brady Posey joined the staff. Posey is still creating customized pieces today. Drawings are converted to family heirlooms using the lost wax process. The store even cast a metal hot dog mascot for the Frankfort High School.

Ellis Jewelers made several showings of custom designed pieces at the Frankfort Library over the years. The late Sally Stuve is shown with a display in 1993.

New Store Purchased

In 1978, Jim Ellis purchased Hall Jewelers in Lebanon. With a wink and a smile Mike says “It was Dad’s intent that I would manage the Lebanon store so we wouldn’t have to work together.” With Jim’s passing in July of 2015, Mike has assumed the mantel of president. The Lebanon store was closed at the end of 2017 just shy of 40 years, so Mike could concentrate all his efforts in the Frankfort store. The future of Ellis Jewelers seems to be in capable hands.


The Antwerp Trip

In 1987, the three Ellis Jewelry Store sent their top brass to Antwerp, Belgium to buy diamonds. That included Jim Ellis from Frankfort, Mike Ellis from Lebanon, and John Anderson from Martinsville. Rigid rules were enforced. Passports were surrendered when entering each diamond cutting plant. Jim Ellis came home knowing he had bought 100 stones. They were delivered by an armored vehicle, and payment was wired to Belgium. Only then could each stone be examined.

After their original 1987 trip to buy diamonds in Antwerp, Belgium, Mike Ellis made several more trips. Here, Mike examines a stone from a packet he purchased in 1994.


Street Clock

Jim Ellis had wanted a clock to stand in front of Ellis Jewelry Store for several years. In 2003, instead of buying an already-made clock, he designed one himself and had a friend build it for him. Tom Tolen, a retired auto mechanic, used sheet metal and items from a metal scrap heap to transform Jim’s ideas into reality. Others helped remove a tree and install the artistic, beautiful timepiece. It even contains a public address system to play music originating within the store.

Jim Ellis designed this clock for Washington Street, in front of Ellis Jewelers. Here, he puts finishing touches on the timepiece in 2003. A friend, Tom Tolen, did the fabrication.


Awards and Affiliations

During its 100 years, Ellis Jewelers involved itself in almost every community activity available. It participated in parades, home shows, and sidewalk days; made awards at county fairs, and gave jewelry demonstrations at the library. They also participated in the United Way, March of Dimes, Humane Society, Relay for Life and Little League.

The store is a member of the Chamber of Commerce, Frankfort Main Street, Indiana Jewelers, Jewelers of America and Retail Jewelers Org. Both Jim and Mike were presidents of the Indiana Jewelers Association. In 1994 the Frankfort store received the Indiana Main Street Business of the Year Award for promoting downtown revitalization. In 2005 Jim received the Indiana Jewelers Association Lifetime Achievement Award. 2013 was The Indiana Main Street Business of The Year. 2014 Retail Jewelers Organization 20 years Ultimate Jeweler.

For many years Ellis Jewelers featured an open house at Christmas with prizes and many items on sale. Here, in 1995, Jim Ellis greets Mark Genda, in costume as Frankie.


The Future

The future of Ellis Jewelers lies in the hands of Michael Ellis to carry on the tradition, vision and values of his father, James A. Ellis. As the jewelry industry and technology are evolving so is Ellis Jewelers. Using computer aided design, laser welders and the latest in jewelry manufacturing techniques, Ellis Jewelers is keeping up with the times. As always the customer is the most important aspect of Ellis Jewelers and will continue to be our highest priority. Customer satisfaction, outstanding service and quality jewelry at a fair price will be our goal for the next 100 years.