Visiting an LGBT affirming jeweler makes all the difference
After twenty-eight years in the business, A.J. Martin’s passion for antique and vintage jewelry still shines. And according to Dustin Tittle, who has worked with Martin since 2010, “A.J.’s one of the least judgmental people I’ve ever met, and has had LGBT people in both her family and circle of friends since she was old enough to have either.” Tittle, a Vandy grad and a gay man, manages the shop, and he created and maintains their website and Etsy store.
Tittle’s progress from seasonal help in late 2010 to junior partner in the present is indicative of Martin’s openness toward LGBT people. She gave Tittle a chance, though his background in history and art history might not have indicated this career path, but he said, “I have an appreciation for it because so many of the pieces in our store are literal works of art. Art Deco engagement rings, retro right hand rings, or more modern pieces, it doesn’t matter. They’re all so unique and different!”
They know LGBT couples in middle Tennessee don’t have a lot of options when it comes to openly LGBT-affirming jewelers. “We want them to know they can come here and not be judged. We just want to help people find the right piece of jewelry for them, or make it for them,” she said. In fact, Tittle and his partner, Matt Riddlehoover, just married, exchanging rings made by Martin.
Often LGBT couples arrive at their shop, not knowing how they’ll be treated or whether they’ll be served at all: “They don’t clearly establish that they’re a couple,” Tittle explained, “until we either ask or it gets to the point where they can’t not tell us. There’s a timidity about it.” The ice broken, the jewelers have the opportunity to provide a welcoming and affirming experience. “We develop a rapport with them and, in no time at all, they’ve gone from standoffish at best (or uncomfortable at worst) to relaxed. Buying an engagement ring, anniversary present, or birthday present for the person you love is stressful enough; you don’t need the added stress of having to hide who you are.”
Helping people find just the right piece to express their happiness is always gratifying, Tittle said. “The engagement ring is unlike almost anything else you’ll ever buy, because it—by definition—is something you intend to wear forever…. It’s symbolic of something that can’t be described.” Looking at it conjures memories, and, unfortunately, for LGBT couples those memories might include the time a jeweler sneered at the idea of serving a couple ‘like them.’ ”
That’s why it’s so important that businesses like A.J. Martin Estate Jewelry make a clear statement of affirmation: they’ll help and serve LGBT people with respect, doing nothing to mar the memory the day someone bought the perfect ring. See http://www.ajmartinonline.com for more information.