A worldly bear
Vail, CO, Colorado
VAIL ” It turns out the Golden Bear is renowned for more than pretty jewelry ” the small pendant once saved a woman’s life. A note, sent along with a broken chain and blackened bear, outlined the fantastic story.
“This bear saved my life,” the letter began. The next few sentences detailed the episode ” a woman was cleaning her mother’s home with an ancient vacuum when an exposed wire in the cord made contact with the bear around her neck. The chain exploded, leaving the sooty bear on the floor. The woman came away unscathed, thanks to the bear, she said. She sent the necklace back to the Golden Bear store, one of Vail’s oldest retailers, to have the bear shined and the chain replaced. The note also contained a plea, begging for the bear’s quick return because it was her good-luck charm.
Ignoring the Golden Bear is virtually impossible in Vail. Between the store on Bridge Street, the many locals that sport the simple bear-shaped pendants around their necks and the eye-catching, skin-revealing advertisements, the Golden Bear has become synonymous with Vail. And bear sightings aren’t relegated to Vail, either ” they happen all over the world.
As the signature design’s popularity has grown, so has the number of bear options: You can choose gold or silver earrings, bracelets, rings and dog collars ” some are even studded with diamonds.
The bears are born and raised in Vail, in a studio a few miles from the store. There, a handful of jewelers craft the pieces by hand while a few others polish. The studio is divided into two rooms ” one houses the fire where the precious metals are cast, and the other functions as workroom, complete with separate work stations. It doesn’t take much persuading to get the stories flowing ” each person has at least one bear story from a friend or relative or even their own story.
“I got mine in high school,” said Britton Knickerbocker, or jewelery designer. “When I moved here and saw there was a job opening, I knew I had to work here.”
The jewelers don’t take their job lightly, either.
“I always relate it to the Tiffany’s bean,” designer Stacy Genditzki said. “Instead of giving someone a Tiffany’s necklace, you get a bear. It is the dating gift in Vail.”
It’s obvious that the bears mean a lot to their owners ” Carol Rivera said she gets notes from people to please hurry up with the polishing and send it back because “I can’t ‘bear’ to be without my bear.”
Local resident Tura Resavage started wearing the golden bear about 30 years ago after winning a pair of golden bear earrings in a golf tournament sponsored by the Golden Bear. She still wears the earrings, and her bear collection continually grows, one piece at a time.
“I like to visit the gals who work in the store and sneak in a goodie,” Resavage said. Now you’ll hardly ever see her out and about without some form of a golden bear, but there is one piece she favors.
“I have a little one with diamonds in it,” she said. “I got it after my husband had his hip replaced. I did all the cooking, cleaning and shuttling. I told him that this deserves more than a slap on the butt.”
While traveling abroad, the necklace has served as a great conversation starter, she said.
“I was in Norway and there were people who had been in Vail for a World Cup and recognized it,” she said. She also has had people come up to her while golfing in Scotland.
She then brought it to the next generation when she bought her daughter Signe Jones a bear for her 16th birthday. Now the third generation wears a bear ” her granddaughter Siri just turned 2, and she received a silver bear necklace.
“I like them because they are plain, very simple but very classy,” Resavage said. “I just think (the bear) is good looking.”
Jones echoes that sentiment; she adds to her bear collection each year.
“I send my husband there anytime he needs to buy a gift for an anniversary, birthday or Christmas,” Jones said. She owns 10 necklaces, three bracelets, five rings and a couple of pairs of earrings. She likes that even though the jewelry is simple, it always garners attention.
“I used to bartend at Gore Range Brewery for 10 years, and now I am at E-town, and I get more compliments on the bears than all my other jewelry,” she said. Jones also has had her bear recognized in New York, when she was at the U.S. Open. Jones also likes that it starts conversations.
“I am never afraid to go up to someone if I see they are wearing a golden bear,” she said.
To understand the reach of the golden bear, stop by the Bridge Street store and ask for Joan Packer or Trudy Walsh, both 20-plus-year employees at the store. The stories tumble out.
“The best story is a longtime customer called us totally distraught because she had been on vacation at a resort in Mexico and she had lost her big pave diamond bear,” Packer said. “Not two days later, we got a phone call from New York. The woman (caller) had been in a cab and felt like she was sitting on something and reached behind her and down into the seat and pulled out the diamond necklace. She knew of us and knew that this meant something to someone.”
Turns out the vacationer lost her bear before she even left the cab, never mind the country. Lucky for her, she got it back.
Laughing, they told a story about two ladies at Miami International Airport going down an escalator. While going up the other side, two other ladies spotted their bears and, grinning, shouted across the way, “Hey, golden bear ladies ” we have them, too.”
It is hard to argue that the bear doesn’t benefit from a bit of folklore. The carefully crafted legend and guidelines, set out in the Golden Bear catalog, gives the bear a personality that most jewelry lacks. The tale says the bear is a good-luck charm and recommends bear necklaces be worn with the bear facing the wearer’s heart. The earrings should be sported with the face “nuzzling” your cheek.
The bear’s popularity keeps growing. Jones thinks it’s because the store has kept the design simple, and while adding new pieces, they don’t ever go “over the top.”
Maybe it’s even simpler than that. Speaking for Packer, herself and perhaps everyone who owns a golden bear, Walsh echoes a simple sentiment:
“We believe in it.”