The Christmas shopping season of 1873 was in full swing when French A. Balthis opened the doors to his new jewelry shop on the north side of Main Street in Charlottesville, Virginia. A master watchmaker, who had formerly worked for the local jeweler J.W. Lipop, Balthis probably didn't sell much jewelry at the time — it was less than 10 years after the end of the Civil War, Main Street was a dirt road and the town's population was only about 8,000 — but, silverware was affordable and men carried large pocket watches that often required servicing.
Keller & George is the oldest retail business in the Charlottesville/Albemarle region. Today Keller & George is the home to many fine jewelry designers as well as several Swiss timepiece brands. Read more of our history below.
Balthis sold his cousin, Thomas S. Keller, a portion of the business. On November 11, 1874 the first ad appeared in The Jeffersonian Republican newspaper
A year after opening, Balthis sold his cousin Thomas S. Keller a skilled master jeweler and engraver, then serving as a lieutenant in the Monticello Guard and later the commander, a share of the business. The partners moved to larger quarters at No.1 Alexander Block on the southwest corner of 3th and Main Streets (where the Timberlake Pharmacy building is today), and enlarge their stock. On November 11, 1874, the first ad touting their joint venture and an array of new wares — watches, jewelry, solid silver and plated ware, silver spoons, pearl goods, clocks and more — appeared in The Jeffersonian Republican newspaper.
In 1885, the partners dissolved their partnership and went their separate ways. Keller moved his store to the southeast corner of 3rd and Main Street, hired sixteen-year-old Harry Alexander George, who was training as a watchmaker, as an assistant, and brought in a master watchmaker named Eakins as a replacement for Balthis. Business thrived.
Eight years later, Harry Alexander George, who was not yet 25 years old, purchased a partnership in the store, and the firm of Keller and George came into being. Through the years, the firm grew along with the town. The partners filled their first prescription for glasses in 1899 for Miss Eliza Faris of Red Hill, Virginia; and for a time sold bicycles.
For many years, the firm served as a division watch inspector for the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad; inspecting the station agents' and telegraph operators' watches to insure their accuracy once every quarter.
In 1916, Harry George bought out Thomas Keller to become the sole owner of the firm. He retained the Keller and George name and moved the store to an old bank building on the northwest corner of Main and 4th Streets, pending the remodeling of its new location at 214 Main Street.
When the American Gem Society (AGS) established the classification of registered jeweler as a protection to American consumers in 1934, Harry A. George, Jr. and Frank W. Brown, an employee, were among the first jewelers in the country to complete the intensive course of study.
Keller and George opened a University Branch in 1935. By that time, the University, which was almost out in the country in 1873, had become a part of the growing city.
Harry A. George, Jr. took over the management of the firm for the family upon the death of his father in 1943. Eight years later in January of 1950, the firm was incorporated with Harry Jr. as president and manager. Keller and George remained in the George family until 1994, when the family sold the firm to Schiffman's, a family-owned and operated carriage trade jeweler established in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1893.
Keller and George, now located at 1149 Millmont Street, is the oldest surviving independent jeweler in Central Virginia. The firm remains committed to the community; actively supporting local organizations such as the CASPCA, the Chamber of Commerce's Quadruplicity Awards, the Monticello Wine Trail and Montpelier Hunt.