By Michelle Graff
Herb Bridge is pictured here at the AGS Conclave gala in 2008, which was held in his hometown of Seattle. Friends and colleagues remember the longtime retailer as a humble, kind and friendly man who never forgot a name.
Earlier this week, we shared the sad news that Herb Bridge died at the age of 93.

The jewelry industry and Seattle civic leader was a member of the family that owns and operates Ben Bridge Jeweler.

He started working in the family business, which then was just a single store at Fourth and Pike in Seattle, at a very young age and returned to it after serving in World War II.

In 1955, Ben Bridge handed over ownership of the store to Herb and his brother, Bob. The pair were responsible for the expansion of Ben Bridge Jeweler from a single-store operation to a chain of more than 90 locations, which makes it one of the largest specialty jewelers in North America today.

I never met Herb but, in speaking with others about him this week, it seems he possessed what so many lack in this era of selfies and self-absorption.

He was humble, not one to draw attention to himself or take credit.

He was kind. Kindness seems like such a simple concept yet, as the internet shows us over and over again, it is one that is often forgotten or bypassed.

And though no one used this exact term to describe Herb, it was obvious from my conversations about him that he must have been an excellent listener because it seems he rarely, if ever, forgot a face or a name.

Current Ben Bridge Jeweler President Lisa Bridge shared via social media that walking to an event with her great-uncle was a “slow process” because he would stop to talk with every single person along the way.

“He always remembered people and spoke with a unique care, humor and twinkle in his eye. That was Herb, he taught us to invest time and energy into our community and everyone we came into contact with.”

Georgie Gleim, of Gleim the Jeweler in Palo Alto, California, said one year after an American Gem Society board meeting in Las Vegas, Herb organized a trip to Seattle to tour a Nautilus submarine. (In addition to being a legend in the jewelry industry, Herb was a World War II veteran who served in the Navy and Naval Reserves for 41 years, rising to the rank of rear admiral.)

Gleim said he greeted everyone by their first name when they were walking down the street there, whether it was a bank president or the parking garage attendant, and he did the same when giving the group a tour of Ben Bridge headquarters.

John Carter, owner of Jack Lewis Jewelers in Bloomington, Illinois, recalled meeting Herb at AGS Conclave a dozen or so years ago through his mentor John Wohlwend, the former owner of Jack Lewis.

He said many times when you meet someone, he or she only remembers you in association with a certain person or setting. But Herb never forgot a detail—Carter said he always knew who he was, where he was from and that he had worked with John Wohlwend.

“He just never missed a beat, that guy,” Carter said. “He always listened and cared.”


Another common thread that ran through my conversations about Herb was his love for AGS, and the organization and its people certainly loved him back.

Susan Eisen, an AGS member jeweler in El Paso, Texas, sent me this in an email after she read about Herb’s passing earlier this week: “Herb was always welcoming and friendly, especially to a young woman like me at my first AGS conference 30 years ago.  His smile was infectious and he always had one on. What a great man for me to have known and a treasure for all of us!”

Herb was said never to miss Conclave and served the AGS as chair of its board of trustees in the late ‘90s.

He was the winner of the society’s Circle of Distinction “Triple Zero” award in 2000 and took home its highest honor, the Shipley Award, three years later. In 2012, the entire Bridge family won the Circle of Distinction Lifetime Achievement Award.

These accolades came in addition to all the recognition he received in his hometown of Seattle, where there is an official Herb Bridge Day.

20180406 Herb and RuthHerb Bridge with former AGS CEO Ruth Batson at AGS Conclave in Washington, D.C. in 2016. Herb was said never to miss  Conclave.
Former AGS CEO Ruth Batson, who retired last year, was on vacation this week but kindly took the time to text me some thoughts about Herb’s death.

She said Herb had a “profound and positive influence” on the organization and the AGS Lab, wholly supporting its opening. He also served as a mentor to many, including former AGS President Cathy Calhoun and Batson herself.

“I’m still in shock, I think, over Herb’s passing,” Batson wrote. “I always thought he was invincible.”

“For me personally, he was my mentor and my friend,” she continued. “He saw something in me that I couldn’t see in myself. He pushed me in a tough love kind of way and I owe him plenty.”

In lieu of flowers, the Bridge family asks people to donate to the charity of their choice.

A private service was held this week, while a public memorial is scheduled to take place April 17 at Temple De Hirsch Sinai in Seattle.

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