James Avery, the Texas designer who started the business that grew into 80-store chain James Avery Artisan Jewelry, died Monday at the age of 96.
Kerrville, Texas—James Avery, who started his eponymous retail chain in his in-laws’ garage in the 1950s, died Monday. He was 96.

The company announced his death Monday afternoon on its social media accounts, writing, “It is with heartfelt sorrow that we announce the passing of our founder, James Avery. He touched many lives through his art and giving spirit.”

Avery was born Dec. 7, 1921, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

He served in the U.S. Air Corps during World War II and was stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. After completing pilot training, he commanded a B-26 bomber and survived 44 missions over Germany.

Following the war, Avery earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial design from the University of Illinois. He began teaching at colleges, and it was while at the University of Colorado that he first began to explore jewelry-making techniques.

In 1954, he and his wife, Texas native Sally Ranger, spent the summer in Kerrville visiting her parents. It was then and there that Avery started what would eventually become an 80-store chain in his in-laws’ two-car garage.

“I worked alone for three years,” the jeweler once said. “Ideas, plenty of hard work and prayers (not necessarily in that order) were the rule of each day.”

Over the years, more customers began to come to the Texas Hill Country to seek out his designs, many of which have a Christian theme.

In 1957, he hired his first employee, Fred Garcia, and in 1973, opened his first store.

Today, James Avery Craftsman Inc.’s sales total just over $100 million, according to National Jeweler’s latest list of $100 Million Supersellers, and the company’s 80 stores make it one of the top 20 largest specialty jewelers in North America.

James Avery jewelry also is also sold through more than 200 Dillard’s stores in 28 states and nationwide via its website. The company has more than 3,500 employees.

Avery retired in 2007 and turned the business over to his two sons, Chris and Paul, though he continued to design jewelry and served as chairman emeritus of the company’s board of directors.

He is remembered as a dynamic, creative and generous man who touched many people through his art, work and giving spirit.

His generosity is reflected in a banner displayed in the visitor center at the company’s headquarters in Texas that reads: “Giving is what it is all about!”

James Avery Artisan Jewelry is inviting the public to leave tributes on or email remembrances to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

In lieu of flowers or gifts, the company requested people make a donation to the charity of their choice in his memory.

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