Paradise on Del Mar
May 22, 2019 01:08PM
By Nina Welch
Rick Dunning, (right) and his team at Paradise Jewelers.
by Nina Welch
Locals and visitors all agree that San Clemente is paradise, and Rick and Debbie Dunning have brought Paradise in the form of jewelry to San Clemente.
The original Paradise store opened in 2006 on El Camino Real. When the recession hit in 2008, they opened a second store on Del Mar called Paradise II Boutique. Debbie developed her own image and silver product line. The store remains successful today and she and manager Stephanie have a growing following.
In 2014, Rick’s current location on Del Mar became available. In this larger location he was able to display more inventory, increase his lines and improve the store’s image.
Paradise I sells diamonds, designs custom rings, buys second- hand jewelry, coins, gold and watches, plus they do repairs on site. His new Master Bench Jeweler, Eric Aguirre, has improved the quality of repairs and custom work. And according to Rick, the two Paradise stores work well together and they often send each other business.
People gravitate to Paradise I not only for the fine jewelry and unique treasures but for Rick’s background and stories. Rick grew up in Ohio and his dad, Dr. Fred Dunning, was a dentist. Fred got tired of fixing local high school football players’ broken teeth so he invented, designed, and patented one of the first football helmet face-masks in 1965. Fred’s timing was perfect since face masks became mandatory in1966.
Rick worked for his dad after college as vice president of the company called Dungard, Inc. in Brecksville, Ohio. Both Rick and his dad were sports fanatics. His dad bought Cleveland Browns’ season tickets in 1958, and Rick still has those seats over 60 years later.
After the company closed in the late ‘70s, Rick met Hannah Weiss, the largest Italian gold jewelry distributor in Ohio. Rick says, “We became friends and one day she gave me a roll of gold chains to try to sell.” He and his wife sold them and went back for more two weeks later.
That was the beginning of Debbie and Rick’s passion for the jewelry business. They soon created their company, Emerald City Jewelers, named after the birthstone of their daughter, Dawn, who was born in May. As their company grew, they began importing gold jewelry direct from Italy. They sold that business in 2005 and moved to San Clemente.
The entire Dunning family eventually settled in Southern California. Their son, Shaun, graduated with a law degree, but is now employed in the tech industry working at Amazon. He and his wife, Kristin, live in San Clemente and have a son Easton, a year and a half. Rick and Debbie’s daughter, Dawn, moved from Manhattan, New York to Fullerton and she has her own company specializing in costume design. Dawn and her husband, Mikael, have two sons. Hudson is three and a half and August is seven months.
When ringing the doorbell and entering Paradise I on Del Mar, it’s quite an experience. Not only is exquisite fine and antique jewelry displayed in cases throughout the store, but towards the back, it’s like a sports memorabilia museum. Signed baseball cards, baseballs, and photographs line the cases.
According to Rick, when his son was born in ‘82, his interest in collectibles, especially baseball cards, increased. He started going to the national card collector shows. Among his favorites are Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Mickey Mantle autographs. He also has an array of bauble heads in the front window. There’s even a Mickey Mantle bauble head from the ‘60s. Rick is also proud of his display of Lady Diana autographs and photos in a case above the baseball cards. Lady Di’s hairstylist, Richard, moved to Orange County from England and became a regular customer of Rick’s.
Paradise I has the most up-to-date equipment and tools to improve accuracy, including a precision laser welder, diamond probes, metal detection X-Ray guns, and a computer engraver. Debbie and Rick studied at the Gemmological Institute and completed their diamond studies in 1989. Their knowledge of the business came from 39 years working closely with some of the largest diamond, gold, and color stone distributors in the United States.
They once spent the afternoon in New York with the man dubbed “king of emeralds.” Rick says, “We sorted through his multi-million-dollar inventory of emeralds. What a lesson that was. After doing over 100,000 repairs or custom jobs in our career we are ready for anything.”
The professional and efficient staff at Paradise I consists of Eric Aguirre, Master Bench Jeweler, Randy Loeber, General Manager, and sales staff: Nancy, Shelbi and Jacob. Rick is proud that his store maintains low prices, an extensive inventory, and a professional approach to helping customers. When entering or exiting Paradise I, salesman and professional magician, Jacob, can be known to entertain customers with a sleight-of-hand magic trick.