After 40 years in business, Cumberland Diamond Exchange continues to give back to Cobb.
By Cory Sekine-Pettite
We all know the marketing tagline “A Diamond is Forever.” It’s creation in 1947 catapulted our modern love affair with these precious stones and created the modern engagement ring. The human infatuation with diamonds can be traced back to the first century AD Romans, historians say, but as the Industrial Age’s technology and resulting affluence meant more people could afford to own diamonds and other luxury jewelry items, demand rose dramatically.
It may seem like a simple equation to say that people love jewelry and fine jewelry is expensive; therefore, it’s obviously easy to operate a jewelry store in America. Well, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, a diamond may last forever, but there’s no guarantee that a business selling diamonds and other jewels will last just as long. So, to say that running a business — any business — for 40 years is a great accomplishment is an incredible understatement. But Cumberland Diamond Exchange has done just that. This family-run business, which opened its doors in 1982, is a Smyrna landmark and attracts customers from all over the state. Thus, the City of Smyrna recently commemorated Cumberland Diamond Exchange with a special Day of Proclamation ceremony on Oct. 3, 2022 (pictured).
Cobb In Focus reached out to owners/operators Mark and Rhonda Jacobson to talk about this remarkable achievement as well as to learn about the company’s history.
The shop sits near the corner of Spring Road and Cumberland Boulevard where the Jacobsons have watched their business grow — and Smyrna along with it. In the 1980s, Smyrna was a small town few folks outside of Cobb County even knew about. In 1988, National Geographic infamously referred to Smyrna as “redneck town.” But today, Smyrna is an economic powerhouse with an award-winning downtown development and one of the hottest real estate markets in the state.
“Who would have thought the Atlanta Braves would build a stadium a block away from our store? I’ve been able to witness what some people called a sleepy town [blossom] into one of the most desirable cities in the metro area to live, especially young millennials as downtown Smyrna and The Battery Atlanta has provided them with a premier entertainment venue,” Mark says. “When we purchased our current building in 1999, we could have never imagined we would be in the heart in the entertainment district of Cobb County. With the Atlanta Braves and The Battery, it’s like having a resort at the end of Spring Road for all to enjoy!
Mark moved to the area in the 1970s and started an advertising agency before working as the in-house marketer for a local jewelry store. Enamored more with the jewelry business than with advertising, he and his brother, Wayne, later opened Cumberland Diamond Exchange. A few years later, Rhonda Akins was among the staff additions as the business blossomed. She is credited with early innovations in the company’s business plan and with becoming the store’s first Graduate Gemologist. She’s also credited with stealing Mark’s heart; the couple were married in 1985. Mark and Rhonda now operate the business.
The store started out small at about 1,200 square feet but has since grown to almost 5,000 square feet. Though the store’s appearance may have changed, its mission hasn’t. Cumberland Diamond Exchange has been “Passionately engaging relationships since 1982.” And the owners know that their biggest asset is their reputation.
The Jacobsons say that their core principles of treating customers like family and serving the community are the two, main reasons their business has thrived for four decades. The couple take pride in their well-regarded, handcrafted jewelry, superior customer service, and notable achievements. But they are most proud of the relationships formed over the years with the community. “[We] had a big dream in 1982 — even when it was just me and my brother and a 1,200-square-foot storefront — and the result is a community filled with people with better lives because of Cumberland Diamond Exchange and our philosophy of service,” Mark says.
Yes, the company has sold millions of jewels and bobbles, Mark says. Yes, its sales have exponentially grown beyond his wildest dreams in 40 years. Yes, the company’s team of employees now tops 15. And yes, Cumberland Diamond Exchange has received numerous industry accolades as professionals of fine jewelry. “But this is not how Rhonda and I as co-owners define success,” Mark adds. “For us, success is measured by the relationships developed and the positive impact made on people. And, therefore, Cumberland Diamond Exchange is not a jewelry business; it is a people business. We repeatedly claim that the solitary reason we are still in business today is due to our investment made in people and community. Nothing more and nothing less.”
This love for their community often is reciprocated. For example, during the height of the pandemic, when shops across the country were closed and many never reopened, Cumberland Diamond Exchange’s clientele continued to support the business. “During the uncertainty of sustaining our business during the pandemic, the community support that was given to us validated that we were valued in the community,” Mark says. “Although we would partially open, clients and friends purchased gift cards and ordered merchandise over the phone and online. We feel truly blessed to be part of such an amazing county.”
Clearly, Mark and Rhonda’s passion for giving is appreciated and respected throughout Cobb. But Mark gives all credit for these endeavors to his life partner and business partner, Rhonda. “If you ever met my wife and partner, Rhonda, you would know who has the heart of gold for philanthropy,” he says. “Her favorite phrase is ‘If you have been blessed, you should bless others.’ As a business leader in the community, we feel it’s our civic obligation to help non-profits to be successful in their mission. Creating jewelry to help raise money and awareness for our non-profit partners has also been a blessing for us personally.”
So, where do the Jacobsons give of their time and money? The list is as impressive and varied as their store’s merchandise. Cumberland Diamond Exchange supports more than 40 charitable organizations and non-profits, including the Smyrna Public Safety Foundation, SafePath Children’s Advocacy Center, the Cobb Library Foundation, and Shepherd’s Men. Take a look:
- Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (Scottish Rite) (supported in the 1990s)
- Wellstar Foundation (supported since 2009; board member 2013-2016)
- LiveSafe Resources (supported since 2010; board member 2015-2021; board chairperson 2018-2019; recipient of 2014 Women of Achievement)
- SafePath Children’s Advocacy Center (supported since 2011; recipient of 2019 Crystal Gavel Community Service Award; board member, chairperson of the board)
- Shepherd’s Men (supported since 2014)
- Cufflinks + Charms for Charity (signature program since 2010; custom-designed jewelry for resale and recognition for charitable organizations)
- Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center (2007 Inaugural Grand Opening, Advisory Board, Gala Host Committee & Patron – 2007-2012)
- Cobb Library Foundation (supported since 2017)
- Smyrna Public Safety Foundation (supported since 2017)
“Simply put: We lead with the belief that it’s our obligation to be an active, force-changing part of this community,” Mark says. “It’s the lives we’ve touched and improved because of our unwavering dedication to this principle that truly defines our forty-year success.”
Jinger Robins, MA, Chief Executive Officer of SafePath Children’s Advocacy Center describes the company as an essential partner in her efforts to combat child abuse. “For over 10 years, Cumberland Diamond Exchange has been the sparkle in the eyes of so many children,” she says. “CDE’s support of our organization has allowed us to provide essential services to thousands of children who have been abused. The volunteer support and financial donations, along with their social media support of our program has been like a hidden jewel to our vision in Cobb County to create a community free of child abuse.”
Of course, the Jacobsons are not chasing accolades or attention. They’re simply doing what they think will best help the community in which they live, work, and employ. The fact that so many others take notice is a testament to Cumberland Diamond Exchange’s impact. Here are but a few of the business’s recent honors:
- 2014 Sam Olens Business Community Service Award (finalist)
- 2015 Cobb County Small Business of the Year (2013 + 2014 finalist)
- 2016 Southeastern United States, Jeweler of the Year
- 2017 Smyrna Citizen of the Year: Rhonda Jacobson (presented by Cobb Chamber of Commerce)
- Best of Cobb 2017 (presented by Cobb Life Magazine)
- Top 5% of independent, specialty jewelers in the United States based on revenue (2000’s to current)
Mark says he would be remiss if he didn’t give credit to his team of employees. He said he is fortunate to have quality people in key leadership roles. “Prentice Johnson, our general manager, and Richard Rahim, our inventory manager, have been with us for almost two decades. Clay Haddon, our shop manager, has been with us for ten years, and our daughter and marketing manager, Melissa Jacobson Bishop, has been with us since … birth,” he notes.
Cumberland Diamond Exchange might be a family-owned and operated fine jewelry store (with the third generation just born this past July), but it is a success as a people business, Mark says.