Shelby Gem Factory to close.

December 12, 2019

Shelby Gem Factory owner and founder Larry Kelley in 2016.

Shelby Gem Factory to close.

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

SHELBY — An iconic Shelby business is closing its doors after 50 years of operation.

Shelby Gem Factory will be closed at the end of this month, said Jo Kelley, vice president of the company.

The closing was a “forced choice,” Jo said. Her husband, Larry Kelley, who founded the unique business, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease two years ago. “It has rendered him unable to continue to do business,” she said.

Competition created by the global economy and online markets were contributing factors leading to the decision to close. “The Internet was disastrous for us,” Jo said.

The 15,000-square-foot building located in the village’s industrial park is for sale.

Larry and Craig Hardy began the unique business that manufactured gemstones in 1970. It was the first company to launch in the village’s industrial park.

In his youth, Larry found a passion for science and inventing things. At the age of 13, he made the local news headlines in 1957 when he and a friend requested city council’s permission to blast homemade rockets over Hart Lake. They were denied due to safety concerns.

When he was 14 years old, Larry made a functioning underwater diving helmet from the inside of a hot water tank. That same year, he built an artificial heart for a frog.

Larry and his brother Arthur were in the news in 1962 after an explosion in their home laboratory resulted in Larry losing a finger and partial loss of other fingers on his right hand. “Ever since I was a kid, I liked to play with chemistry,” he said during an interview in 2016.

Larry and Arthur were involved in building the very first dune buggy that went over Mount Baldy in Silver Lake in the late 1960s, he said.

Larry’s biggest claim to fame, however, is the Shelby Gem Factory. His one-of-a-kind business that created imitation diamonds, manmade rubies and sapphires and other manufactured precious gem stones drew tourists to Shelby for decades. Visitors toured the showroom and viewed a film inside the gem factory’s 50-seat theater that explained how the gems were made. Billboards have attracted visitors from miles around.

Atop his list of accomplishments is his invention of a process to mass produce the cubic zirconia.

Larry’s gem manufacturing business boomed, and he eventually opened factories in France, China and India with eight jewelry stores in Michigan and in other parts of the country.

Shelby Gem Factory dazzled during the 1970s and 1980s. “We were the only company doing this,” Jo said. “It was innovative and unique.”

Unfortunately, it has lost its luster as a sign of the times.

Everything is “drastically reduced,” Jo said, with “big markdowns” on prices until the doors are closed. Their jeweler will remain on hand until Dec. 27 to make jewelry repairs.

Plans are to have a get-together for former employees who have worked at the gem factory over the course of the last 50 years some time next month. There are two employees impacted by the upcoming closing.

The couple’s son, John, is taking over Kelley Laboratories, which is a manufactured metalworking business, across the street, Jo said.

This story is copyrighted © 2019, all rights reserved by Media Group 31, LLC, PO Box 21, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

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