On a snowy morning in December 1873, French A. Balthis, a master watchmaker, opened the doors of his new jewelry store on the north side of Main Street in Charlottesville. Main Street was a dirt road and the horse and buggy, the major source of transportation. It was only 8-years after the hostilities between the South and North had ceased, the war a vivid memory. Charlottesville was full of promise as the city began rebuilding its commerce and industry.
In November 1874 Thomas S. Keller, then a lieutenant in the Monticello Guard and later the commander, joined Balthis, his cousin, in the business. With Keller, a master engraver, as his partner Balthis was able to move the store to better quarters at No.1 Alexander Block on the southwest corner of 4th street (then called Union Street), and enlarge the inventory to include the latest styles in watches, jewelry, solid silver and plated ware, silver spoons, jet goods, pearl goods, and clocks, and advertised jewelry and watch repair services.
In giving the new venture a friendly pat on the back, the editor of The Jeffersonian Republic took a swipe at reconstruction policies and General Ben Butler: “Silver Spoons! – Ben Butler has beaten on his own dunghill and he will now have to eat with pewter spoons, and we need not fear for our silverware hereafter. The new jewelry store of Balthis and Keller will have on hand a handsome stock of silver spoons. We advise all the newly married peoples to go and buy a supply for themselves and their future little ones; and the old folks too, can purchase a new supply with the certainty that B.B. has been sent into retirement where he cannot find spoons as plentiful as he found them in New Orleans.” This is one of the few, possibly the only time in history that the opening of a small jewelry store was vested with political overtones.
After a decade of doing business together, Balthis and George dissolved their partnership and set up separate stores. Keller maintained the shop at No.1 Alexander Block for a year before moving it to southeast corner of 3rd and Main Streets. The same year16-year-old Harry Alexander George, who was trained as a watchmaker, joined the firm as the assistant to the watchmaker.
In 1893 Harry Alexander George celebrated his 25th birthday by purchasing a partnership in the firm, and the company was renamed Keller & George Jewelers. Keller & George filled its first prescription for eyeglasses in 1899 for Miss Eliza Faris of Red Hill.
For many years, Keller & George served as division watch inspector for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, which required quarterly visits from the Keller & George watchmakers to inspect the station agent’s watches and insure accuracy.
Keller & George is a founding member of the American Gem Society (AGS), which was established in 1934 as a protection to American consumers. Today Keller & George is owned and operated by the fourth-generation of a family of jewelers. The firm represents fine jewelers and watch brands such as Hearts On Fire, Mikimoto, the Keller & George Signature Diamond Collection, John Hardy, Marco Bicego, Slane, Ball Watches and Breitling.