If you ever happen to cross the threshold of Firefall Jewelers in Angels Camp, you can count on being greeted by at least two or three generations of the Coca clan. Paul Sr. and his wife, Noreen; Paul Jr., his wife, Michelle, and their 18-year-old son Paul “Paully,” all work at the downtown location tucked inside a former bank with a rich history of its own.
Owner and jeweler Paul Coca Sr. bristles with excitement as he enters a vault that once housed the largest privately owned gold collection in existence, including a 195-troy-pound nugget unearthed from the Carson Hill Mine. He appreciates every nook and cranny of this place – from its apocalypse-proof concrete walls erected in 1936, to its 11.5-ton vault door built in 1898. He’s still in awe of the door’s intricate double combination lock design and the antique microphone system embedded in the vault’s ceiling.
“It’s so cool,” he repeats several times during the tour.
Cooler still is witnessing the modern day artisanry that takes place in the underground chambers of the building. Those who come in to purchase a piece straight from the case may not realize that an entire workshop lies beneath the glittering showroom. Downstairs, three generations of Coca men work side by side, shaping molten metals into custom designs, cutting and setting precious stones valued in the tens of thousands of dollars.
“It’s a high-stakes industry,” Coca says. “I’ve always been fascinated by jewelry and how it’s made – the artistry of it.”
Although Coca’s father passed away when he was only 4 years old, he inherited his passion for jewelry making. Coca began his adult life as a mechanical engineer but eventually found his way back to the family trade, working at jewelry stores in the Bay Area.
In 2000, he and Noreen escaped the city to settle down in their dream home in Valley Springs.
“It caught us,” Coca remembers. “This is a great place to live.”
Coca spent several years doing custom work for other jewelers in the area before purchasing the old Bank of America building on South Main Street in 2003. He named the business after the famed Yosemite Firefall.
In 2007, the family opened a second store in Valley Springs and a third a year later in the Copperopolis Town Square. The Copperopolis location was unsuccessful, with minimal traffic and a major robbery that pushed the family to shut it down.
However, the other two shops are thriving, Coca says. Most of their business is local, though customers have traveled from across the state to seek out the Cocas’ custom designs and meticulous craftsmanship.
“We see people during the happiest and saddest times of their lives,” Coca says. “From wedding rings to resetting a stone that used to belong to grandma.”
Firefall Jewelers is the only business in the Mother Lode with accreditations from both the Gemological Institute of America and the American Gem Society, according to Coca, and the family does not take those honors lightly. Customer satisfaction is their highest priority and they often go above and beyond to support their clientele and the greater community.
Customers at Firefall Jewelers may be invited to appreciation parties and treated to a dinner at an upscale restaurant, and the shop often hosts events such as Ladies’ Night Out where guests can sip wine while learning about an array of precious stones.
Recently, the Cocas hosted their fourth annual Thanksgiving Dinner in Valley Springs, offering a free meal to anyone who showed up. The family, along with a number of volunteers, fed over 270 people this year in addition to offering door prizes and cash donations provided by local businesses from across the county.
“I always tell my staff, ‘Good business does good,’” Coca says.
But if the focus of Firefall Jewelers is bettering the community, then the heart of the business is family. The skills passed down from father to son and grandfather to grandson have crystallized over time and forged the mom-and-pop shop into an enduring enterprise.
Calaveras High School senior Paully Coca is now balancing the demands of school and apprenticeship under his grandfather. Like both Pauls before him, music is the only art form that could ever lure Paully away from his self-proclaimed infatuation with jewelry making.
Paul Sr. admits that he’s a tough teacher. His persistence in holding his family to a higher standard is what drove Paul Jr. out into the wider world to further his education in the craft, and he believes Paully will soon do the same. But so far, the Coca boys have always returned home.
When asked what it’s like to work so closely with his relatives, Paul Jr. replies, “It’s not always easy, but what better people to invest in than family?”
Visit the Firefall Jewelers Facebook page to learn more about the business and upcoming events.