Needham Center is losing another landmark with the recent death of Bertil “Bert” Wikstrom, owner of Three Crown Jewelry on Great Plain Avenue. Wikstrom, who died Oct. 5, was 84.
In just the past two years, the center has lost icons such as Harvey’s Hardware, Segaloff Jewelers, and now Three Crown. Wikstrom and his wife of nearly 55 years, Sandy (Goshgarian), operated the store since 1991, building a loyal following of customers and friends.
“I was so saddened to hear of his passing,” said Needham resident Sheryl Hirsch. “I think of him as a giant Swedish teddy bear. He was just the sweetest man.”
Wikstrom, who stood 6-foot-4, lived an adventurous life. Born in Sweden, the son of a watchmaker, he attended the Swedish Watchmaking School. He first came to the US in 1962 and spent most of the next decade here, working as a watch repairman in Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles and Denver.
“Imagine how exciting it must have been for a young Swede from a small town in the woods to come to these huge university cities in these boom times in the ‘60s,” said his son, Toby.
In 1972, Wikstrom moved back to Filipstad, Sweden, with his wife, a Watertown native. He worked in — and eventually took over — his father’s watch and clock shop. In 1982, now with young sons Toby and Kerry, the Wikstroms returned to the US to stay. They lived briefly in Lexington before settling in Arlington.
Wikstrom worked at the former Waltham Watch Factory and later at Shawmut Jewelry in downtown Boston, but his dream was always to have his own business. That opportunity came in 1991 when the space occupied by Needham Jewelry became available.
“It was a struggle at first,” Sandy recalled. “It’s really hard opening a business, but we did it. He worked very hard. Oh, he was a workaholic-and-a-half, that man.”
The store was open six days a week, and Wikstrom was usually there on Sunday as well. “Because at least he could do a few things without being ‘interrupted,’ as he called it,” his wife said.
Three Crown Jewelry sold clocks, watches and jewelry, but Wikstrom’s true calling was huddling over his workbench repairing timepieces. He was friendly in an understated way, always finding time to chat with customers while replacing a battery or taking a link or two out of a watch band that was a little too big.
Fascinated customers often peered over the counter to watch him work. His wife said he never gave himself enough credit for his skills. “That’s the only thing that always bothered me,” she said. “He was very humble and very low-key.”
“His skills were incredible, and the fact that he could do something so quickly, whereas others struggle,” said Toby. “It’s really this kind of Old World thing that’s passed. And it’s sad.”
Wikstrom discouraged his sons from following him in the trade because, while gratifying, it was such hard work. “What I did get from him,” said Toby, now a university professor in Iceland, “was the desire to be an expert in something, because I always saw him as that. Maybe he didn’t see it, but he was an incredible expert.”
Three Crown Jewelry reopened this week, with everything selling at 50% off, including the Scandanavian holiday decorations sold every holiday season. Customers may also come in to pick up items left for repairs.
One senses the end of an era with the death of Bert Wikstrom.
“Nowadays, the younger people, they throw their watches away or they use their phones for watches,” Sandy Wikstrom said. “So the watch business has definitely slowed down, and so have clocks. He enjoyed it at its peak, most likely.”