River’s Edge Gems offers unique jewelry to the Driftless area

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River’s Edge Gems, a new business in Prairie du Chien, sports a wide array of jewelry just in time for the holiday season. (Steve Van Kooten/Courier Press)

A new business brings beauty, individuality to southwest Wisconsin

By Steve Van Kooten


Mike Wikstrom opened the back of his jewelry counter and pulled out a Lotus Garnet. The gem’s pink surface gleamed in the shallow light that filtered through his store’s windows. Wikstrom leaned over the glass counter, an ever-lasting admiration in his eyes. It’s hue was unique from the rusty red most garnets sported.

“They’re only found in one place in Malaysia,” Wikstrom said of the Lotus Garnet. “I like stuff you can’t get anywhere else.”

Wikstrom opened a retail store in Prairie du Chien called River’s Edge Gems in the late summer, but he’s not a novice in the industry. A Master Goldsmith, he has worked in the jewelry industry for more than 30 years; he received a graduate certification from the Gemological Institute of American in 1991. The training taught him the techniques needed to handle everything from opals to pearls, sapphires to rubies and beyond. The institute, founded in 1931, helped establish gemology as a science in 1934 and has issued Graduates in Gemology since 1948.

Wikstrom is also member of the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA), which, according to Wikstrom, upholds the highest standards in ethics and disclosure for the industry. His dedication has lasted through a career in the military and an industry that has presented its share of hurdles. For instance, it use to take ten years of apprenticeship to earn the opportunity to cut one carat or larger diamonds. And it wasn’t without reason: to find a single one carat diamond required the excavation of as much as 250 tons of ore.

“I put a lot of love into this,” Wikstrom said. “I just want to put beauty back into the world because I’ve seen so much ugliness.”


Diamonds and Camo

Wikstrom grew up in Winona, MN, and enlisted in the United States Army after he graduated high school. “I knew I wanted to go to college, so I did three years of active duty.”

While Wikstrom was in the army, his parents relocated to Arizona and he followed to enroll in Arizona State University and joined the National Guard. During a search for a part-time job, he was hired by Helzberg Diamonds where he worked the sales floor. He “fell in love with the jewelry business,” went into management, then to Sterling Jewelers where he was a manager at the first Jared’s retail store in Aurora, CO.

From there, Wikstrom started his own business repairing jewelry for mall stores, went into diamond importing and then to Nordstrom’s Fashion Jewelry Department. In that time he also completed a Master’s Degree in Counseling and Family Therapy.

Then something happened that changed the trajectory of many people’s lives: Sept. 11, 2001.

“I was just an angry man about what had happened,” Wikstrom said, “so I put the jewelry career on hold.” At 36 he returned as an officer in the military. By his retirement after 2022, Wikstrom had 23 years in the military, including 36 months in combat zones like Kosovo and Afghanistan, and worked as a counselor for Soldiers. After leaving the military, he gravitated back to the jewelry business and a town on the river called Prairie du Chien.



Under the glass counter than occupied most of his small shop, there were rows of rings, earrings, pendants and necklaces on display. A mixture of diamonds, rubies, emeralds and other stones brazenly glowed as sunlight passed through them. The colors: blue, red, pink, green were set on silver and gold metals. Each item was unique, shining unlike any other could.

“Everything is one-of-a-kind,” Wikstrom said as he stood behind a row of necklaces, some with pearls on gold and others with rubies adorned by silver. When many retail jewelers put a ring in a store, there’s 10,000 exactly like it, but most of River’s Edge Gems’ pieces are metals molded by educated fingers, one at a time with their individual designs and combinations. “To me, jewelry should be as unique and special as you are.”

Wikstrom noted there were a few designs that were replicated: down the line from the pendants and handset rings were a line of earrings shaped like dragonflies and rings with the bands shaped to look like connected twigs. The jewelry line, inspired by the wildlife and nature around the Mississippi River, has pieces priced at less than $100. Wikstrom has run the gambit of price ranges: the store has items for $35, and he’s hand-crafted pieces for more than $18,000 in his time.

“That’s the question: do you want something that’s mass produced or old world craftsmanship?” Wikstrom asked. It’s an easy question to answer because those that travel along the river to Wikstrom’s shop will discover one of Wisconsin’s diamonds in the rough cannot be duplicated.

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