Denver Businessman Gives Colorado State University’s College of Liberal Arts Collection of Precious and Semi-Precious Stones

A prominent Denver jeweler who credits Colorado State University for giving him the skills to launch a successful business has given the College of Liberal Arts a collection of gems worth $50,000.

John Atencio, a jewelry designer who got his start in Fort Collins in 1976, said the purpose of the contribution was to "give back to the university in a way that illustrates my deep appreciation for the education and support I received while a student at Colorado State."

Proceeds from a portion of the collection–which includes rubies, pink tourmaline and tanzanite, to name a few–will create an Atencio Endowment Scholarship for art students, fund art exhibits and visiting artist lectures. The university also is looking for a way to exhibit the stones.

"We are extremely grateful for this unusual but very generous gift and it seems appropriate that these stones will help future generations of artists," said Loren Crabtree, dean of the College of Liberal Arts.

Atencio, a Colorado native, joined Colorado State on a basketball scholarship in 1968 and attended the university through 1973. For two years, he pursued an art degree but later changed his major to business. Realizing that he missed expressing himself artistically, Atencio enrolled in a night jewelry-making course at Colorado State, a move that would ultimately prompt him to blend two passions into one successful business.

"My classes at Colorado State were a perfect mix," Atencio said. "The business courses gave me the understanding of the entrepreneurial opportunities that existed, while the art classes gave me the creative energy and release that I needed to become a successful jewelry designer." Atencio went into the restaurant business for a couple of years in Fort Collins, then opened his first retail jewelry store across from the Colorado State campus in 1976. His work featured the original and unusual designs that make his creations well- known today. Atencio’s business currently consists of seven retail stores, including the location in Fort Collins, four in Denver, one in Boulder and another in Aspen. In 1983, Atencio and his brother, Michael, launched a wholesale division of the company that manufactures and distributes Atencio’s jewelry designs to 250 buyers nationwide. His company employs 100 people.

Over the years, Atencio said he collected numerous precious and semi-precious stones from around the world that showed potential for one-of-a-kind pieces. With the business growing rapidly and the design work for jewelry product lines occupying so much of his time, Atencio said he decided the stone collection should go to Colorado State as a gift to be used by others rather than to have its beauty remain unrealized.

"I lived and worked in Fort Collins for 16 years and feel very connected to the community," Atencio said. "Even though my business is now centered in Denver, my heart is still in Fort Collins and at Colorado State."