James Avery, a World War II bomber pilot turned artisan jeweler maker, has passed away. He was 96.

Avery grew his artisan jewelry business from his in-laws' two-car garage to a national retail chain. He began fashioning his mostly Christian-themed creations himself with the help of his wife in 1954. He didn't hire his first outside employee until three years later.

James Avery Artisan Jewelry operates 80 stores in Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Tennessee. They also sell designs through more than 200 Dillard's department stores in 28 states.

Avery retired from active management of the business in 2007. Two of his sons took control at that time.

The company's website is allowing friends, family and fans to leave remembrance messages on their site. To view those touching tributes, click here.