The robber turned and fired two shots. One bullet missed the jeweller by inches and the second struck him in the chest. But it hit his mobile phone in his jacket pocket and that absorbed the impact.
The robber, who had threatened staff in Amore Jewellers in Horsham, at 4pm on Thursday, sent terrified shoppers diving for cover when he began shooting. The suspect, black and wearing a white baseball cap and a black hooded top, ran down an alley and into a carpark.
Detective Inspector Jo Wainwright, leading the inquiry, said: "We need to hear from anyone who saw a man who fits the description in the car park. It is possible he left in a car."
Ms Wainwright added: "There is no doubt that the phone saved [the jeweller] from serious injury. It is important to add that this type of crime is very unusual in Horsham, and Sussex." The victim has not been named.
Brett Hunnisett, 33, manager of a television shop a few doors away, said: "There was panic around the square. Police cordoned the area off but there were still people milling around, wondering what was going on. It's something you just don't expect in a quiet little market town. People are going to be more careful about who they let in to their stores." Tom Wright, 22, bar manager at a nearby restaurant, said: "Everybody was shocked. We couldn't believe what was happening."
Christine Costin, who runs a bookshop near by, said: "It is a really nasty thing to happen, just terrible. Horsham is a glorious place and we regard it as a safe shopping area."
Gun crime has dropped in Sussex. In the 12 months before September 2004, there were 82 firearms incidents reported and 136 in 2002-04.Reuse content