Creative Journey in a White/Space

Khadijah Fulton, owner and designer of White/Space, has had a busy six months. On the one hand, the small group of manufacturing artisans that helped her with large orders and busy seasons had to close for California’s stay-at-home order. She found herself filling all orders from her successful e-commerce business. Amazingly, the orders kept coming in.

On the other hand, she has two sons, ages 5 and 10, who have been home and learning online, which regularly impacts her bench time. Let’s note that Khadijah considers herself a mother first and a designer second. “All of our routines have been interrupted, and it’s just as stressful for them as it is for me. My 10 year old does pretty well, but my younger one is in kindergarten, and online classes prove challenging. He’ll sit for a while, then get up to play or come to see me.”

Khadijah Fulton, Founder and Designer, White/Space

The Beginning of White/Space Jewelry

Ironically, Khadijah was a designer long before she had her children. She graduated from Parson’s School of Design in NYC, then spent 10 hectic years in the fashion industry as a designer for brand name clothing lines. After Khadijah had her first child, she wanted to slow down her life, arranging her schedule around her child. She branched out into jewelry as a way to express her creativity.

White/Space Continuity Ring
White/Space Continuity Ring in recycled gold

She tries to keep her White/Space bestsellers in stock, making other pieces to order. Like any number of jewelers who’ve found themselves busy during COVID-19, Khadijah attributes her business growth to a couple of factors:

  • First, with travel and cruises out of the picture and dining out limited, jewelry plays an even more vital role in celebrations and feel-good moments. And when people choose a gift, they often spend more than they typically would.  
  • Second, her loyal, supportive customers who want to see her through this difficult time. “I hope a lot of jewelers have seen this. And it lifts your spirits that these customers are thinking of you when we all have so much to process. With so many people at home, they feel more conscious of their choices. They want to support local businesses and businesses that align with their values.”
  • “The Black Lives Matter movement has also helped my business grow,” Khadijah says. “It focused attention on black-owned businesses, and I saw my orders surge through June and July. It’s more settled now, but I’m still busier than I was a year ago.”

Fortunately, she connected with an artisan jeweler who lives near her home outside Los Angeles, which helped her keep up with the volume. And recently her artisan manufacturers in downtown Los Angeles re-opened, so she’s working with them again. “For several months, I had to chain myself to my bench for evenings and weekends to get my work done, so I’m grateful that I can share the load.”

White/Space Pink Pearl Swingback Earrings
White/Space Pink Pearl Swingback Earrings

Looking Ahead

Khadijah sells her designs in selective retail outlets, and she’s recently taken on new wholesale partners. But facing the future, she wants to focus on building her internal team to continue growing her direct sales alongside these wholesale relationships. 

“I want to build my brand, and I’ll need a team to help me grow,” she says. “I’m looking forward to finding great people that believe in the potential of White/Space as much as I do.”

She would like to focus on a bridal offering and take on more custom design for 2021. “By having a team in place, I’ll have more time to focus on designing more styles that my customers love and creating even more meaningful pieces for them, which I find the most rewarding parts of my job. As designers and jewelers, we get the privilege of making vessels for their sentiments, memories, and most treasured connections.”

Behind the Name

When Khadijah named her business White/Space, she thought of it in design terms: an open space that invites creativity and personal expression. In the last few years, through the BLM movement, it has taken on other connotations.

“I’ve worked in ‘white spaces’ much of my adult life in a real sense, working for larger companies where I was one of very few (or the only) Black designer on the creative team, and now in the jewelry industry, which also has the same issues,” she explains.

“But working for myself, I’m excited to be part of the change that both industries need, building a visible, distinctive, luxury brand and doing it as a Black woman. Hopefully, in the future, young creatives of color will grow up seeing even more successful designers that look like them and will feel like they would be welcomed into our industry.”

So far, this approach is leading her in the right direction.

White/Space Oona Empress Earrings
White/Space Oona Empress Earrings


Read more about Khadijah in The Holiday Issue of From the Bench




FTB-Education-2020-Summer-Blog-Heidi-Low

Heidi Lowe’s Unexpected Good Fortune

ftb Spring 2020 Heidi Lowe earringsWe feature Heidi Lowe in the new ftb on education, which is out now. During her 30 years as a jeweler in Rehoboth, Delaware, she has divided her time among custom jewelry for her clients, creating her own designs, and teaching jewelry classes both at her studio and universities.

With all the recent upheaval due to COVID-19, I touched base with her to see how she is doing. I was amazed by what she related.

The last time we spoke, her business had outgrown its 450-square-foot cottage/studio. Her contractor husband tore it down and is building her a 1650-square-foot shop with plenty of room to grow. Meanwhile, she had rented a tiny studio in a nearby town. ”I envisioned having time to focus on my own designs, and learn new techniques. Instead, I ended up busier than ever and able to keep the two younger jewelers I employ, working with me.”

Then COVID-19 hit. “I had no idea what it would be like or how I’d make it through,” she says. ”I figured it would be bad for my business, but beyond that, I had no idea. I have to say I didn’t imagine how well things have gone. I just had an amazing month. I’m busy every day, and I have a different focus.”

Heidi credits her long-time customers — some local and some who have moved away from Delaware — and her strong relationships with them. Before COVID-19, her studio and website featured 10-12 pieces by each of 50 designers she’d come to know over the years. She concentrated her work on her custom design clients, small collections, and her teaching.

Now she’s devoting herself to new designs and showing them on Instagram. “People message me if they want to buy a piece. Honestly, customers are buying everything I make. It’s out of the goodness of their hearts,” she says. “They want to be sure I’m surviving the shutdown. I find their concern very . . .” Her voice trails off.

She’s making most of her pieces in sterling with prices ranging from $150-$350. But she’s also had ten significant orders. “This involves phone calls and sending sketches and pictures back and forth until my customer is happy with the design. I’m inspired by how much they trust me.”

ftb Spring 2020 Heidi Lowe

She has a lot of work right now, and she’s using the opportunity to nurture her creativity. This is how she imagined this time while she waits for her new store. “I get better results, and clients are happier with what I create. It takes me longer to work this way, but I enjoy it, and customers are willing to wait.”

Heidi has always put extra effort into building close relations with customers, and during this challenging time, this work had paid off. “I’m naturally interested in understanding people, and it’s an important part of the designs I’m creating for them,” she says. “They want to know about me and my creativity because it makes each piece of jewelry special and personal.”

During this time, Heidi has given back to her creative community by offering her popular webinar, Abundance for Creatives, free. “Participation was incredible,” she says. “So I gave it twice. In one, I had 75 people, and 73 in the other.”

What lies ahead? Like the rest of us, Heidi isn’t really sure. She’s designed a line of gold jewelry and carved them, but she doesn’t want to cast he pieces until she’s open fulltime.

For more on Heidi’s store, click here.

 


Read more about Heidi’s passion for education in the Summer 2020 edition of From the Bench




FTB-Education-2020-Blog-Doug-Meadows

Doug Meadows Goes the Distance

In late February 2019, Doug Meadows left the comfort of his Atlanta store far behind and traveled to Lusaka, Zambia. He’s there to teach a class of eager pupils, a group of young women ranging in age from 18 to 30. This was no ordinary class and not just because it was happening so far from home. It represented a goal Doug has worked toward through years of trips to African countries. He wanted to mentor businesses and share his jewelry expertise to help people improve their economic status and lives. He has been teaching this group for some years now.

Training Jewelers in Zambia

His students have a bare-bones workshop located in Lusaka’s slums. It has intermittent power, resulting in insufficient light. But the women are undaunted, happy to have a place to work, and grateful for the opportunities it gives them. Doug has helped them compensate for the power problems with battery-powered drills. They also have propane-fueled torches that he taught them to use. They do much of their work by hand.

The women create hand-fashioned jewelry from recycled copper that they sell to stores in Finland, South Africa, and a few in the U.S. But copper tarnishes and, as they seek to expand their markets, this poses a problem. “I’m a solutions guy, “ Doug says. “So, I immediately thought of gold plating the jewelry to elevate it, prevent tarnish, and broaden its appeal.”

Doug tapped his industry contacts to arrange a shipment of tools and supplies in August 2019 and returned to Lusaka in October 2019, to teach a group of the women how to do the gold plating. Unfortunately, the shipment was still in Customs only to be released the day before he left. That gave him one day to teach. Fortunately, he had brought a video of the training he did at Legor. He left this with them and promised to return for more instruction after the holiday season. Hence, the late February visit.

Dawn Close, the American missionary who runs the orphanage where the women live, has played a central role in supporting the burgeoning jewelry business. She has helped the women get grants to offset the cost of equipment and Doug’s travel, and she has helped them find markets.

As Doug reviews gold plating technique with a small group of women, the others continue to fashion their creations, completely engrossed in their work. It represents a level of economic independence and, most importantly, hope for a better future.

What He’s Learned

Doug says he’s learned more from these young women than they’ve learned from him. But I’m not sure they would agree. He’s taught them about gemstone faceting and lab-grown diamonds. He’s helped them get essential tools and how to use them. He’s helped them get and set up benches. And now he’s added gold plating to their skills.

“I’m blown away by what they’ve accomplished with very little,” he says. “It inspires me and speaks to their spirit and determination. I stay in regular touch with them and plan to help in any way I can. It’s been a gift to be part of this.”

His Own Path

For Doug, education is an ongoing pursuit. “Life is education. I’ve learned from everyone who has worked for me, from my customers, from jewelers I meet at conferences, and from business people I meet in my community and beyond.”


For the full story on Doug’s journey to Zambia, check out the Summer 2020 edition of From the Bench.




FTB-Education-2020-Blog-Dianna-Rae

Dianna Rae’s Creative Haven

ftb Spring 2020 Dianna RaeIn 2014, Dianna Rae opened Dianna Rae Jewelry in Lafayette, Louisiana, and it soon became the city’s custom design mecca. Its custom made interior is an airy, light-filled space that exudes her welcoming presence. And the cases feature stunning custom designs by Dianna and the store’s other two designers.

Custom Creation 

Dianna knew that to attract customers, she had to create a unique experience. For 35 years in the business, custom design had been her focus, so it made sense to devote her store to it. In addition to designing for customers, she and the store’s other two designers create the jewelry in the cases. “My love for unique colored gemstones leads me to create a variety of designs from funky to vintage,” she says. “The jewelry that I design for our cases centers around colored gemstones. I also do a lot of remount and special request designs for my clients. I listen to their story and help them turn that into jewelry.”

Opal Round Tableftb Spring 2020 Dianna Rae Customer Event

“Opals are intrinsically mysterious and vary dramatically in colors,” Dianna says. “Customers really respond to them because they seem to be alive. We began our gemstone education with opals and held it at the store.” Interest grew, and it wasn’t long before Dianna had to move the event to a local restaurant to have adequate seating. She has an opals expert come and talk about the different types while attendees look at a wide selection.

The store’s Gemstone Round Table uses the same format. Customers view a wide selection of beautiful and exotic gemstones presented by a gemstone expert. “When customers decide which opal or gemstone they want,” Dianna says, “we schedule an appointment to help them design a piece of jewelry that shows it off to best effect.” She offers each of these classes twice a year.

Designing with Customers

“Our goal with the design process is to bring out the client’s inner designer and guide them through the process step-by-step,” Dianna says. “Some come in with a picture of a piece they like, but with CounterSketch®, hand sketches, and Matrix®, we can show them many more possibilities. We help them achieve their goal of a unique design.”And clients love the process. When Dianna and her design staff use their CAD software, they enhance the customer experience by printing the jewelry on the store’s 3D printer.


For more on Dianna’s journey and why she loves calling Lafayette, Louisiana home, check out her full feature in the Summer 2020 edition of From the Bench.




CounterSketch Feature Blog Header Chase Colwell

Learn How Chase Colwell Revitalized His Business with CounterSketch

My family has run The Jewelry Store in Bryan, Texas for forty-three years in the same location. Back then, when my grandmother called in orders to Stuller, Matt Stuller answered the phone . . . or so I’ve been told. I was raised in this store— from crawling on the carpet to now designing custom jewelry using CounterSketch®. The proof is on the walls! I have drawings all over our back walls that grew better as I got older and taller. My grandmother spoiled, or as she says loved me, allowing me to grow up playing video games and drawing on the walls in the back of the store through my youth. I look forward to passing this on to my three kids one day.

From the ground up

Chase Colwell Jewelry Store Bryan Texas Family

Chase Colwell, on left, pictured with his parents Robby and Michelle

Growing up, I watched my parents and grandparents do things I’m now able to do myself. After class in high school, I’d walk a block down to our shop. Once I graduated, I went across town to College Station, studying at a little agricultural school named Texas A&M University. Throughout my time at A&M, I worked in the store as much as I could, beginning with jewelry repair. My dad, a bench jeweler for over 30 years, taught me everything from the ground up.

I began making artwork out of coins to learn the feel of a handsaw and attention to detail; I still have my first coin on a keychain! Then, I learned all aspects of benchwork through silversmithing. My first project was to bend silver stock over a ring mandrel and solder together a size 7 ring. This is the same process I’ve used thousands of times since in my handmade silver jewelry line.

After finishing at A&M, I decided to branch out on my own and start a landscaping business. It didn’t take long to realize I was in the wrong business. After a few rainy days spent hanging out at the shop with dad and watching him sell rings for numbers that would’ve taken countless back-breaking hours behind a mower, I sold my landscaping equipment and set up a permanent bench at our family store. I’ve worked here ever since. From jewelry repair to design, we complete our work by hand at the bench with heat and elbow grease.

Chasing big dreams

I intended on continuing benchwork with my father, Robby Colwell, at The Jewelry Store to carry on our business. But something happened last year that changed everything. I injured my neck while training for an Olympic Selection Shotgun Match. I grew up shooting shotgun sports (trap, skeet, sporting clays, etc.), competing in the Texas 4-H program, Texas A&M team, and with the Olympic development program. Then life hit me with kids, wife, and work. I laid down my shotgun and decided competing for a gold medal didn’t pay as much as learning how to make gold rings. After watching the Rio Olympics, I was shocked that not one United States man made the Olympic Trap finals, and even more astounded that the scores these Olympic athletes were putting up were scores that I used to be able to shoot.

I decided to pick up my old faithful over and under shotgun and try my luck 15 years later with a few rounds of trap. Sure enough, my scores were consistently 22-24 out of 25. Once I found out the next Olympic selection match for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics was only five months away, I resumed practicing. Soon enough, I began feeling the all-too-familiar pain in my arm and fingers which wouldn’t go away. Three years earlier, I’d injured my neck and had surgery to replace and fuse two disks in my upper spine. Now I found myself back at the neurologist examining MRI results. We both knew what caused the neck injury this time.

Turning challenge into opportunity

I remember leaving the doctor’s office in tears knowing that my aspiration for the Tokyo Olympics was over and my career was in jeopardy. No more clay target shooting or hunting. The next realization was that I was on a path to potentially jeopardize the success of the business my grandmother founded and I’d hoped to raise my family around. I had a second surgery the following week and did physical therapy afterward. Recovery was quick. Soon enough, I was back at work and helping customers in the front of the store.

I gradually got back into benchwork, but each time I made a piece, I was in pain from my lingering injuries. Month after month, it didn’t get better. Was I going to rely on my dad to do all the custom jewelry and repair work from this point on? Then, I spoke to our absolutely lovely Stuller Rep, Rhonda, about the CounterSketch program. Knowing my parents’ old school ways, I knew I would have to set this up on my own accord. Rhonda came into The Jewelry Store about five short months ago with Tim Brown and they were able to showcase the possibilities of this handy design software. In return, our business of 43 years has experienced the best summer sales ever!

A few CounterSketch designs by Chase Colwell
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A fresh start with CounterSketch Success

Now, with this amazingly simplistic and fun to use program installed on a fast gaming computer (thanks Tim), we carry out essentially every custom job using CounterSketch. I’m not only helping Pops by designing jewelry and being on the sales floor with customers but now he doesn’t have the labor-intensive job of putting a ring together with a mini torch from scratch. Nope, all Pops needs to do is occasionally set a few customers’ stones into their rings and it’s out the door! The profits we’ve seen in our business from this program has also allowed us to buy new tools for the workshop, including a brand-new, top-of-the-line workbench for my dad!

After purchasing CounterSketch, my dad had another great idea. We retired his old workbench which served our family for 40 years, through three generations, and installed a big flat screen on the showroom floor to show off CounterSketch’s capabilities. The software has actually allowed us to set ourselves apart from others in our area. We’re a mom and pop shop with new age technology. People love to sit down and design because it’s fun and engaging. The experience is reassuring to sit in a store that has longevity and a great reputation, knowing all the while that we aren’t going anywhere.

In the last four months, we’ve been able to generate the most summer sales that we have experienced in 43 years of business! Personally, it’s allowed my design skills to flourish and has turned my line of custom silver jewelry into a full-blown jewelry line with a watermark (thanks Stuller for setting that up for me). Not only am I being recognized locally as a premier jewelry designer, but recently, I was honored by being named Stuller’s #HowIStuller Designer of the Week on Instagram with a rockin’ bass guitar ring designed for a professional actor and musician.

Customer service is key

Another factor that sets our store apart is stellar customer service when it comes to customization. We go above and beyond to serve our customers, making sure everyone leaves The Jewelry Store happier than when they entered. I personally text each customer when their repair is ready for pick up, keeping in contact with each customer throughout every CounterSketch project. I enjoy taking my laptop home after work and coming up with a few rendered pictures to send to customers at night so when they come back in we can go over a few designs. They are reassured that their file is saved and there is no rush, worry, or hassle.

With three generations of customers to remember, meeting them and getting to know their story is my favorite part of working in this business. I find it much easier to remember people by getting to know their story. Now, I get to design wedding sets for customers whose grandparents had their rings designed by my grandparents. I love the opportunity to sit with customers, get to know them, then create a one-of-a-kind piece with their creativity and my design experience combined. There are no ifs, ands, or buts; CounterSketech keeps me and the customer on the same page. They design what they are spending their money on as they fall in love with it. And that’s before I show them the best part. “Would you like me to generate you a high-resolution photo of your ring on a hand?” It blows their minds every single time!

Jewelry Created by Chase Colwell

As a 33-year-old third generation jeweler, I once specialized in Christian-themed silver jewelry. Now, with CounterSketch, I can make just about anything. I love coming to work each and every single day and bringing ideas to life. I married my Bryan High School sweetheart, Jaimie, and we have a lovely, diverse family of three children and one ferocious feline— Maribelle The Cat Chandelier. I love being with family, teaching Sunday school at Connecting Point Church, and anything outdoors (as long as it doesn’t involve a shotgun).

It’s amazing to think I grew up rolling around on the floor in the same shop that now supports my family. Because of its success, we’ve been able to do things that never would have been possible otherwise. After completing a year of training with Nikki Pederson Talent, my daughter Sophia is leaving for Los Angeles to pursue her acting dreams, with auditions already lined up! I was on top of the Beverly Hills Hilton a few months ago at a party full of actors, agents, managers, and producers— all of whom were blown away when I pulled out my phone to show them my latest CounterSketch renders. I thought to myself right then, “Wow our little jewelry store might have some big clientele coming our way!”

Chase Colwell Jesus Story Necklace CounterSketech Feature

The Jesus Story Necklace by Chase Colwell

The Jesus Story Necklace that I used to cut out by hand, one at a time with a hand saw, is my favorite design I’ve ever created. It’s a sideways bar with the symbols representing the story of Jesus. He came down, died on the cross, went to the tomb, ascended to Heaven, and promises to come back. This simple design has changed the eternity of many people I know and countless others whose stories I hear. I’ve sold over 400 of these simple necklaces in two years and now they are in thirteen states and three countries. Thousands of testimonies are shared with people who just walk up and ask what the symbols mean. I still love making huge diamond rings too, like one I designed on CounterSketch with over 200 stones set. I enjoy custom gents’ rings, like the bass guitar and drum ring. But, The Jesus Story Necklace is where it all began. And in the end, it’s the only thing that really matters to me.

A bit of advice from Chase Colwell

The single most important piece of business advice is simple: genuinely dedicate yourself to your customer service. It’s number one! No matter who walks through that door, you must treat them as your number one priority, even if it’s just for a watch battery or a simple ring cleaning. Because oftentimes, those two mundane tasks lead to many custom design jobs with CounterSketch.


Learn more about CounterSketch at Stuller.com

 




Johana Ingram Harold Studio Stuller Blog FTB

Visions of Johanna Ingram: Jeweler and Teacher

These days, one hears much about the rise of the gig economy. One day you may jump into an Uber and discover the driver is your old schoolteacher out hustling a few bucks. But for jewelers, the side hustle is nothing new. Jewelers have always been multi-faceted, changing their offerings to meet changing needs and changing customers, whether that means using their metalworking skills to design a rodeo belt buckle, repair a lamp, or (as is often the case here in South Louisiana) create Mardi Gras crowns and tiaras.

New generations enter the business, and they bring new methods of supplementing their business and attracting customers. One trend gaining popularity is educational offerings. We hear about the insatiable demand for custom work, but there are many not content to stop there—they take the process a step further and get involved. They desire an experience. This is where education and business flexibility come in.

Johanna Ingram BW Headshot Harold Studio FTB

Meet Johanna Ingram

Some jewelers do jewelry full time and offer education on the side. Others have mastered the art of adaptation and built their business model around education yet continue to design and sell their own pieces.

Arizona jeweler Johanna Ingram, owner and operator of Harold Studio, is among the latter. Encouraged to pursue jewelry-making by the studio’s namesake, her “Grandpa Harold,” Johanna honored his supportive nature by creating an equally supportive learning environment. Harold Studio supports a spectrum of jewelry creators, offering supplies, studio space, and tools for rent for fellow jewelers; group and private classes for artisans looking to improve their craft; and co-creation for engaged couples.

Designer • Teacher • Businesswoman

Johanna Ingram bends her teaching style to her students. Be it an aspiring hobbyist who’s never seen a soldering iron or an artisan looking to boost their polishing skills. She offers step-by-step, one-on-one attention to give students the confidence to push themselves and try something new. Perfection isn’t the key here—not giving up is. Harold Studio’s Facebook proudly shines with the creations of students who stuck through the process.

The potential to turn these skills into a lifelong hobby or career is what appeals to many. One former Harold Studio student took what she learned from Johanna, created her own business from those skills, and continued the legacy of supporting industry newcomers.  “There is a woman who came here in some of our earlier days,” recounts Johanna Ingram. “She [now] has a business with several employees . . . and she teaches some Etsy classes here. She has well over 20,000 items sold on Etsy and sells online in her own shop now.”

Johanna Ingram Harold Studio FTB

Crafting with Couples

With the rise of Etsy, jewelry has never been more accessible and appealing to new demographics. This has increased the demand for jewelry education, particularly silversmithing and stone-setting classes. “There are tons of beginning jewelers cropping up now, and that is something you can really capitalize on,” Johanna says. And capitalize on it she has. In addition to offering group classes and one-on-one training, Johanna offers a fully guided, participative experience through the creation of jewelry for couples wanting to design and create their rings.

Despite most couples’ unfamiliarity with jewelry-making, Johanna makes the process as seamless and non-intimidating as possible. Couples explain their ideas, and Johanna devises a game plan.  She guides the process, assuring nervous clients that any mistakes won’t tarnish the final product. “Johanna was very reassuring that there was no way we could mess up beyond repair,” says one Facebook reviewer. Browsing Harold Studio’s online reviews reveal many more satisfied couples.

Letting couples lead the creation process builds lasting loyalty and forges lifelong memories. By removing the intangible barrier between dream and production, the barrier between customer and jeweler dissolves, allowing for the formation of a deeper bond that retains customer loyalty. When asked where they bought their rings, Johanna’s clients can boast, “We created them together at Harold Studio.”

Johanna Ingram Harold Studio Pliers

With new consumers and technology entering and changing the nature of our industry, it’s worth remembering education is a powerful way to attract new markets and freshen your business. Be it offering private jewelry classes, guiding couples through ring co-creation, or giving an informal lecture on silversmithing, providing learning opportunities may be what you need to set your business apart. Read more about hosting your own customer events here

Check out all of the feature
stories in our newest edition
of From the Bench!


How do you connect with your community? Share your experiences in the comments below! Or email us at blog@stuller.com if you’d like to feature your store in our customer events series.




Michael Marentes Blog Header FF

Feature Friday – Michael Marentes

Meet Michael Marentes

I got my first taste of jewelry my freshman year of high school. My Instructor, Chuck Crawford, was an awesome and inspiring individual. In classes, we learned lost wax casting and basic fabrication in sterling silver. By my senior year, I had two hours independent study and one hour as a student aide—all dedicated to jewelry making.

Michael Marentes Family Portrait

Michael Marentes and his beautiful family

 

After high school, I enrolled in the Texas Institute of Jewelry Technology graduating in 2004. Stuller had a big influence on the program I attended, and that’s where I learned to use the business as a resource. I’ve been enthralled with jewelry ever since! My favorite parts of the job are fabrication, stone setting and sharing unique experiences with my customers. I love everything about the business, but I’m definitely in my zone looking through a microscope.

I located my store in a district of South Kansas City, MO called Waldo. So naturally, I named the place Waldo Jewelers. As a boutique jewelry store, we specialize in bridal, custom designs, and jewelry repair. These days, I’m a Goldsmith, diamond setter, and retail store owner, with one or two employees working with me. I spend the first half of my day ordering stock, meeting with clients, and Facebook trolling on Jewelers Helping Jewelers. Then, after lunch, I put on my leather apron, turn the music up, and work diligently until closing time.

 

Early on in my career, I was working at a new-age bookstore that had a silversmith shop within called Aquarius Vulcans Forge. I was young and green but really enjoyed working with customers. One day, a pagan priest came to us looking for a star to wear while performing a ceremony. All we had were six-pointed Stars of David, but he needed a five-pointed star in a circle. Initially, he was going to settle for the six-pointed star, but I insisted we make exactly what he needed. I pulled my boss in for pricing. He looked at me and asked, “You’re really going to make this?”

In the end, I stayed late and worked to complete it. The next day, I got a raise for my hard work! This was an early example of the importance of top-notch customer service and how every customer is valuable. Flashing forward to now, most of my sales come from word of mouth referrals. While these recommendations grow slowly, they prove worthy when customers start to flow in because of your trustworthiness and consistent service.

See how Michael Marentes transformed his store after attending Bridge

Michael Marentes Waldo Jewelers Store Interior Michael Marentes Waldo Jewelers Store Interior

I’m always working to make my business better, too. I’ve visited Stuller Bridge three times. Before I went to the Bridge Event, my showroom was just like everyone else’s. It featured a simple counter separating me from my customers. After visiting Stuller’s 302 mock showroom, I was inspired to transform my store! I removed my glass showcases in exchange for functional shadow boxes to house my creations. This spinoff of Stuller’s showroom has enhanced my store’s interior and boosted my business!

In short, here’s my advice to those reading: Keep learning; you’ll never know everything!


Follow Michael Marentes on Facebook to keep up with everything going on in his store.

Have you been to Bridge? Share your experience with us in the comments below and let us know how it has changed your business!




Chelsea Swank FF Blog Header

Feature Friday – Chelsea Swank

In honor of Halloween, we’re featuring Chelsea Swank this week – a jeweler with an eclectic style and eerie designs.

 

Meet Chelsea Swank

I am a second-generation jeweler from Portland, Oregon. I’d describe my design aesthetic as Gothic Bohemian with celestial tendencies. Our inventory, available on our Etsy shop, is perfect for those who like celebrating Halloween year-round.

My father, Gary Swank, has owned a jewelry store my entire life. SO in some ways, it was natural for me to join the family business. However, that was not my original plan. I went off to college and majored in Criminal Justice hoping to become a police officer after graduation. Then, one year for my birthday, my gift was to design a piece of jewelry for myself. So I joined my father at the shop to work on a CAD design. I ended up creating a beautiful pair of opal earrings with sunrays. That project turned my interest to designing and making jewelry. It progressed from there, and we opened an Etsy shop that has been quite successful.

Here’s the Process

I draw inspiration from nature, pop culture, and varying colors, shapes, and patterns. I notice that ideas seem to marinate and I’ll start thinking about a design idea in growing detail until I am compelled to do the CAD so I can finally stop thinking about it.

In fact, these days I spend quite a bit of time contemplating a design before I sit down to take on the CAD drawing. An idea can take weeks to fully materialize, but the design time ranges from one hour to many. From there, we mill the design in wax on our CNC mill, then we cast it using the lost wax method. So once I complete the design, the milling and casting process takes two days. Finishing and setting can take another day or two, assuming we are just working on that piece (which is almost never the case).

My favorite materials to work with are sterling silver, fourteen-karat rose, yellow, and Palladium white gold. I also lean toward darker-colored stones like onyx, black diamonds, and black spinel – pretty much anything black. And I love rose cut gems of any variety. Garnets and amethyst are two more of my favorite stones!

Second-generation Swank jeweler

I learned about Stuller from my dad, who has used them since the very beginning. I know I can call on Stuller as a reliable resource for tools, gems, moissanite, or anything else we need. Our partnership helps us to achieve my ultimate goal: to leave behind a legacy of high quality, original jewelry true to the Swank name.

To reach my target audience, I use Instagram, which is a great resource for many reasons. It enables people to get a sense of me as an artist and connects viewers to my work. The videos and extra photos showcase my jewelry in ways that may not be available in an online store. And of course, clients can show off their jewelry purchases and feel a part of a community with other clients. The platform also serves as a sort of a review system where you can gain credibility because people considering a purchase can see all your happy clients.

As someone who has been working in this industry for a while and as someone who comes from a family where jewelry plays such a big role, I encourage anyone aspiring to enter the industry to keep pushing ahead, try new things, and dare to be different. Embrace the stalls and slow times; those are the best opportunities to learn new skills and experiment with new ideas.

See all Chelsea Swank has to offer on her Etsy shop here, or on her Instagram @chelsea_swankmetalsmithing.


How do you celebrate Halloween with your customers? Leave us a comment below to tell us how you incorporate Halloween into your business!




Annette Kinzie Leonard Jewelry Blog Header

Feature Friday – Annette Kinzie

“We love this business because it combines the opportunity to work with beautiful jewelry in a great industry while serving our community!” – Annette Kinzie

 

I began working in the jewelry business for Mr. Leonard in high school and throughout my college years at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma. After graduation, I worked for Everts Jewelers in Dallas, Texas before returning to OSU for my Master’s Degree. Once again I worked for Mr. Leonard’s store while pursuing my degree, and then moved to Baton Rouge to teach at LSU. During my time at LSU, I got engaged to a man who is now my husband, Kent. He was a business entrepreneur in Stillwater. After we announced our impending marriage and established our home in Stillwater, Mr. Leonard began talking to us about his retirement and his wishes for us to purchase Leonard Jewelry.

Sure enough, his wishes came true. In 1984, we bought the store, and we didn’t change the name. Mr. and Mrs. Leonard continued to work alongside us for ten years. This allowed Kent and I to further our jewelry education and travel overseas to purchase diamonds and gemstones. Those first years are some of our favorite memories. The nurturing time with the Leonards and their vast experience, allowing us amazing opportunities!

Annette Kinzie Leonard Jewelry Store

We love this business because it combines the opportunity to work every day with beautiful jewelry, to participate in a great industry, and to serve our friends, family, and community! With the rich heritage of our 53-year-old store and our continued zeal for the future of the jewelry industry, we feel blessed and honored to continue learning and growing!

My husband Kent and I use our personalities and strengths in different aspects within our store. His strengths are working the numbers, accounting, and inventory, while I am responsible for the buying, personnel, store layout and merchandising. My passion is for colored gemstones and custom design. While working side by side for over 30 years, having differing job descriptions keeps our marriage happier. Kent takes a very active role in our community, serving on many committees that promote growth and development. We both love and support our local agencies and organizations that are the backbone of our city and state.

A sample of exquisite designs by Annette Kinzie and the Leonard Jewelry Team

Five associates help to make our store unique in everything from our jewelry and watch repairs, custom design creations, specialized inventory of many one-of-a-kind color gemstones designs, and our Oklahoma State University collegiate jewelry collections. Each of our children also contributes their talents to our organization. Our son, a recent OSU graduate, is learning sales and design, while our daughter manages our social media and website.

Mr. Leonard founded Leonard Jewelry on jewelry and watch repair. We continue to strengthen this aspect of our business with new technology and customized offerings. Our repair and custom design shop utilizes both Matrix and CounterSketch as two options for creating jewelry. The support team from Stuller is awesome, offering tech information and hands-on learning. Although we have partnered with Stuller for many years, our associate that attended the CounterSketch training was thrilled with her learning experience. It’s been a great and valuable sales opportunity for our entire staff!The retail climate is always changing and new challenges affect our industry, yet we feel the future is bright! Being able to work with gorgeous gemstones, radiant diamonds, and fun personalities both from our staff and friends makes us excited to continue to embrace each day with grateful hearts!

Annette Kinzie, on left, with her husband Kent

Annette Kinzie Leonard Jewelry

The retail climate is always changing and new challenges affect our industry, yet we feel the future is bright! Being able to work with gorgeous gemstones, radiant diamonds, and fun personalities both from our staff and friends makes us excited to continue to embrace each day with grateful hearts!




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Feature Friday – Micah Harp

“Before every couples’ first home, first child, first anniversary, comes the ring he presents to her in a box with your logo on it.” – Micah Harp

 

I grew up in the jewelry industry. My grandfather started out doing watch repair in 1954, later opening his own jewelry store. My father also had a jewelry store in a small town for several years, so the industry is familiar to me. In 2001, my father unfortunately lost his job. I was a freshman in college and realized I needed to come home, get a job, and help with my family’s bills. I did just that and went to work part-time for a large jewelry company. One year later, I worked my way up to a management position. I worked for that company for six years in four different states.

In 2007, I took a leap of faith and went into business for myself. On November 23, 2007, I opened our first store in Texarkana, Texas! Since we wanted to use a family name and my last name was used for my grandfather’s business, we decided to title the business Micah’s Jewelers.

Since its inception, I’ve turned my entire business over to God! As I sat in my office in prayer one day, I realized that my store was not just a business, but a platform to show off God’s love. Since that day, our number one goal is to make sure every person who walks through our doors leaves knowing they just left a Christian-based business.

In fact, our faith-filled environment is something that sets us apart. The scripture Joshua 24:15, As for me and my house we will serve the Lord, is displayed on the front doors of both locations. We have other bible verses throughout the stores and in our cases, with Christian music playing at all times. Our stores have a casual feel; we want people to walk in and feel right at home. Our red walls have become one of our signatures and are something our customers remember.

Micah Harp Jewelers Custom Store Logo EngagementIt still amazes me that every couple’s love story starts right here on my sales floor, beginning with us as jewelers. Think about it — before every couples’ first home, first child, first anniversary, comes the ring he presents to her in a box with your logo on it. That’s pretty cool!

Along with bridal, many of our sales come from custom designs. I love creating new and custom pieces for our customers using their old, sentimental jewelry. There is no other jewelry more valuable than heirlooms, something precious handed down from a loved one.

As the Owner and Operator of Micah’s Jewelers, I take care of all the finances and help throughout the store where needed. I have an amazing staff of 11 associates between two stores who make my job easy! Still today, I love making sales. Building a relationship with my customers and continuing that partnership remains my favorite part of the job.

Twelve years ago, I married my best friend, Amanda. She is an amazing mother of our three daughters: Annabelle (11), Sadie (7), and Caroline (4). Amanda and they are my world. We are very involved in a local serving group called Christian Warriors. And I’m also the biggest Dallas Cowboys fan you will ever meet!

Micah Harp with his beautiful wife and daughters
Micah Harp Jewelers Family

My father’s side of my family has been in the jewelry business since 1954, and my grandfather did business with Matt Stuller since the beginning. He assured me when I went into business for myself that I had to have a Stuller account. And in addition to Stuller, social media and CAD systems have changed our business tremendously! Social advertising is free and effective. And though it’s difficult to stay on top of social media trends, the effort pays off. If you are not doing social media marketing, start now! Here are a few tips that Stuller offers.

We spend a lot of our time researching “the next big thing.” It’s tough but important to stay ahead of the game with new trends. We’re constantly trying to understand Millennials and overcome the challenges ahead.

Micah Harp, pictured right with his wife Amanda, and two associates
Micah Harp Jewelers Bridge Associates

My advice to all is this: Make as much money as you can. Save as much money as you can. Give as much money as you can. Pray about every business decision before you make it.


How would you like to showcase your business in our next Feature Friday post? Send us your info at blog@stuller.com for your very own Stuller Blog feature.