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Friday, October 7, 2016

Portland Jewelry Symposium: A Forum For Innovation In The Jewelry Industry

Jim Tuttle of Green Lake Jewelry Works, Jennifer Dawes of Jennifer Dawes Design and Travis Isaacson of Lashbrook, spoke about their personal experiences with selling custom jewelry. Photo by Anthony DeMarco

Jewelry professionals who attended the ninth annual Portland Jewelry Symposium received a great deal of information on the technology, craft and artistry of jewelry making. They discovered ways to improve their business and their digital media results; and they learned about the responsibility associated with the making and selling of jewelry. 

The event held Sunday and Monday in Portland, Ore., was attended by 125 jewelry professionals (primarily independent business owners) from 12 western states and Canada, including designers, manufacturers, metalsmiths and retailers. Its focus this year was responsible sourcing (as I have written about previously: link and link) but in the eight sessions on Monday presenters exchanged ideas on a number of topics ranging from the highly technical to the wildly creative. 

The more technical presentations included Jim Binnion, an expert on metalsmithing and goldsmithing techniques who discussed his process for developing a new method for preparing 3D acrylic photopolymer patterns for investment casting, a complicated but important topic with the recent proliferation of 3D printers in the jewelry industry.

Teresa Frye, founder of the Portland Jewelry Symposium, provides an overview of what jewelers should known about precious metals metallurgy. Photo by Anthony DeMarco

Teresa Frye, founder of the Portland Jewelry Symposium and owner and president of TechForm Advanced Casting Technology in Portland, presented a technical overview of what jewelers should known about precious metals metallurgy. This includes discussions on porosity, microstructure, mechanical strength, and the effects of alloying elements.

Frye said she started the symposium nine years ago to fill a need in the northwest United States primarily for independent jewelry retailers, designers and manufacturers. The event has steadily grown over the years. Frye said the symposium prides itself on being a non-commercial venue for jewelry professionals.

Jewelry designer Chris Ploof describes the creative process during his presentation on Mokume Gane. Photo by Anthony DeMarco

It was modeled after the Santa Fe Symposium, founded more than 30 years ago by Eddie Bell, director of technology for Rio Grande, Inc., perhaps the largest jewelry industry supplier of tools, equipment and know-how in the U.S. Frye has participated in the event as a presenter and attendee for many years. 

The Santa Fe Symposium is international, attracts some of the largest jewelry companies and is the closest thing to a scientific process in the jewelry industry. Large manufacturing representatives present highly technical white papers on new findings in jewelry making production. The non-commercial networking aspect among these professionals is cited as one of the key reasons for its success. 

Frye says the Portland symposium is a bit different in that it is geared toward smaller companies and is bit broader in terms of presenting highly technical white papers with artistic and business presentations. It received the blessing of Eddie Bell and Rio Grande is one of its major sponsors, providing bench jewelry demonstrations.

Frye expressed confidence that the Portland symposium will continue to grow. 

“There’s a national need for this type of non-commercial event in the type of setting with a more intimate environment than a tradeshow.”

Several attendees said the non-commercial networking environment is one of the best parts of the annual gathering. 

“You don’t feel like you’re in an environment where you’re being sold. You are able to relax a little and enjoy the people who are here,” said Jennifer Shaline a bench jeweler at Beaudet Jewelry, Eugene, Ore. The self-claimed “too junkie” was also at the show headhunting for full-time employees. This is her second time at the event. 

Networking had a direct impact on jewelry designer Ali Peret of Troutdale, Ore. He was specifically looking to find information on 3D jewelry design. The schedule didn’t have this topic this year but during networking he met a 3D jewelry design instructor from the Gemological Institute of America. 

“This is exactly why I come,” said Peret, who has attended the symposium a few times in the past.

Andrea Hill describes how to adapt Lean Manufacturing to small jewelry operations. Photo by Anthony DeMarco

Andrea Hill of Hill Management Group, a consultancy for the jewelry industry, presented a tutorial on Lean Manufacturing, a systematic method for the elimination of waste within a manufacturing system. This system was developed in Japan and is flexible enough to use for a variety of manufacturing processes, including those in the jewelry industry.

“It’s a system that trains an organization to look at itself from the outside in and to make all improvements accordingly,” Hill told the jewelers. “It provides value through the eyes of the customer by designing your business and processes around your customer.”

She added, “This core concept of lean is very accessible to the small business and if you’ll embrace you’ll see benefits in your business.”

Hill has been a longtime presenter and attendee of both The Portland and Santa Fe Symposiums. 

“Teresa (Frye) does a really good job,” Hill said after her presentation. “She packs a lot of content into a day.” 

She adds that’s there is no other place in the northwest United States where such a diverse group of jewelry professionals can get together in such a supportive environment. 

Chris Ploof explains the true worth of what someone buys from a designer. Photo by Anthony DeMarco

Jewelry designer Chris Ploof of Leominster Mass., gave a presentation on the history of the Japanese art of Mokume Gane and described techniques to produce the distinctive design in a modern jewelry workshop. 

It was one of the more entertaining and informative presentations on such a difficult topic. It included a chart on the artist process that read: “Work begins; F#*k off; panic; All the work while crying; Deadline”

Mokume Gane is a technique that produces a wood-like grain in metal. It’s done by fusing several layers of different colored precious metals together then manipulating it in a way that a pattern resembling wood grain emerges over the surface. There are several techniques are used to produce a variety of effects.

Three jewelry designers (Jim Tuttle of Green Lake Jewelry Works, Jennifer Dawes of Jennifer Dawes Design and Travis Isaacson of Lashbrook), spoke about their personal experiences with selling custom jewelry.

Lake Giles of Thinkspace Jeweler of Portland, which creates cloud-driven website management systems and internet marketing services for jewelers, told attendees how they can successfully manage their own website Search Engine Optimization (SEO) without hiring consultants. 

“There are better ways to advertising digitally,” he said. “Google ad words, Pandora radio, Facebook, email marketing lists. They all have their pros and cons. SEO is frequently less attractive than these other channels.

He also encouraged jewelers to use social media (perhaps the only industry on earth that needs such encouragement). 

“At least create those accounts, claim those business names on social media sites shows your biz is alive,” he said. 

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