In sharp contrast to a recent article in Idex Online which enumerated the rapid acceleration of specialty independent jeweler closings in the U.S., Dan Dement and his family at Stone Oak Jewelers in San Antonio are experiencing the opposite challenge.
Thanks to self-professed "gadget man" Dement's commitment to stay on top of advances in CAD (computer-aided design) software, RP (rapid-prototyping) devices and a hard-learned personal motto to "over-buy" when it comes to technology, Dement can say with confidence that he, "would hate to be a chain store and try to compete with me."
Dan Dement finished his GIA Graduate Gemology degree over thirty years ago. Among his career highlights include putting together the Hixon Collection of Colored Stones in the Gem Vault, which is part of the permanent collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. But what he is undoubtedly most proud of is his family, and his family business.
Dan and his son-in-law Mike Bowling man the store on a daily basis, and daughter DeAnna Bowling and wife Tobi Dement alternate days. DeAnna tells customers how beautiful their ideas and concepts are, and her father Dan figures out how to make them work. They play a fun game of sweet cop/all-business cop.
According to Dement, "New technology allows American jewelers to bring back quality to the jewelry-making process, while being competitive with the overseas manufacturers... as long as you're manufacturing quality, you're okay. The future of the independent jeweler is in rapid prototyping, especially for those who don't have the skills to do handmade wax molds - or even part cast and part handmade molds."
Dement showed me an example of this beautiful radiant-cut emerald ring which commanded over ninety hours of labor to create the "old-fashioned" way, meaning handmade wax molds. He created ten in that particular series. If they started in November, he and his staff of jewelers could probably execute three or four of them by Christmas if they were lucky. That's simply the way it was done.
However, with new RP technology, the same exact ring can be made in only 25 hours. And by Christmas, nearly everyone who wants their rings, earrings and necklaces can get them.
But is it better? Indeed it is, in nearly every way.
Let's say your diamond has a "J.Lo" bulge in the girdle (a bumpy or wavy girdle). In many machined, mass-produced ring settings, the "seat" for the diamond or center stone is not properly cut or shaped and whether you know it or not, you run the risk of losing your stone if it's not set properly. With RP technology, Dement can make an exact fit for your stone. Further, he can make heads and prongs for the stones as well.
Now what about the micro-pavé craze? Can you do that with CAD/CAM and RP? Yes, you can, and better than ever. Dement favors the Matrix software, wherein all of the beadwork and prongs are precise and exact. And get this - it can be cranked out in under a week - even with 200 stones. At left is a sample of an actual Matrix micro-pavé computer rendering with hundreds of half-point diamonds.
And Dement's micro-pavé will last. He prefers European shanks, and nearly never runs micro-pavé past the shoulders of a shank so you won't knock stones driving your car or washing dishes. He likes to "Swiss-cheese" shanks, or do open-weave detail (see above ring) to allow light through make diamonds dazzle.
It is a knockout. The split-shank design is lovely and the diamonds match the sapphire perfectly. As Dement would say, it's a "forever ring." Wow.
His current favorites, this week, are the micro-pavé and palladium pieces. "The palladium gives you a big look for less money than I could do for you last week. Plus, no rhodium plating. There's a learning curve there just like everything."
He has no problem telling you if you've got a problem on your hands, so to speak... if your own diamond is in danger. It's the good, all-business cop in him.
It's quite obvious, however, that Dan Dement is very grateful for his business and for his family. "I've been very blessed. Everyone I know told me I couldn't do it, but it did it. But it's not me, it's my wife, it's my daughter, it's my son-in-law." Perhaps that's why, when helping prospective customers make a purchase, he will ask them, "Which one of your great-grandchildren do you want to give this to?"
Beyond that, he makes a cooperative effort to share his .stl files and designs with other jewelers. He figures the more American jewelers can work together to produce quality goods, the better. And if he can be a part of that effort, he will.
If you're buying a diamond from Dan, all stones have a GIA certificate, a hearts and arrows mapping, a Sarin machine interpretation, and cut grading if available.
Technology is a wonderful thing. And married with a traditional family business, Stone Oak Jewelers is a winner. On a personal note, I would not hesitate to recommend them to anyone or have them do some work for me. In fact... watch this space.
(all photos property of Stone Oak Jewelers)