Still Made in America: Lorac Union Tool brass stampings

A phoenix rising: Lorac Union Tool

Looks can be deceiving. A broken sign. Worn-out chairs. Wood-paneled walls and brown rugs, circa 1950s. Not vintage-cool old. Just old.

In its prime in the 1970s, Lorac Union Tool was a powerhouse in the jewelry industry. It was known for its wide range of beautifully detailed brass stampings made from hand-carved dies. The years, however, were not kind to Lorac. By the time Kyle Raeburn took it over last year, it was a ghost of its former self. In fact, at a recent networking event, Kyle found himself having to explain that, yes, Lorac was still in business. But nothing about it is going to be the same-old.

A new generation

In September 2014, Lorac Union was acquired by International Insignia Corporation, which is owned by Kyle’s father. International Insignia manufactures military badges, medals, rank pins, and other decorative emblems. Lorac was up for sale just when International Insignia needed to expand its operations so the plan was that Kyle would manage Lorac, making the stampings needed for the military products. That suited Kyle just fine. Manufacturing is in his DNA. He is the sixth generation in the family business that got its start during the American civil war. He earned his management degree from Bentley University with the intention that he’d return to the family business. But he did not simply inherit the business. He grew up in the military insignia factory, learning the business not from the boardroom, but from the factory floor. When he was 13 years old and wanted a gas-powered remote control car, his father told him he could have it—by earning the money polishing medallions over the summer break from school. He smiles at the memory. “That’s the part I like about the manufacturing business,” says Kyle. “I like getting my hands dirty. I like tinkering, figuring out how to make and fix things.”

A new century

It turns out that some things get fixed not with a wrench, but with an idea. Looking at the jewelry stampings pinned to the dozens of showroom boards and the inventory (definitely vintage-cool old) piled in rows and rows of metal drawers and shelf upon shelf stacked with bins, Kyle did some research about the state of the costume jewelry industry today. He paid attention to who was still buying Lorac Union stampings and findings. A plan started to form. First, get rid of broken machinery and fixtures. Reorganize the press rooms, inventory stock areas, shipping room, and other areas to get up and running to supply International Insignia. Then prioritize the long list of what it takes to go from a has-been jewelry manufacturer to a thriving 21st-century business. Hire more than 13 new employees–check. Add a new roof–check. Update the computer system–check. Develop a marketing plan—check.

Lorac Union Collage with caption

A new plan

First item on the marketing plan: launch a newsletter (done), create a new website (in process), then hold an open house to invite buyers to buy extra inventory directly and on the spot (coming soon). Um, how exciting is that for local designers?! As I toured the bins and bins of inventory, I had to keep myself from squealing. OK, I may not have held it all in. If Kyle heard, he graciously pretended not to hear.

 bin long shot

lorac union bins

Luckily for Lorac, Kyle is a marathon runner. He knows how to pace himself, keeping his mind on the desired end result. He can go the distance. He’s in this for the long haul, not just buffing it up to make it shiny. He’s reinventing Lorac. He knows he’s got his work cut out for him. “There have been challenges. But,” he says, “it’s going to be fun.”

It’s going to be fun watching this phoenix rise out of the ashes.

A few things Kyle wants you to know:

  • You can order what is known as a sample quantity. At Lorac Union Tool, this means one dozen. There is a $15 minimum. (That is not a typo.)
  • Lorac Union ships worldwide.
  • It’s best to call for information or to place an order, at least while the new website and computer systems are being built.
  • Lorac Union is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., though they do close a little early on Fridays during the summer.
  • Great things are on the way! Please sign up for the newsletter (see below) to stay in the know.

How to contact Lorac Union:

  • Sign up for the newsletter, which announces flash sales for in-person buying and other exciting news for buyers around the world.
  • Visit the website at for an online catalog. Keep in mind it hasn’t been updated yet, so if you’re looking for something you don’t see, be sure to call.
  • Call (401) 781-3330 or toll free (888) 680-3236. (You’ll probably talk to Maria, who is passionate about the creative possibilities she sees in every Lorac Union Tool stamping. She’ll help you get what you need.)

If you enjoyed this post, please click Follow on the right side to be automatically updated when I add new posts–there is lots more coming about jewelry manufacturing resources!

Are you an artist or a businessperson? And more brass stamping happiness from Guyot!

For love or for money

As an artist, I choose what to make based on what lights me up from the inside. It might be a new technique or a new material. It could be even be about a particular color. But as a businesswoman, I’m going to first think about what’s in fashion, what colors are on trend, what the demographics of my audience are, and so on. I’m going to think about profit before I think about how much fun I’m going to have. Of course, you try to have both and it’s a balancing act. A friend who has heard me describe my above distinctions asked me if I would ever try to sell a line with the intention of “going big.”  My first reaction is “Never.” But … never say never, right?

I do know how much I love finding or creating a design thread for a jewelry or artistic piece that I follow to its wayward conclusion. I get to call all the shots and, at least for me in this point in time, that’s super important. When I’ve had to make something based on someone else’s specs, it has sometimes left me feeling a little hungry for the meandering creative path my muse takes me on.

It’s not just the design and creation parts that I love so much, though. I love taking photos of my finished pieces. And it’s no surprise (being a writer), that I enjoy writing descriptions of my pieces, too.

One facet that I had not foreseen was how much backstory I can learn. The materials I use in my designs are sometimes vintage finds from auctions and dusty basements—treasure hunting is one of the happiest ways I can think of to spend my “free” time. Sometimes I can learn about the actual source and purpose of a piece and that really adds dimension to my creative process.

And when I get to actually meet and talk to the people who make the components I use, well, that is an A+ day. I’ve read and heard that Providence, Rhode Island, and Attleboro, Massachusetts, were once the jewelry capitals of the world, but now everything is made overseas and the quality has suffered. Well, I’m ringing the good-news bell: There are still a significant number of jewelry manufacturers Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and other parts of the USA. And that’s good news whether you’re designing just for you or for a customer base.

As I got to know the manufacturers—and as I find more of them—I wanted to get the word out to let other jewelry and mixed media artists know that you can still buy direct from the makers in this country and you don’t have to spend $10,000 to do it. This series, Still Made in America, focuses on the companies that are still in the USA and play a part of the jewelry manufacturing industry.

I featured one of those companies in a recent post and this is a follow-up to my conversation with Andrea Twombly of Guyot Brothers, Inc.–a brass stamping manufacturer, located in Attleboro, Massachusetts, USA. (If you haven’t seen my previous post about Andrea and her family’s business, be sure to check it out.)

Guyot Brothers has and still does provide stampings and findings for the huge, well-known jewelry companies. But Andrea is just as happy working with solo designers, too. “I enjoy the energy of creative folks,” she says. When we talk about the decision to stay small or go big, Andrea says that, whichever option you choose, “be true to what you love.”

And then, as always happens when I’m surrounded by Guyot stampings, my eyes catches a tray of shiny brass beauty and I get, uh, a little distracted. Andrea catches my glance and is happy to show me what’s new at Guyot.

The thrill of texture

I often enjoy texturing metal myself, but sometimes you want to start with a textured piece for your jewelry or mixed media design. Hammered brass stampings from Guyot Brothers, Inc., are a beautiful way to go. There are so many ways to use these pieces and they’re perfect for wire wrapping, hand finishes, and whatever else your imagination can cook up.

These pieces are so beautiful, I almost don’t want to do anything to them. Just add ear wires or a jump ring and chain–and I’ve got immediate gratification and beautiful results.

Selections from Guyot Brothers, Inc.'s brass hammered findings and stampings
Selections from Guyot Brothers, Inc.’s brass hammered findings and stampings

Guyot Brothers has been around a long time and their designs are classic. But they DO add new designs to their collection. Check out the skull candy finding at the bottom … totally on trend.

Need a piece with no holes? Or a different number of holes that what’s in the catalog? Give Guyot a call–they may be able to help you out. (Click here to see all the contact info.)

So I’m off to create my next piece with nothing but lightness and joy in my heart. This one’s for love. And I’m pretty sure it’s going to involve that oval, hammered brass, two-hole connector.

What do you think–does creating with parameters feel the same to you?

If you enjoyed this post, please click Follow on the right side to be automatically updated when I add new posts–there is lots more coming about jewelry manufacturing resources!

Still Made in America: My own design cast in metal? I learn about the possibilities from JMS Casting.

This is the second article in a series about jewelry manufacturers that are still here in the USA, many of whom welcome business from solo designers.

I was commissioned to design a custom jewelry item with a charm that is no longer produced. I scoured jewelry manufacturer catalogs, auction lots, warehouses, and the farthest corners of the internet to no avail. Then I remembered a conversation I overheard last year while visiting a jewelry manufacturer’s showroom. A jewelry designer was asking the company owner whether a custom charm could be made and it just so happened that a local caster was in the building. I wasn’t paying attention to their conversation, but I caught bits and pieces and thought, “Hmm, that’s so interesting.”

And then, synchronicity. As I viewed a Google street map in preparation for  a visit to a business in Providence, I caught the image of a sign on a door: JMS Casting. A few minutes of Internet research later and I had found the telephone number and made an appointment for later in the week.

JMS Casting, Co., Inc.

JMS Casting is located in Providence, Rhode Island, in one of those old loft warehouse buildings I just love. Wood plank floors that creak a welcome. Tall, side windows that light up a space like no amount of light bulbs can do. I ring the bell next to a locked metal gate with a sign warning of vicious guard dogs. I kind of hold my breath as Michael Stanley lets me in, expecting the hounds of Hell to come barreling into me at any moment. Instead, three ankle-high furballs greet me, threatening to love me to death if I would only be still. As anyone who owns their own business or works from home can attest to, nothing beats sharing the workday with your dogs. They make a place feel special and I feel right at home.

When Michael introduces me to Jeannie Manni, who manages the company, I recognize her voice from our phone conversation. I show her the charm I’m considering having her mold and cast. She weighs it, measures it, and gives me the price in about three minutes. A $50 mold charge, 17 cents to cast each piece, which would be cast in lead-free pewter. I’m amazed—I could definitely afford this. But wait, there’s more!

jms casting sampling
The tiniest sampling of what JMS Casting produces.

From clay to casting

Jeannie moves quickly and efficiently. I know how busy she is and I don’t want to waste her time. But I’m so intrigued by the process, I have to ask, “How does the custom casting process work?” She beckons me to follow her. The top of a tall wooden table is covered with rubber molds, metal castings, pieces of rubber. She holds up a branch formed in pewter, complete with veined leaves. “This was made from a clay model,” says Jeanie. My ears perk up. What kind of clay? “Sculpey, she says.” Oh. No. Way. “You mean, I can give you something I’ve made out of polymer clay and you can make a casting from that?” Jeannie laughs. “Yes, didn’t you learn that in art school?”

Ah. Realization dawns. I explain that I have not been professionally trained as an artist. I come to this as an enthusiastic hobbyist who is exploring the many facets of jewelry making and mixed media art that includes jewelry components. But when a professional in the jewelry manufacturing industry hears the term “jewelry designer,” they think of someone who has some kind of formal art education or professional experience in a design house. I tell her that there are lots of people out there who are somewhere between hobbyist and jewelry artist and who would love to know how affordable custom casting can be. Like me.

“Then you’ll want to see this.” She leads me into another bright room. A group of women standing at a wooden table are snipping something. Jeannie grabs a thick, flat, round piece of rubber, about the size of a Frisbee. She lifts the top half off to reveal 12 cavities shaped like angels. This is the mold that the casting metal goes into. It’s then cooled until the pieces can be popped out and trimmed (hence the snipping).

jms casting molds
Rubber molds used to cast metal
jms casting mold process
An open rubber mold awaits the casting metal.
The result of the spin casting process; each of these sun charms will be snipped off the spokes.
The result of the spin casting process; each of these sun charms will be snipped off the spokes.
jms casting video still
Check out the video from JMS Casting’s website showing the casting process in action

Untarnished joy

Jeannie has seen just about every charm, finding, and component in the jewelry and décor industry. But her eyes still light up as she shows me the tiny horse sculpture a customer sent her to cast. An incredibly ornate mezuzah. The delicate stem and base of a candleholder. She points out the detail, the balance of the design. She looks as delighted and intrigued as I do.

And that’s a common factor with many of the people I’ve been meeting in the jewelry manufacturing industry: they still love what they do. Their appreciation for the beauty and magic of their contribution to someone’s creation has not tarnished. That kind of enthusiasm certainly makes it fun for me, who is new to the business behind the bling. But, more importantly, it means it is still fun for them.

A few things Jeannie wants you to know:

  • JMS can adjust the thickness of a custom stamping. Let’s say you have a stamping that is too thin for what you want to use it for. Jeannie’s shop can add to it to make it thicker.
  • Copyright laws must be followed so you can’t, for example, have a licensed character charm cast.
  • You can have just about any type of jewelry, accessory, or decorative item cast:
    • Coasters
    • Cuff links
    • Jewelry components
    • Lapel pins
    • Picture frames
    • Sculptures
    • Miniatures
    • Key rings
    • Hardware
    • Coins
    • Charms

How to contact JMS Casting:

If you enjoyed this post, please click Follow on the right side to be automatically updated when I add new posts–there is lots more coming about jewelry manufacturing resources! Also be sure to check out the post about a family-owned, New England manufacturer of brass stampings that will knock your socks off.

Still Made in America: Forever stamped in history: Guyot Brothers, Inc.

Whether you make leather wrap bracelets, lampwork beads, soldered metal components, or mixed media art pieces, you would do well to find the source of the material you are currently purchasing retail. Just the process of research will turn up valuable information about your options in terms of selection, material, and price. It may turn out that you still purchase retail, but at least you’ll be making an informed decision and this is critical whether you make jewelry as a hobby or for a living.

Plus, knowing the source of your material could be important in the story you tell your customers about your designs.

For me, that research started as a desperate search for a 14mm raw brass stamping in the shape of a shield. I had one in my stash and had no idea where it came from. But I needed at a dozen of them. So I did what I always do when I need to know something about anything in the universe. I did a Google search. I did many searches over several weeks. No luck and then I found someone selling something similar and in the description it said, “U.S. brass.” I added that to my search term. Eventually, I came up with a link for a brass manufacturer. At first, I ignored it. Going to the manufacturer for only a dozen tiny pieces seemed silly. But I could not find anything else, so I went to the manufacturer’s site. It was a little intimidating, but I was on a mission. I didn’t see the exact piece, so I called.

shield finding
The finding that started it all.

I told the woman who answered that I was a solo jewelry designer looking for a small quantity of a particular brass piece. I needed to know a) if she carried that piece and b) what the minimum was. I expected to hear that I’d need to order thousands. She told me that the minimum was two dozen if she had them in stock, a gross if they had to be made. Huh. That didn’t sound too scary. Well, then, I was sure the price would be way out of my budget, but I had come this far. I asked her for the price of the small cowboy boot charm I saw on her website, just so I could get an idea of what kind of money we were talking about.

“$6.97 for two dozen because I know we have those in stock,” she said. I asked her to repeat that number. She said it again. $6.97. For 24 raw brass charms. That was 29 cents each. Even if she didn’t have those in stock, the gross price (a gross is 144 pieces) would be less than $42. My mind raced. This was totally in my reach. But, just as importantly, what other treasures did she have? I asked if she had a showroom. She did. I was there the next day.

The Guyot Brothers’ showroom

Guyot boards blurred no caption
Brass stamping and finding boards at Guyot Brothers, Inc.

In the photo above are just a few of the “boards” in the Guyot Brothers, Inc. showroom. Each turn made me gasp—the quality and beauty are breathtaking. But each turn is also a glimpse into American craftsmanship that is the Guyot family.

A golden legacy

Andrea Twombly is the great-granddaughter of Numa Guyot. He began manufacturing brass findings out of a small factory in Attleboro, Massachusetts, in 1904. He started out making bookplates. He turned his art to jewelry. And that factory is still there, under the care of Andrea and her brother, Stephen Guyot. You can read all about the history on Guyot’s website and it’s worth doing. The pieces that come from Guyot Brothers are part of a legacy that extends beyond one family. And that’s the important thing here: this is a family business. Andrea answers the phone, manages orders, and wears a dozen different hats on any given day—from accounting to marketing to shipping manager to whatever else needs to be done. She’s the person who will answer your phone call and respond to your email. She doesn’t just know about the source of the brass findings her company produces; she has lived it.

A tiny sampling of Guyot Brothers' brass stampings.
A tiny sampling of Guyot Brothers’ brass stampings.

We’re sitting in the showroom, which is not as quiet on a Friday afternoon as other businesses that slow down by the end of the week. The rhythmic “thump-thump-thump” is the sound of brass being shaped into ornate stampings that will soon become someone’s favorite pair of earrings or go-to pendant. “I grew up in this factory,” says Andrea. “I learned to count to 25 by counting brass stamping orders for my dad.” After graduating from college, she got a job as a secretary for a real estate brokerage in Providence, Rhode Island. Andrea was back at the factory in a year. “This is where I belong. I love having access to creative people.” She picks up a brass dragonfly so richly detailed, I expect its wings to flutter, and says, “To think that this started as a sheet of brass that became this and will end up in someone’s beautiful design…we make the world a little more beautiful with every piece.” I couldn’t agree more.

What’s even more amazing than Andrea’s ability to see the beauty of something she has seen, day after day, for more than two decades, is the back story she might share for any stamping she makes.

Every piece a story

When I was creating a line of military-themed pieces, I saw Guyot Brothers’ small brass stampings of insignias for the Army, Marines, and Navy. I didn’t see the Air Force so I asked Andrea. “My father started having those dies made before he served in World War II,” says Andrea. “He left before the Air Force design was made. When he got home from his drafted obligation to the Army, he wasn’t interested in the military insignias so that one never got made.”

So there’s even a story for a piece that doesn’t exist.

The factory floor
The factory floor

For instances when you might not want a gross and Andrea doesn’t have a smaller quantity in stock, she will refer you to resellers who carry her product. So no matter what fits your need, you now know a little more about whether you can or should buy direct, and where to find some of the most beautiful brass stampings you’ll ever drool over.

A few things Andrea wants you to know:

  • Guyot sells raw brass. You can work with it as is (it ages beautifully), hand paint and patina it or have it plated (more about that in my next post).
  • Start by looking through the online catalog on the Guyot Brothers, Inc. website. If you don’t see what you’re looking for, be sure to ask—new designs are made faster than the website can be updated. Then email or call for a price for the quantity you need.
  • Don’t be afraid to call, even if you’re looking for a small quantity of an item. As with any industry, the best business relationships are built on personal interactions. Please be patient, however, with background noise or being put on hold. The factory, showroom, and office are all in the same building. It’s a busy place and there’s only so much Andrea to go around!

For even more fun, check out the list of 210 things to do with Guyot findings on the website. As if you didn’t already have a few ideas of your own.

How to contact Guyot Brothers:

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Still Made in America: All That Glitters in Jewelry Manufacturing

I’d been making jewelry for a few years when I discovered the fact that I live near what was once known as—and may still be–the Jewelry Capitals of the World: Providence, Rhode Island, and Attleboro, Massachusetts. As with any decent obsession, one thing just led to another. Once I started meeting the people who actually make and process the components that become artisan and fashion jewelry, well, as they say around here: fuggidaboudit. What began as an interest in stringing a few beads together to make matching accessories for my outfits turned into a fascinating education about jewelry manufacturing.

Rhode Island
Rhode Island has a rich history, which includes a significant contribution to the jewelry industry.

This is the first in a series of posts about some of the history, people, and current state of jewelry manufacturing in the USA and mostly in New England. It’s not all-encompassing. It’s not the only perspective. It’s just my view, my experience, my opinion, and my journey. And though I refer to jewelry, the same components I’ll be writing about are used in mixed media art pieces.

If any of this interests you, be sure to hit the Follow button on the right so you don’t miss anything. Here’s my ironclad guarantee: You’ll learn something or your money back. Oh, wait, this is free. So you have nothing to lose. 🙂

Stay tuned.

Design Jam Reveal: Carol Ribchester-Storrings

When I first saw what Carol did with the spinner pendant I sent her, my first thought was “museum piece.” It is dramatic and lovely. I love how unexpected it is. Sharp spikes? But yes, there’s a kind of energy that the spikes have that matches the spinning of the pendant. And Carol has artfully picked up on the round pendant shape with the round beads and those beautiful hammered round pieces.

carol ribchester 1

Many people have described the look of my pendants as vintage and that makes sense because the spinner components are vintage. They were made in the 1950s. But mixed media isn’t just about texture. It’s about non-traditional design elements and Carol has nailed this perfectly. (No pun intended, but I’m delighted with it!)

The more I look at Carol’s design, the more I see that this is a warrior’s necklace. One might see the spinner as an amulet, providing spiritual guidance.  The spikes kind of speak for themselves. Cross the warrior wearing this armor the wrong way and you’ll get the business end of those pretty pointy things.

And since a woman needs to be strong every day, this is not a museum piece. It’s everyday armor: spirituality, strength, courage, beauty, and grace.

Thank you so much, Carol, for participating in this design jam!

Design reveal: Kats Kreations

I sent these three pieces to Kats Kreations – Handmade Jewelry and Vape Bling to incorporate in her designs.

Handmade components by Joyful Muse Studio sent to Kats Kreations
The components I sent to Kats Kreations

She used the green clover connector on the right as part of a wire-wrapped bracelet.

Two handmade connectors by Joyful Muse Studio
Kat chose to work with the green connector on the right

A little about this component

I shaped, textured, painted, and triple-sealed a polymer clay cabochon with clover design. The two-ring bezel is a vintage brass-plated piece.  It’s 15mm x 23mm, including the rings.

Style description

Kat described the style of these components has having “a country kind of charm.”

What works

Kat liked the “rich colors of the piece; they speak to me of verdant green forests and the sun setting in the trees. The design is crisp and clear and the colors go well with the pattern I chose to use.” She can imagine this design in different color palettes, in hues of pink , blue, and rose.

Kat Kreations' bracelet design with Joyful Muse components
Kat Kreations’ finished bracelet design