This series of interviews explores some of the stories from the #RioJeweler community. #RioJeweler is a way for jewelers to share moments from the bench on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Designers from around the world use the hashtag to chronicle their stories, their work and their lives as jewelers. We’re looking forward to exploring stories from the Rio Jeweler community in depth through interviews here on our blog. If you haven’t checked it out yet, search #RioJeweler on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter and join in the conversation!
This week we sit down with Spike, the Rio Jeweler behind Panurgic, a custom jewelry and production casting house in Portland, Oregon.
The word “Panurgic” has its roots in two Greek words: pan, meaning “for all,” and ergo, meaning “work.” The name Panurgic describes an individual who is skilled in many kinds of work. Spike takes this definition to heart. He and his team of craftsman at Panurgic work with designers to bring their vision to life in metal. They use lost-wax casting, raising and soldering techniques to create pieces that are one-of-a-kind yet scalable.
What was your first experience with jewelry making?
My first jewelry experience was with casting. I took a class in high school and was hooked. I loved the idea of being able to create something that is solid. Castings have no joints or seams; they are just one flowing object. I have never stopped loving that.
How did you get from taking a casting class in high school to where you are today? What did you do to continue your education in casting?
I went to college to be an electrical engineer. The plan was to retire someday and live my jewelry dream. Life is short and electrical engineering was not my dream. After taking a four-month jewelry course, I decided casting could not wait.
My first studio was a co-op with four girls from jewelry school. They moved on to other things and I still had a space to rent. The man who would become my mentor walked in one day to rent studio space! Chris Cotie spent years teaching me about casting. Every job I took was another excuse to pick his brain.
What motivates you to spend hours a day at your bench?
Casting days can easily be 15 hours long. Production casting is all about helping artists and designers take their work to new levels. I love working with energetic designers. It is so rewarding to help them make their dreams a reality. I guess their enthusiasm rubs off on me.
What advice do you have for jewelers who are looking to start mass production?
The first thing they should do is take a class in casting. You need to love casting if you want to spend your days making thousands of pieces. Above all, make sure you are having fun! I have done castings just for the money. It almost killed me. I work harder and happier for the right customer.
Is there a part of the casting process you struggled with? If so, how did you overcome it?
Time and consistency are the biggest challenges. I want to deliver the best pieces we can in the least amount of time. Finding a balance was the hard part. Years of small refinements have shown me the value of patience. Slowing things down allowed me to be more efficient and to cast a better product.
Where do you go to learn more about your casting and manufacturing processes?
I spend my free time reading data sheets and instructions. They are full of clues! Knowing the basics is key to getting a good cast. Rio Grande has so much great info about each component of our process. For example, I can quickly find the density, melt temp and applications of any casting grain on Rio’s site. This is a real lifesaver when you think about all the different alloys available!
What do you love about lost-wax casting?
There are so many things you can do. I have cast everything from gold filigree to brass knuckles; it is such a simple process. All you need is a bit of wax, and the possibilities are endless!
Tell us about a rewarding experience when you did production casting for a designer.
In the summer of 2013 my favorite designer, Betsy Cross of Betsy & Iya, was determined to launch a new line. Her designs were ambitious and we were against the clock. Over the course of the next two weeks we helped Betsy take those designs from sketches to metal. We were literally casting samples the day before she left for her show.
The new line was well received at the show and is still selling! It is amazing to know we were able to help an artist fulfill her vision.
What’s your favorite tool?
My go-to tool is our Baldor polishing motor. I can’t count the number of hours I have spent grinding, sanding and polishing on the Baldor. There is something so satisfying about taking a raw casting and working it until it shines.
How do you market your jewelry?
I have tried everything for marketing our castings. I have found the best results come from hard work. We let our customers do the talking. Our name does not go on the castings, theirs does. Happy customers are kind enough to pass along our name to other designers!
Describe your bench.
Most days I live at the wax station. It is a long wooden table with wax pens, wax injector and lots of sprue trees.
What are you working on now?
Today I am working on creating prototypes for a customer’s new line. We are at the exciting point where we take the original pieces and make rubber molds. The next stage is lots and lots of wax injections.
Tell us your favorite jewelry-making memory.
Wow! Every day is kind of a dream. Setting up my very first shop really stands out in my memory. I was in my early 20s and just out of jewelry school. I bought a retired jeweler’s equipment for $500. Everything was covered in rust and only kind of worked! It took me a month to rebuild everything I needed to cast. It was amazing to see everything come to life. The fun has never stopped.