Why I Love the Jewelry Business: Q&A with Mark Lauer
How did you get into designing jewelry?
I was introduced to jewelry design through a friend of my brothers when I was still in high school. This was 1969 and my brothers friend Louie Logan was into making earrings out of brass or copper wire. He would bend the wire into different shapes throw some colored beads on it and voila he had a pair of earrings. It seemed like a great way to make money and meet woman so I was 100% on board. Later in college I expanded to working in sterling silver and setting stones into the design. I worked my way through college selling my designs at art fairs throughout the summer. By my second year in college I decided that designing jewelry for a living sounded like a lot more fun than pursuing a Psychology major. As luck would have it I was already attending a college with a great fine arts department that offered a degree in silversmithing and jewelry design. I switched majors and never looked back.
Why did you decide to start Mark Michael Designs?
I’ve always loved drawing and working in 3D. After college it became my dream to own a jewelry store. After graduating I worked for two different jewelers honing my skills at the bench. The second store I worked for was Dennis Lampert Jewelers in Chicago. Dennis was into designing his own original designs and selling them both in his store as well as to other stores throughout the USA. I was immediately determined to do the same. Unfortunately, I was considerably short of the money needed to open a retail store. One night (after a couple of beverages) my brother Mike and I decided that starting a wholesale jewelry design business together was the answer. Susan and I moved from Chicago to Minneapolis where I got a job with a wholesale manufacturer as their custom order person. They asked me to design a line of jewelry that their salesmen could sell throughout the USA. The designs sold like wildfire. That really gave us the confidence that we could make this work. Mike and I pooled our money together and I burned the midnight oil creating the designs for Mike to sell wholesale. When we thought we were ready we both quit our jobs and went for it.
How has jewelry designing changed from when you started in 1985 to now?
Jewelry design in its essence hasn’t changed. You’re still working with the balance and counter balance of forms and usage of positive and negative space. What has changed dramatically is the technology used to create those forms. In 1985 I was hand carving all of my models which would then be molded so that we could produce more than one (this was when we were wholesaling). Today we are creating our forms using CAD (computer assisted design) technology to create the form on computer. Once that design is created we are able to send our customers photo realistic images of what that design would look like finished. Upon their approval we send that computer information to a 3D printer to create an exact model for the customer to try on.
What’ the one thing you love most about owning a jewelry store?
That’s easy- the people. When we were wholesaling our line around the country we worked with the store owners. Their only concerns were: how saleable, how well priced, how long can I take to pay you. There was no emotion involved. I love getting to visit with my clients and getting to know them. Everyone has an interesting jewelry related story to share. It’s such a joy and honor to create a ring that a client will ask his love to spend the rest of his life with, or to take a stone handed down through past generations and create a new design to be passed on to future generations.
What’s been your greatest challenge?
Today any business owner’s greatest challenge is keeping up with the rapidly changing world. Ten years ago advertising was all about mail outs, yellow page ads, and radio. Today all of those have fallen to the way side to be replaced with social media, Google reviews and internet relevance. Twelve years ago I was hand carving waxes. Five years ago we were using CAD, but creating our models on a four axis mil. Today we are using a 3D printer. Even the jewelry design program we use on computer is on version 9.0. I started out in version 1.0 ten years ago. Each version does more, but that also means that each year there are more new buttons to learn how to use properly. Fortunately I’ve always loved technology and have done a pretty good job of staying abreast of the changes. The jewelry stores that haven’t have been adapting to new technologies have closed by the score. My daughter Megan is in charge of social media and spends hours watching videos on how to use it properly. She’s done a great job of keeping us current and relevant.
What’s your favorite all time jewelry design?
The honest answer is usually the one I’m currently working on. There are definitely some designs that are a little harder to let go of than others, but it’s a great feeling to know that something you created has found a great home to be loved and cherished.
What’s your favorite type of jewelry design?
I can appreciate the artistry of jewelry from all periods of history. Even going back to ancient Egypt, the craftsmanship that is found is breathtaking considering the technology they had at their disposal. We are doing a lot of very intricate vintage work today for clients that are very popular. Many are designs that wouldn’t look out of place worn 100 years ago. For me though, I always go back to the words of my college professor who taught jewelry design. Her name was Alma Eickerman. She was trained in Europe by silversmith masters. She would always say to me “Mark if you can say it in three lines don’t use four. If you can say it in two lines don’t use three”. In other words for her design was all about simplifying the design down to its most basic form. At heart I still design from this viewpoint.