William (Bill) Gallant of Attleboro, MA, worked in the jewelry industry from 1956 until 1995, usually in the manufacturing end of the business. Working for a number of companies over the years gave him an insider's view of the industry. He has kindly shared these memories with me, and I knew that you would also enjoy reading them. |
BALFOUR: Bill started working for LG Balfour in 1956, where he stayed until 1969. When he was there, his pay started at $0.90 cents an hour and he worked 60 hours a week.
After being there for one year, he was fortunate to get training as a chaser for two years. Chasers were the old craftsmen who would do all the designs on items like silver trays such as Gorham made. Bill's chasing was done on class rings. Instead of making new dies each year, they would take gold solder and fill in the dates or degrees. His job was to cut in the new date and degree information and put in all the background with hand cutting tools. According to Bill, this is a lost art. Now they train the hand workers to do only one specific part so they can pay them less. Also, almost all rings are now investment cast, and very few are from dies which are more expensive.
LG Balfour once employed around 4000 people in Attleboro where the factory was 3 stories and about a block long. At one time it had the second largest gold reserve next to Fort Knox.
|CORO: At the time Richton bought Coro, Coro was buying all their precious metal jewelry from Catamore, Inc. of Providence, RI. However, the two companies had a disagreement, and Coro decided to make their own precious metal jewelry. In 1969 Coro hired Bill because of his knowledge in manufacturing precious metals. He was given the 5th floor at Coro to build a complete department with investment casting machines, presses to stamp out parts and soldering, polishing and stonesetters. The plating was done in the main plant.|
|Bill defines precious metals as gold, gold filled, Platinum and sterling silver. A lot of people have a miss-conception of gold flled. It isn't filled with gold, but is brass with a coating of gold. However, it's not plated, it's clad -- usually it's 1/12 of 24 karat gold that can be on both sides of the piece or just on one side. When you see "heavy coated gold" on costume jewelry, that might be 100 mils of gold. That's less than you puffing a little steam on something, it's like a puff of air.|
|HEDISON: When Bill left Coro he worked in Toronto for awhile and then took a job with Hedison as a forecaster and prodution and inventory manager. This was around 1971. At that time the head designer for Hedison was Bob Tedeschi, who was a pretty good designer. The original Hedison plant was in Providence and was an odd structure that was triangular in shape and about 5 stories high. Hike Hedison built a new plant in Lincoln RI around 1978. Coro used to buy jewelry from Hedison Co.. They would pick out the top items, then if they did well they would knock them off. .|
ROMAN CO, ST. LOUIS: Mel and wife Adele Roman had a very successful advertising business. They loved to travel and would go to islands in the Caribbean. On one of the trips, he noticed a native lady with a long beaded chain on her neck with little wooden figures.|
Mel got the idea of a 30 inch chain from which you could hang little people. The original stamping were very primitive boy & girl figures which were highly polished with a split ring to attach to the chain. That's when the engraving idea came into play -- you could buy the chain and every time you had a new grandchild go to the store and they would engrave the name and date of birth on a boy or girl charm.
From this beginning, the Roman Co. was started in 1973. Mel bought a few Hermes engraving machines from Coro and got the idea of putting the machines in department stores and training the clerks how to engrave. He paid them 50 cents for every piece they engraved. He had a person in Attleboro who would buy the findings and lockets. This person would get the pieces manufactured, plated and shipped to St Louis.
During the period of 1973 to 1975 was when he started to build what finally became the largest engraving company in the world. Bill came on board in 1975 as the new manufacturing manager and eventually VP of manufacturing. By that time Mel had hired the head buyer from May co. who headed up the marketing with counter displays. By 1980 Roman Co. was doing $13 million a year and had 1500 engraving machines in just about all the major department stores.
At this time, it was decided to buy out a plating operation in Attleboro -- a 12,000 sq.ft building. We also built a new headquarters on 1201 Hanley Industial Dr., St Louis Mo., that was a 40,000 sq.ft. facility. This was where all the shipping to the stores was done. We had sales offices on 5th Ave NY, Chicago and Texas with 17 reps on the road. Around 1982 we decided to get into fashion rings and cubic zirconium jewelry, all purchased in the Providence area from many different companies. After 2 years it became apparent we could buy directly from the Orient for much less money.
Bill left the company in 1986 because Roman was in the process of selling everything in Attleboro. Mel Roman sold the company to the 4 VPs around 1984. By then the engraving business had really declined because of lack of clerks behind the counters.
Photo courtesy Carolyn Sunday
Bill said we should be aware of something: In many cases manufacturing people and designers did not get along. It's one thing to paint or design beautiful things, but it's another to make them. Bill often was at odds with designers, which also included model makers. Model makers spent hours getting the effect that they envisioned. However, the manufacturing aspect didn't have the same luxury.
Providing this information has brought back many pleasant memories to Bill of his time in the jewelry business, which also included the following:
Between 1987 & 1995:
Part owner of Annex Glass [ Lydia Jewelry]
BB Greenberg - plant manager
ROLO INC. - plant manager
Metal Dynamics - plant manager
Crest Craft Inc - VP of operations 1993-1995