Design Focus

Brenda Warburton, a jeweler with a string of prestigious design awards, is the co-owner of Austin & Warburton in Ann Arbor, Mich. This story details how she and her husband, Craig, made CAD/CAM technology a major part of their successful retail venture and the role it now plays in her creative process.

Brenda Warburton started her career at the bench by attending Gem City College in Quincy, Ill. After graduating in 1978, she got her first bench job from Dobie Jewelers, a retailer in Royal Oaks, Mich. The retailer moved her to a window location in a mall, which generated interest from passersby. Her skills were recognized by personnel from several other jewelry stores who approached her to take in their work. When she reported this to her employer, he encouraged her to start her own business and offered her all of his trade work as well.

So in 1979, Warburton became a self- employed contract jeweler providing repair, reconstruction, and custom-order services to the trade. In 1985, she and her husband, Craig, purchased the Austin Diamond Co., a retail jewelry and diamond destination store. Soon after, they combined Brenda’s trade business with the retail store. The retail side grew so quickly that they stopped providing trade work. In 1997 the store was renamed Austin & Warburton and moved to its present location.

There’s an old saying that behind every man is a good woman—and vice versa in the case of this dynamic couple who have established themselves as Ann Arbor’s premier engagement-ring and custom-order jewelry store. Brenda had earned respect as a top bench jeweler, designer, and trade-shop owner. But when she teamed with husband Craig and bought Austin Diamond Co. in 1985, the two built a retail venture with annual sales of over $1.3 million. Craig brings business savvy, organizational skills, clarity, and superb salesmanship to the equation. According to Brenda, “If it wasn’t for Craig, our retail venture would have never made the gains that it has. I may still be doing trade work.”

Craig manages the store’s daily operations, including buying, pricing, sales, inventory, cash flow, and Web site. He monitors the price of metals and reviews recent custom orders taken in for estimates. (He has downloaded free software from Kitco, which has enabled real-time monitoring of precious-metals prices within the task bar of his computer.) He also manages the staff: Stacy Brewer, the showroom manager; Julie Stadleman, sales; and Marge Bidwell, who works in accounting.

“Retail is about managing change,” says Craig. With this in mind, the Warburtons have embraced technology. Craig has set up their store with seven networked computers and a file server. He even introduced a computerized robotic vacuuming system that cleans the floor after hours.

ENTER THE MATRIX

Brenda, meanwhile, has converted her jewelry design and model making to computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing. They purchased Gemvision’s Matrix software and the Revo mill for model making in 2000. Brenda was in Gemvision’s first Matrix and Revo class, and runs mill No. 12 issued from the company.

Brenda gets design inspiration mostly from the gemstones she’s working with, but she executes those designs on a computer. Using Matrix software, she created the opposite mirror-image links on her Spectrum Award–winning design. The links are joined using a flexible hinge system that was created in the software. The diamonds are graduated and will be set in channels. After the piece was designed, Brenda used the gemstone list from the software to purchase the diamonds for the links. “There were no changes required during the diamond setting procedure, as all of the stones fit the channels perfectly,” Brenda says. “Because of Matrix, my design elements easily combined with the technical details of the assembly, and the components worked well together. This project took only part of my time for three weeks from my design concept to the finished piece.” Her design elements easily combined with the technical details of the assembly, and the components worked well together, she says. “Having CAD/CAM has enabled me to produce my original work, regular sellers for inventory and the store’s custom orders on demand at a faster rate than prior to using the technology,” says Brenda. “Our sales volume was up 50 percent last holiday season, and I was able to produce custom orders and replace inventory from our cases as it sold—in December!”

Brenda adds that being able to produce a versatile product selection based upon her original designs and regular sellers has given them the ability to offer a unique product choice for customers and build a brand around their specific products. It would have been difficult without the Revo mill tool, she says.

When asked about the greatest virtue of CAD/CAM, Brenda replies, “Nothing is impossible. Previously I was limited by what could be carved in wax by hand. Now I can achieve more intricate detail, obtain perfect symmetry, and do stone layouts that I would have previously done in the metal. CAD/CAM has provided me with the ability to model the details and hand it off to my bench jeweler, who skillfully finishes and sets the piece according to my every expectation.”

For information about the 2007 AGTA Spectrum Awards or to get an entry form, visit www.agta.org. Deadline for entry is Sept. 22, 2006 and judging will occur during October.

For information about Austin & Warburton jewelers and to see a video of the team, visit www.austinandwarburton.com

For information related to Gemvision products and services, call (800) 357-6272, e-mail: info@gemvision.com, or visit www.gemvision.com.