November 3, 2014 Leave a comment
One of my first purchases from an official bead store was in the mid 1990’s, at a bead store in Cambridge, MA. It was a small antique silver plated goddess charm by TierraCast. I still own that charm as at the time it was just too special to actually use. Across the country in Berkeley, CA Jim & Lisa Kaufman’s bead store, Baubles & Beads, was in its infancy, and Julia, our current store manager, was a high school student who shopped at their store. None of us knew one another, we were all just beaders who could never imagine that nearly two decades later we would all be working together at Baubles & Beads and going on a field trip tour the TierraCast facilities. Chances are if you have ever made jewelry with base metal beads or components you too have introduced TierraCast products into your own collection. It was with great pleasure and much anticipation we were given the opportunity to tour the factory and learn more about the production of those fabulous finds and meet the people who create them.
Upon our arrival we met up with Julie, our ambassador for the day. Her bubbly enthusiasm immediately struck a chord with us as we too are excited to share the story of growth and change of another small business.
She began by introducing us to several people we had interacted with on the phone, through email, and whose names we’d recognize from years of doing business together.
Alan Joseph, one of the company owners and product designer, was our tour guide and he guided us through the entire impressive compound, in order of production from design idea to finished piece. Every piece is made under the same house except for the plating including: design, production, manufacturing, sales, and marketing.
Alan works entirely through graphic design templates on his computer when designing the beautiful and detailed signature TierraCast pieces. He has a background in fine art, so the process starts with that in mind. The products go through rigorous testing periods before they make it to you, the beader. Only 1 in 10 design ideas actually make it into the product line.After all design specifics have been developed digitally he then hands the work off to his team of metalsmith geniuses to begin the task of making a model. Above is a picture of Scott’s bench, he trained at Tiffany. Be sure to zoom in on the pic to get a good look at all his tools. The window directly in front of his bench looks out to a tranquil garden setting, now that’s what we call a good day’s work! Perfection is required, evident by the microscope in the room. Once the piece has gone through the intensive and fastidious design process, they begin production by making a mold.Molds are made by pressing silicone in a steel plate that is heated. We were impressed by the organization in the mold making room. Notice in the background of the photo above how the finished molds are arranged. There is a whole back room filled with molds.Each mold only has a lifespan of about 300 uses. The mold maker was on vacation the day of our tour. He just celebrated 25 years at TierraCast. Definitely a sign of a good company to work for.TierraCast excels in the use high quality pewter. The standard for lead content in culinary pewter is 500ppm. TierraCast uses a pewter alloy called Britannia that contains lead in the minute level of less than 100 ppm. Most pieces have about 25-35ppm of lead content.We step over to the next room and find a vat of molten metal next to the casting machine. The caster pours the molten metal into the opening of the mold located in a centrifuge. Centrifugal force pushes the molten metal evenly throughout the mold making for consistent results. Angela, the caster pictured above is one of the fastest casters at TierraCast.Once the caster has produced a large quantity of product they then simply break the pieces off the “tree”. It is a testament to the fine craftsmanship of the mold maker that no hand finishing is required after removing the product from the tree.How dreamy that the day we visited they were casting one of our best-selling items: the Buddha Bead. A short walk away is another building that houses the finishing room.My little Lortone tumbler is nothing compared to TierraCast’s homemade version. These drums are filled with cast pieces and different tumbling media to help quickly remove any burrs or imperfections. Once the pieces are tumbled they are sent off-site to be plated. Plating is the only process that does not happen in-house. Upon return from the plater, TierraCast applies chemical antiquing as needed.
When we opened the door to the order fulfillment office a blast of cold air struck us; a true sign of women working in here. This room was filled with drawer after drawer of beads, charms, pendants, bails, button, findings, clasps, earwires, oh my gosh I can’t list all of the wonder inside. Sorry the pic so so fuzzy but those ladies work fast!! The conclusion of our tour left us time for photo ops with each other. Above is one of myself and Julie. We all know Julie well as she has been TierraCast’s sales rep for a long time. We often meet up at the bead shows in Tucson and Milwaukee. Next up is Lisa Kaufman , co-owner of Baubles & Beads, and Julie. Have we mentioned how fun Julie is?And to finish us off we have Julia, our store manager, loving the tidiness of the entire place. Interestingly enough, between three of us photographing our tour, Jim Kaufman (the incredibly handsome co-owner of Baubles & Beads) never made it into any of our photos.