Jeff Brooks is a product of the “old school” jewelry industry, as his son Hunter would say. Born into the jewelry business, he started making jewelry when he was 14 years old as an apprentice to a German craftsman in Cincinnati.
“You didn’t get paid,” Jeff said. “You showed up, you did your thing, you got your peanut butter sandwich and you left after it was dark and all the trash was empty.”
Times have changed since Jeff’s days as a boy in Cincinnati. Last year he invested in 3D Printing Technology and Computer-Aided Design (CAD) to bring Brooks Fine Jewelry into the future of jewelry.
“It’s a bridge between old world and new world. You can take all this technology and plug it into the old way of doing it and come up with stuff completely different,” Jeff said. “We’re just getting warmed up.” Jenna Franklin, marketing coordinator for Envision Tec 3D Printing, said the Brooks can create any piece of jewelry a customer can imagine using CAD software.
The machine takes a drawing and turns it into a resin copy with small circles representing the set stones.
“The customer can see the fit and they can then use the same model to be cast and modeled from that computer model for the customer,” Franklin said. “Instead of having to buy different designs from designers they can take different pieces and have a piece that is totally theirs.”
This being their first year with a 3D Printer, Brooks Fine Jewelry is entering three of their technologically crafted pieces and one handcrafted piece in the Arkansas Jewelers Association’s Creative Achievement Recognizing Arkansas Talent or C.A.R.A.T Awards in Little Rock Friday and Saturday.
“This show is our best foot forward as a company,” Jeff said.
Brooks Fine Jewelry is competing in all four categories: under $1,000, up to $1,000, $3,000 to unlimited and the award for best craftsmanship.
The most valuable piece the Brooks are taking to Little Rock is the three-tiered Lady Liberty Ring appraised for $50,000 to $60,000 with white, rose and blue gold surrounding a 2.7 carat diamond.
The ring was designed using 3D Printing technology to incorporate 50 stars in the ring’s design.
“We did this to show people what we can do and the technology that’s not just available to our customers, but available to other jewelry stores,” Jeff said. “Anything you can imagine we can do.”
The Brooks family has owned and operated Brooks Fine Jewelry since its beginning with Jeff working alongside his father Raymond Brooks until he passed away in 2007. A portrait of Raymond now hangs in his son’s store.
Jeff’s son Hunter Brooks runs the retail portion of the store, and Jeff’s younger brother Pat is in charge of castings and finishings in the back of the shop.
The Brooks use three methods to ensure their customers find the perfect piece of jewelry: one is based on a pre-made database of 1,500 rings, each able to be manipulated, the other is the traditional hand fabricated method crafted by Jeff, and the third is the CAD program.
“To be truly great in custom you have to be able to incorporate a multifaceted use of technology and old school,” Hunter said. “You can’t just be one-sided, you have to let it all come in. You have to use all three.”
A year ago it took Jeff eight hours to craft a single ring, now with new CAD and 3D Printer Technology he can produce up to 12 rings in a six hour period.
“I don’t have to sit there and whittle them anymore,” Jeff said. “My hands are killing me. I’ve been doing that for 35 years.”
Over the past year the Brooks have made over 150 pieces using their new technology.
As the largest manufacturer of Victorian style slide bracelets in the United States, Brooks Fine Jewelry has 10,000 retail customers nation wide through the help of their website and catalogs.
“Nation wide sales are great,” Jeff said. “The only place things are slow is here because nobody knows we’re here. People around here don’t go online. We get more calls at Christmas time and people say “Hey did you know you’re in Conway?” It’s hard for people to believe we’re a jewelry manufacturer in Arkansas.”
Originally located at 611 Court St., Jeff and his wife Kathy moved Brooks Fine Jewelry closer to downtown last April when they bought eight buildings in the 1300 block of Oak Street.
The Brooks now own the buildings beginning at Ye Olde Daisy Shoppe and continuing to the corner including French Lily and the Charlotte John Co. realty office.
“Everybody says it’s the eyesore of downtown, but after next week it’s all going to be one color,” Kathy said. Off-white for now, but the Brooks have plans to eventually paint the buildings to look like individual shops.
With their new location at 1304 Oak St., the Brooks have a larger storefront for displaying jewelry and room in the back for repairs and manufacturing.
Kathy is planning to expand company operations by going on the road to start selling wholesale to other Arkansas jewelry stores this fall. “We want to get about 10 stores in Arkansas to start out with,” she said.
As for the rest of the buildings the Brooks have recently acquired, Jeff said he could see the jewelry store expanding, but both he and Kathy want to save the two buildings on the end for their dream of one day opening a neighborhood pub of which they’ve already chosen a name — Toad Suck Pub.
(Staff writer Michelle Corbet can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1213. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)