Jeweler goes to the dogs

CHANGE IN DIRECTION — Pondering the fate of jewelry in a “less than thriving economy,” Karen Twombly looked for a new niche. The Brownfield jeweler started a new business, Silver Paw Pet Tags, which she will be selling during Fryeburg Fair.

BROWNFIELD — Jeweler Karen Twombly isn’t giving up.

With 19 years of business under her belt and gold and silver prices through the roof, Twombly is reinventing herself.

“I’ve had plenty of time, sitting at shows, to ponder the fate of jewelry in a less than thriving economy,” the Brownfield resident said.

Spurred on by her trusty canine companions, Ruby and Jet, her new business, Silver Paw Pet Tags, will debut Twombly’s stainless steel ID Tags at Fryeburg Fair this year.

Proud of her made-in-Maine product, Twombly’s tags address a niche market need.

“There really aren’t many pet ID tag companies making really durable, attractively designed ID tags. They’re mostly just plain, boring blanks of metal, stamped out in China, too soft to hold up to the abrasion they receive,” she said.

Twombly tried other metals, but heralds stainless steel as the only material worthy of her tags and points out its benefits as well as its drawbacks.

“I’m just lucky to have access to a foundry in Hiram. I searched and searched, then couldn’t believe they were there right in my own backyard!” she said.

Stainless steel is the hardest, strongest and most non-corrosive metal there is according to Twombly.

“Wonderful for tags!” she said, “but a really tough surface to finish well and engrave. You need lots of finishing grits and a strong machine to rout out lines for engraving. It’s not enough to just displace the metal.”

With silver prices at $40 an ounce, Twombly purchased a computerized rotary engraving machine with the proceeds from an accumulated 18 pounds of sterling silver scrap.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes when I weighed out my scrap. I paid $4 an ounce once upon a time. The public doesn’t get it when I pass the cost of silver on in my work these days. We’re competing with silver work outside the country, and it’s impossible to survive on that,” Twombly said.

TAG TO LAST — Jeweler Karen Twombly uses stainless steel as her metal of choice.

Ironically, it’s high silver prices that have enabled Twombly to purchase new equipment to start up Silver Paw.

Twomby’s tags first retailed in May of 2011. Thanks to her website, demand is growing. Fryeburg Fair marks the introduction of small pet tags and equine tags to her existing large tag line. She’s excited,

“Everyone has been anxiously awaiting the small tags. Can’t forget about the little guys!” she said.

Twombly has worked to bring the tags to the marketplace for the last six years.

“Several years ago, I made some prototype tags as Christmas gifts for my horse friends because I couldn’t find anything nice to buy. They were a hit, and the idea was born,” she said.

In 2005, Twombly hooked up with a company out of Arizona, which manufactures engraving machines for pet tags.

“Lupine recommended them as a source for buying an engraving machine. They saw my prototypes and approached me about designing tags for them. Several months of back and forth designing, and they abandoned the project in favor of designs with lots of bling and rhinestones,” she said.

So, Twombly shelved the pet tag idea and placed her focus on an equine jewelry line, along with the Snowflake Jewelry.

Sitting through three Fryeburg Fairs with a booth full of jewelry that people loved, but couldn’t afford, Twombly dusted off the pet tag idea.

“Given the economy, I couldn’t blame them (customers). It was time to reinvent myself,” she said. “Pet tags suddenly took on a new urgency. I combed the Web and pet stores looking for nice tags. I still couldn’t find anything like what I was trying to do. Lots of jewelers make cute copper, pewter and sterling silver tags that won’t hold up on my dogs! The nickel prototypes my dogs were wearing already showed signs of wearing through at the loop. Nickel is tougher than brass, pewter, etc.”

After several failed attempts at casting zinc pieces in Rhode Island, Twombly accidentally found a company in Hiram, which casts stainless steel.

In October 2010, Twombly purchased a computerized portable engraving machine with proceeds from silver scrap she had accumulated over the last eight years.

“Thank God for the scrap because it was quite an investment,” she said. “I’m now up and functioning as an official pet tag company.”

No stranger to the business of metals, Twombly began her jewelry business in 1992 under the name “Metalscapes.” She is a juried League of New Hampshire member most noted for her Snowflake Collection and award-winning Snowflake Ornaments. Her work has been featured by QVC, L.L.Bean, various catalogs and retail stores. She has also designed fundraising ornaments and jewelry for Starting Point, The Children’s Museum and The Shooting Star Foundation.

Twombly’s Silver Paw Pet Tags retail for $19.95 at Bark In The Park this Saturday, Sept. 24 and at the Fryeburg Fair (Craft Building, booth #24). Zeb’s General Store carries her Snowflakes and Silver Paw Tags for ordering.

“Our tags are designed to withstand the toughest treatment your pet can dish out. It is important to us that we accomplish this with style and good, clean design,” Twombly said.

Karen Twombly can be reached at 935-1816 or e-mail at silverpaw@fairpoint.net or check the website at www.silverpawtags.com

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