When Douglas Meadows was looking to phase out PANDORA last summer, his bench jeweler with jewelry designing skills and sales prowess stepped in to fill the inventory vacuum with in-house, hand-fabricated mainly sterling silver fashion jewelry. At similar price points as the well-known bead jewelry, Douglas, his team and staff jewelry designer Abby Fincannon worked together for more than seven years to successfully brand her designs and fully launch her collections at a critical juncture last year for the Marietta, Georgia jeweler.
For nearly a year, Abby has been producing her own hand-forged line of jewelry under the Mettle By Abby banner. She has established a following to the level of the old PANDORA shop-in-shop space, and even its display cases have been repurposed to showcase Abby’s designs.
It took some time and creative hiring practices for Douglas as the owner of David Douglas Diamonds and Jewelry to take Abby from a part-time bench jeweler intern to a full-time sales associate and ultimately the store’s top designing talent. But the up-through-the-ranks approach of identifying, fostering and developing jewelry design talent with Abby has inspired Douglas to do the same with two other staffers.
He didn’t just seamlessly solve a sterling silver jewelry inventory challenge last summer. Douglas also created a niche in his market with in-house produced jewelry that directly and indirectly promotes his store’s custom design work. Ushering in Abby and bringing up other budding jewelry design talent, however, is about more than just fabricating jewelry, getting it in the display cases and selling it to customers.
“I love my staff and care for them,” says Douglas. “I want to see them excel in life and exceed their [career] expectations by developing their inherent skills. Many of my staff work in a jewelry store but will never own one. But they can have a business within a business experience here, which will benefit their career greatly throughout life.”
Abby knew since her high school years when she made glass bead bracelets and necklaces that she wanted to be a jewelry designer. “I remember taking my father’s hammer and my mother’s skillet and adding wire to these glass bead bracelets and necklaces,” says Abby. “My mother and I used to sell them for $5 and $10. I still have a few of them around.”
These seeds of destiny creative endeavors focused Abby’s post-secondary school goals on attending Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina to earn a BFA in Jewelry and Metalsmithing. “To my knowledge it’s the only university in South Carolina that has such a degree program,” says Abby. “It’s so specialized that it was only me and one other girl graduating in the program. That was it.”
When Abby graduated from Winthrop, she needed to get an internship or two under her belt. Her story of finding Douglas’ store is as unique as her jewelry designs. “My brother met a friend at a cigar shop in the store’s old strip mall location back in 2009,” says Abby. “He told me about it [David Douglas Diamonds and Jewelry] and I started and finished my internship in the old location in fall 2009.”
Abby graduated from Winthrop in spring 2010. By this time, Douglas had moved to the store’s new and current location on Sandy Plains Road. In her early days, Abby shadowed bench jeweler James Grable. She did everything from polishing jewelry to carving wax moldings and doing injection molds. Over the summer months, Abby created some of her own fabricated jewelry and showed many design ideas to Douglas and his staff.
In looking ahead at Christmas that year, in August 2010 the store owner asked Abby to make 35 pieces of jewelry to sell in time for the upcoming holiday season. “We sold the first piece in the first hour of displaying my jewelry,” says Abby. “It was a sterling silver and gold pendant set with diamonds.”
Sales of Abby’s jewelry were so successful in the pre-holiday rollout that Douglas commissioned her to make an additional 15 to 25 pieces of jewelry for Christmas 2010. As promising as Abby’s designs were selling, Douglas didn’t have the resources to hire another bench jeweler and designer.
“At that time I needed a sales associate,” says Douglas. “So I hired Abby to fill that position. She was all sales at first, but eventually we split her duties to include some jewelry making and custom work with customers. She was a natural at sales and doing custom.”
As sales increased and the store continued to prosper in the new location, Douglas was able to give Abby a full-time designing position and a new sales associate replaced her on the floor. Abby had a couple of display cases near the front door exclusively for her jewelry, and worked diligently to create, sell and promote her brand while adroitly filling her many roles, from designing and bench work to sales and custom consultations.
For the next couple of years Abby drew on her life experiences, naturally inspired, intuitive free form and organic designs that became her trademark. In the winter of 2014, Douglas took Abby to the Tucson Gem Show for her first time. The experience opened up a completely new world of jewelry design possibilities to Abby.
“I not only learned more about gemstones and developed some favorites,” says Abby, “but I started to identify unique gems such as dendrite - a leading favorite with those nature-like inclusions - druzy quartz, agate, amber and jasper, and design around the characteristics of the gemstones. I also started to do the same with high end colored stones like fine sapphires.”
Over the next couple of years Douglas and his staff continued to give Abby free reign, allowing her to use her creative license in whatever ways inspired her, from on-road conventional designs to off-road custom pieces that pushed her artistic skills to the edge.
Abby’s role in the store’s staff and landscape took an unexpected turn in the summer of 2016. Since the JCK Las Vegas Show in 2013, store manager and chief buyer Jen Foster and Douglas started to question continuing their relationship with PANDORA. “The buy-in requirements, the designs and never ending ordering and inventory headaches just got to be too much,” says Jen. “We jumped on the Endless bandwagon for a while as a possible alternative, but that didn’t last.”
Douglas and Jen continued to look for bead alternatives and price point equivalents at major trade shows, but only a scarce few appealed to the store’s buyers. “Douglas and I talked about upping the ante with Abby’s design, but we felt compelled to continue our due diligence at the shows to find silver jewelry lines that would be a good fit.”
Then last summer Douglas and Jen officially terminated their relationship with PANDORA and went all in with Abby and her designs. “We took the shop-in-shop space and created Abby’s corner, a display and design space just for her and her jewelry,” says Douglas. “We owned the old PANDORA cases and even converted those for Abby.”
As Douglas and his staff transitioned out of the bead business and back into the jewelry business, he and Jen have decided not to buy silver lines that would directly compete with Abby’s jewelry. “We carry Lafonn sterling silver jewelry,” says Jen. “It’s a good complement and in some ways a contrast to what Abby’s doing.”
“With Abby producing her line of silver jewelry, and people buying and following her work with add-on sales, why would I buy into other lines?” says Douglas.
On the eve of one year in her own corner space, Abby is content and confident calling herself an artist. “What’s the old saying, you’re not an artist until you get paid to do it,” says Abby. “Well, I guess I’m comfortable calling myself an artist now.”
Douglas and Jen aren’t shy about promoting Abby’s artistic work. In addition to a generous space on the sales floor, they created a website for the Mettle By Abby brand with a product gallery and shopping cart.
“It’s a website within a website. We link to Mettle by Abby from our store’s home page, so you can shop online and also get an idea of what we have here at the store,” says Jen.
Another upside is having an exclusive line of jewelry created in-house. “This gives us a distinct advantage over other independent jewelers and chain stores in the area,” says Douglas. “Abby’s jewelry isn’t just an exclusive line customers can only purchase at this store, it’s a way of promoting the custom and creative work we do. Again, another market differentiator.”
Success with Abby’s upward mobility from intern to design specialist has inspired Douglas and Jen to always be on the lookout for fresh talent. Their newest jewelry designer, Haley Mongeon, is “Abby 2.0,” according to Jen. “Haley has her own distinct, Made In America branded designs. And, we also discovered an aspiring young design talent in Caleb Ruff, whose drawing and design skills we spotted last year when he nabbed second place in a design contest that we host with local high schools. When you intentionally seek out creative types, new talent seems to attract back to you.”