The Hard Metal Niche
Trent West creates a new category of jewelry from tungsten, one of the earth's toughest elements
Jewelry designer Trent West spent 34 years creating jewelry known for fluid lines and natural tapered effects. He followed in the footsteps of his grandfather, George Parr, who owned jewelry stores in California and was noted for his unique pieces.
West opened his first store in 1970 in Marina Del Rey, CA, and eventually owned and operated six stores. Several years ago, West stepped beyond the design-only stage. Inspired by a Swiss watch made with tungsten carbide, he set out to use the hard scratch-resistant material to make jewelry. Three years and nearly $1 million in research and development later, he has patents on his designs and methods, with four related patents pending. (West owns patents on his technology and on the bonding processes that allow him to permanently fuse platinum and gold into the rings.)
In January 2000 he sold the last of his stores and started the TrewTungsten line by Trent West Manufacturing Business. His company now has nearly 300 retail distributors selling his line of rings in the U.S. and Canada. In that first year, we had roughly 80% of our jewelers take the line after trying it out, he says. Now his company is identified as the leader in tungsten jewelry, though several other manufacturers are trying to enter the market too.
Tungsten is extremely hard and dense. Combined with carbon and other elements, it becomes tungsten carbide, which registers between 8-9 on the Mohs hardness scale. Its roughly 10 times harder than 18k gold and four times harder than titanium. In addition to its design and high polish, part of its attraction to consumers is its technical nature, says West.
Tungsten is processed with carbon and other elements and mixed in a powder form. The mixed powder is compressed into high-pressure dies to form a ring blank. The blank is sintered (fired) in an oxygen-free furnace at over 2,400&Mac251;F, resulting in a solid tungsten carbide ring blank. The rough blank goes through a 30-stage precision grinding process by craftspeople using diamond-embedded grinding tools held in specially designed machinery. Rings with platinum or gold inlays are made by grinding a groove into the center of the ring and, using Wests patented process, fusing the precious metal within the groove.
He says men especially like to hear about the 30-step grinding and polishing processes required to make his Permanently Polished rings.
One of our popular rings, called Trew 24, has 24 flat mirrored facets on it, and customers can see behind them when they look into it, says West. When they do this in a store, it brings a grin to the customer and that helps sell the ring.
Every TrewTungsten ring is laser hallmarked inside with the TrewTungsten logo; the tungsten carbide symbol (WC); platinum, 22k and 18k marks for inlaid versions; and a six-character serial number. The company also offers custom laser engraving.
TrewTungsten bands are available in three ring widths 5mm, 7mm and 9mm in 26 sizes and design options creating almost 1,300 variations. These include rings fused with textured platinum, hammered 22k gold, brushed 18k yellow and bronze gold and G VS diamonds. Suggested retail, $515 to $2,900.
The line can be seen at www.trewtungsten.com, though its not sold over the Web. West has an online referral system for consumers to reach retailers who carry his line. This fall, he plans a full-service online co-op ad campaign from which his retailers can download marketing tools.
u TrewTungsten by Trent West, Watsonville, CA; (888) 466-9358, www.trewtungsten.com.
by Michael Thompson
||Trew 24 tungsten carbide ring by Trent West Designs features 24 flat polished mirrors that enable customers to see behind them when looking into the ring.
||Platinum or gold inlays are applied to Trent West Designs tungsten carbide rings using patented processes to fuse precious metals in a groove.