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Emblematic Jewelry: The Pin Is In

Are you clueless about emblematic jewelry? Don't be. Learn about its diversity, desirability and sales potential, and you'll discover a valuable wellspring of income.

It's portable. It's inexpensive. It never wears out. Emblematic jewelry has been around in one form or another for millennia - it has been used to symbolize rank, represent membership, show recognition for special accomplishments or simply as adornment since ancient times. In fact, examples of this sort of decoration can be found in the archeological ruins of early Greece, Israel and in the tombs of the Egyptian Pharaohs.

"It's forever," says Hank Riccitelli, president of supplier Providence Manufacturing. "When you do a lapel pin, it never runs out of ink. It's a balloon that doesn't break. It lasts a lifetime. The perceived value is great - it's the kind of thing that employees can be proud to wear on their clothing.

"People haven't changed much over time. While most folks no longer construct elaborate tombs or immense monuments in their posthumous honor, most of us still enjoy decorating ourselves with various types of ornamental embellishments as a way to show our affiliations, accomplishments or just where we've been recently. We give jewelry as gifts - we trade and collect it. It can be used as a simple fashion accessory or represent a political opinion just as strongly as a waving protest sign or a shouted slogan.

"It's a collectible," says Len Hornstein, CEO of supplier Avaline/Gila. "It's wearable. There's a good cost-versus-value feature. It's a piece of jewelry that is generally very modestly priced. One thing we've been telling distributors is that because it's a collectible, when you want to get a message across to employees, clients or the public, it becomes an icon."

A Hard Sell?
In spite of the obvious value to be found in this product category, emblematic jewelry is sometimes shunned for more traditional or obvious items. This may be partly the result of the somewhat complex nature of the processes involved in the creation of these products - there are many techniques to understand, and the differences can often be confusing.

"Sometimes the die work is a little complicated," says Riccitelli. "Other than that, it's really simple." Today, it's even simpler than it ever was. There's some confusion about finishes - 'What's die-struck? What's cloisonne?' We try to make that easy by offering all of the possible emblem styles and processes with a brief description and a sample in our catalog."

Of course, in an age where most all companies would like to hold the exclusive rights to a process or product, there is potential for even more confusion.

"There are so many different processes, and so many suppliers use different names for the same process, says Chris Law, president of supplier Elliot-Barry.

Size is also an issue. Where some clients demand ornate, complex designs for their pins, they can be disappointed when the final product is somewhat hard to decipher."Everybody has an image that is much larger than a pin should be," says Shaun McGuire, head of sales for supplier Quatro. "Everybody thinks of their logo or image in large sizes, but when they shrink the image down to a one-inch lapel pin, there's only so much that can be done before it becomes muddled. There's a lot you can do with that kind of space, but the hardest part is getting people to understand their large design will lose some detail when it's sized to less than an inch. These things need to be simple and clear enough to be seen from three feet away. If you can't tell what it is at that distance, there's no point in wearing it - it's lost. Simpler designs are best."

In addition, a campaign or promotion involving lapel pins or emblematic jewelry might also require a more abstract approach. A pin alone, while attractive, is only as important to an end-user as the message it represents. For example, when a recent reading program found Chicago residents collectively reading To Kill A Mockingbird, they also wore 40,000 customized lapel pins that said, "Are you reading Mockingbird?" The pins became representative of a communal activity and thus meant more to wearers. It represented inclusion in a special, exclusive group.

Hanging With The Popular Kids
Needless to say, with such a varied menu of possibilities, many clients prefer to stick with styles they have seen frequently. However, it's also often important to have a distinct appearance. For example, soft enamel can be die-struck or photo-etched - the difference in visual effect may be very slight and of minimal importance to a client, but the 40% difference in cost will certainly make a difference. (Check below for a glossary of terms.)

"Generally, different pins have different uses," says Hornstein. "Die-struck pins are probably the most popular. Also, die-struck pins without any color at all - because they're gold-plated - are certainly popular. This is probably because they're very jewelry-like. They're certainly popular with reward and recognition programs."

More limited budgets might steer people towards soft enamel die-struck process pieces or mylar pins. "Mylar is big," says Carl Maglietta, head of sales for supplier Simco. "It's the least expensive thing out there. For school organizations or companies that can't afford the high-end stuff, mylar looks really good but it's only a fraction of the cost."

The Classics Never Die
  • There haven't been many wildly innovative processes introduced to the world of emblematic jewelry recently; the category is primarily known for its stability and classically recognized techniques. Obviously, computers and automation have sped up assembly and the creation of artwork transfer, but the standards remain the most popular.
  • "We use a digital process," says Martin Fox, president of Delray Pin. "We rarely run into problems this way. We can match colors. We have a great amount of flexibility - we can use several types of metallics on the same design if we wish. We can even use holographic materials. We don't have to bastardize a client's artwork for the process."
  • This process, while obviously a byproduct of the modern age, has not eliminated the classics. The area of production is where artwork can guide to the appropriate product. For example, the colors in a logo may not work well with cloisonne, so the use of soft enamel might be a better option.
  • "There isn't anything ultra-new," agrees Riccitelli. "There's a process called poly-hard that's been around for a long time. It simulates cloisonne, but it uses resins instead of cloisonne to color-fill. We can color match exact colors and get the look of cloisonne for a little less money and a really nice looking product.
  • "Something to keep in mind: While you may achieve certain economies of scale with larger orders that might require tapping an overseas source, don't forget that lead times increase in direct proportion to the miles an item has to travel to be created and delivered.
Programs For Pins
Distributors who sell emblematic jewelry and the suppliers who provide it know there are a wide range of uses out there. Here are a few suggestions:
  • Collectibles: Create a piece to commemorate special events (World Series, a trade show, etc). These can be traded as part of a series, which gives collectors and suppliers an ongoing goal.
  • Recognition & Awards Programs: Use a custom-designed piece to serve as the underlying theme for recognizing employee service, anniversaries or outstanding achievements.
  • Identification: Allows professionals in a given industry to stand out as members of their organization. Works especially well for occupations requiring attendance at trade shows or special events.
  • Total Quality Management Programs: Jewelry used to help employees identify with a concept or training program. Adding a lapel pin to a new concept can help hammer the point home.
  • Events: Commemorative pins for events, which change in design yearly can also create a collectible item.
  • Cause-Related Marketing: Events often call for emblems to increase awareness or generate support. Certainly, this has never been more obvious than after the events of September 11.
  • Mass Marketing: Create an inexpensive promotional tool for introducing a new product or service.
  • Fraternal & Community Service Organizations: Any colleges, Elk's Lodges, VFW Posts, etc. in your area?
An Emblematic Lexicon
The processes involved in the creation of emblematic jewelry pieces are numerous. It is helpful to be informed about the basic terminology.
  • Die-Struck: Stamped brass with raised, polished details and a recessed background. This can be sandblasted or antiqued for greater contrast.
  • Cloisonne: This process uses ground colored glass, which is fired on a die-struck surface. The glass surface then becomes translucent and allows the die-struck separations to be exposed.
  • Laser-fired Cloisonne: Similar process as cloisonne, except the smaller details are laser-fired onto the die-struck surface.
  • Cut Out: A mold of the object is created, which is injected with molten metal at high pressure. After cooling, the result is trimmed, plated and polished.
  • Etched Enamel: An image is chemically etched onto the surface of the metal. This allows for a thinner, more intricately detailed item. This can then be laser-fired.
  • Die-Struck Enamel: Enameled color is recessed into a die-struck surface.
  • Cloisar: Colored mylar is hot-stamped onto stock shapes.
  • Screen-Printed: Colors are screened directly onto stock or custom-shaped metal surfaces.
  • Photodome/Offset Printing: This process allows for reproductions of photographic images on jewelry.
  • Cast Stock: Each design requires a model, which is then made into a rubber mold, cast and plated.

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