Making pewter jewelryColeen Hanes of Dickinson doesn’t like to leave the house without lipstick and a pair of earrings, bracelet or pendant. Outings are an opportunity to showcase the pewter jewelry that she and her husband, Melvin, manufacture in their foundry.
By: Linda Sailer, The Dickinson Press
Coleen Hanes of Dickinson doesn’t like to leave the house without lipstick and a pair of earrings, bracelet or pendant.
Outings are an opportunity to showcase the pewter jewelry that she and her husband, Melvin, manufacture in their foundry.
The foundry, named Star Burst Designs, is in their garage, while the finishing work is done in their shop downstairs.
“We call it diamond-cut pewter jewelry,” said Coleen. “The advantage of our pewter jewelry is it looks like silver but it does not cost as much.”
They got into the foundry business in 1988 when they were living in Medora. Working in partnership with Pat and Chuck Stalnaker, the foundry was called Pyramid Park Enterprises.
“We bought out the foundry from them in 1995,” said Melvin. “They wanted to go into retail business and we didn’t. We’re wholesalers, but we do a few craft shows.”
The jewelry starts as a 3-pound pewter ingot that cost $2.10 a pound in 1988 and around $12.95 today. The lead-free American bars have the look of silver, said Melvin.
The first step is to melt the bars in a melting pot at 620 degrees Fahrenheit.
The molten pewter is then poured into molds that also are made by Melvin.
To make a mold, designs are baked into raw rubber for one hour at 380 degrees. Melvin also cuts the gate (opening) and vents for the molten pewter to enter and the gases to escape.
“I cut the gates while it’s hot because it’s easier to cut — I use a scalpel,” he said.
It takes about half a scoop of pewter to fill a mold. If he didn’t pour enough, the pewter is put back into the pot to be melted.
“Nobody ever sees if I made a mistake,” said Melvin. “You don’t see a mistake around here.”
Placed in a spin machine, the molten pewter moves through a mold at 600 revolutions per minute. The pewter cools quickly (30 seconds) and can be taken out of the mold.
Giving tours to school groups in the spring, he cautions them to be careful around the equipment.
Pointing to a missing finger (lost in an unrelated accident), he tells them, “‘This is what happens if you stick your finger in the pot.’ They don’t forget it.”
Once the pewter is cooled, the edges need to be trimmed and buffed in a shaker.
About 150 pewter pieces are placed in a shaker with ceramics beads, soap and water. After 12 hours, the pieces are ready for antiquing — if desired.
When antiquing (a darkening process), Melvin places the pieces in a pewter oxidizer.
“It takes two minutes to darken them, and then back into the tumbler,” he said.
“We don’t charge any more for antiquing,” added Coleen.
Moving downstairs, Coleen uses a dremel with a diamond bit to take tiny bites out of each pewter piece, giving it the look of diamonds.
Their jewelry is made into earrings, pendants, pins, rings, bolos, buttons, figurines and key chains. The company has about 350 designs in categories of western, religious, contemporary and wildlife.
The contemporary pieces are probably the most popular, said Coleen.
“It depends on the area where you’re selling,” she said. “In western North Dakota, the western pieces are.”
At the encouragement of their daughter, Yvonne, they’ve started to add pearls and crystal to the pieces.
“The latest thing, is I’m making angel wings,” said Coleen.
They have marketed their line of jewelry through Pride of Dakota shows, but mostly, Coleen picks up accounts on road trips through North and South Dakota and Minnesota. They also have an account in California. Their pieces are available locally for purchase at the Chateau de Mores Visitor Center in Medora.
Being in the business for more than 20 years, the couple is looking for a buyer.
“I think it’s a very good business for a couple who works at it full time,” said Coleen. “We’ve always worked at it part time. We use it more now as a hobby.”
The rewards of the business are related to friendships.
“Through Pride of Dakota, we’ve made many friends over the years — shows in Minot, Fargo, Grand Forks, Bismarck and Dickinson.”
For more information, call 701-290-6640.