Jun 21, 2016 04:45PM
By Kara Schweiss
Matt Powell of Perspective Jewelry freely admits he didn’t purposefully or strategically branch out his fine jewelry business into a new genre. He was, however, quick to recognize its potential.
“The sports stuff is something that we just sort of fell into,” he says. “We developed a cool product, there was customer demand for it, it lent itself to this kind of thing, and we’ve just taken off and ran with it.”
Powell’s unintentionally sporty but apt metaphor illustrates how, in just a few years, Perspective Jewelry has added an entire sub-business—Argent Sports—featuring officially licensed NCAA and College World Series custom jewelry pieces.
“We’re kind of on the fringe market in that we’re on the high-end side. We fit that alumni crowd, the more affluent, luxury-box crowd,” Powell says, explaining that his clients generally have long-held “institutional attachment” that becomes part of their identity, and they’re looking for lasting, high-quality jewelry to reflect that. “So we have product that ranges in retail price from, say, $75 to $2,000. That puts us at the very high-end of the licensed sports jewelry line.”
The pre-game actually began in 1993 when Powell left a position with a major fine jewelry retailer (where he specialized in custom projects) to strike out on his own from his hometown of Missouri Valley, Iowa. He brought his wife, Sheila, into the business side of things. His son, Chad, eventually became a CAD (computer-aided design) master and joined the family business. In 2007, the Powells opened up an Old Market storefront, Perspective Jewelry Design Studio, where they created, and still create, many one-of-a-kind engagement rings and other fine pieces.
For the first few years at Perspective, the Powells were comfortable with just their “nice niche” of taking clients’ ideas (and sometimes heritage diamonds or other elements) all the way from rough concept to shining reality.
“We’re artisans in that we know how to do it all. We can design it, we can build the models and prototypes, we can cast the pieces, we can set the stones, we can do all the other work involved with it,” he says. “It’s really all—start-to-finish—us.”
The same in-house resources that were optimal for couples designing engagement rings made possible the fast turnaround time needed for custom sports jewelry. Argent Sports began with a simple baseball pendant created during a College World Series. Using various precious metals and a range of enamels, diamonds, and gemstones, the Powells developed a line of customized baseball necklaces for team insiders and fans by the next year’s series.
“We found something that people responded to and reacted to, and we took that and built on it. We kept fine-tuning it and adjusting, and through that feedback loop, we developed a product line that works,” Powell says, explaining that the direct interaction with clients visiting during the CWS was another advantageous factor in Argent’s growth.
“If I were sitting in my little shop in Missouri Valley, I don’t think I could have ever done it.”
Baseball pendants are still a mainstay for Argent, and they have more design options to broaden the spectrum further. “We do add new product all the time,” Powell says. “We have something for different price points.”
Baseball jewelry led to football jewelry, and, following a serendipitous visit from just the right official, Powell was able to gain exclusive rights to licensed NCAA logos and images. With the ability to create exclusive, institution-approved pieces, the CWS remains a peak period for business, and Powell gets closer to the fans each year through a temporary second location he operates in Omaha Baseball Village. He holds relationships with retailers from Alabama to Wisconsin, often in communities with the right kind of fan, such as college towns. This enables him to sell team-affinity jewelry year-round— and sell baseball pieces long after the last CWS game. He’s produced pieces in batches for special groups like alumni organizations and booster groups.
“You have to have the right crowd and the right store…There’s a streakiness and a quirkiness to it that’s really hard to put your thumb on, and we’ve really kind of learned as we’ve gone along,” he says.
Most of the pieces on the top end of the line are made on demand, Powell says, and although he doesn’t mass-produce, anything that doesn’t sell can usually be recast and the material repurposed.
“We’re not doing any of this overseas; it’s all done here in Omaha and Missouri Valley. Because it’s all done locally and we’re able to turn it pretty quickly, I don’t have to stock a ton of inventory and hope it sells. When I get an order I can fill it either immediately or pretty quickly and then I can backfill.”