As the wedding season makes the slow, cold changeover into the holiday season — aka engagement season — marriage-minded Metro Lansing couples will find their thoughts transitioning from saying yes to the dress to saying, “Bring on the ring.”
Just in time to appeal to all the proposers getting ready to get down on one knee between now and New Year’s Eve comes , a new husband-and-wife operation that opens Friday in Old Town. Sweet Custom Jewelry also makes necklaces, bracelets, tiepins and cufflinks, but their bread and butter is the “I do”-ers.
“About 70 percent of our sales come from wedding-related items, but we do everything,” said co-owner/operator Alissa Sweet. “We recently did a set of custom-designed pendants in the style of (anime series) ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender.’ If you can envision it, we can do it.”
Sweet, 27, was born and raised in Okemos. Her husband, Bob Sweet, makes all the pieces that are sold at the store. Prices range from $25 to (gulp) $20,000. She helps with some of the design work, but he handles virtually every facet of production, from brainstorming the overall look of a piece to applying the final polish. Bob Sweet, 31, grew up in DeWitt but attended the Gem Institute of America in California to become a certified jeweler.
“We met at a local jewelry store and became the go-to people when it came to custom-designed rings,” Alissa Sweet said. “Once we had that figured out, we decided to move on to our own business.”
But not immediately — first came a walk down the aisle. The two were just coworkers initially, but a fortuitous date in Old Town put them on the road to matrimony.
“When we first started dating about four years ago, we came to Old Town and just fell in love with atmosphere,” Sweet said. “It has this smalltown feel to it that you don’t get anywhere else in the area. When we decided to open the store, we patiently waited for a spot to open here that we could afford. We didn’t want to open anywhere else. Old Town had the feel we were looking for.”
They worked out of their home for about six months, doing custom work for other jewelry stores and building a client base of their own. Their new 900-square-foot space was renovated from a former garage, essentially creating a new storefront in the bustling boutique district. It houses most of their design equipment as well as some of their non-commissioned work, which is sold as retail.
To make a piece, Sweet cuts a piece from a tube-shaped piece of wax that he molds into shape. He then carves all the filigree work (the delicate swirls and scrolls) and any other detail work into the wax. Once he gets the OK from the person who commissioned it, he puts the wax into a flask and pours plaster of Paris over it until it hardens and then bakes it in a casting oven for about eight hours. That melts out the wax, leaving a cavity that serves as a mold for the precious metal. After that, it’s just a matter of pouring the liquid metal into the mold, cooling it, setting the stones and making sure it’s clean and polished. Most rings take about three or four weeks, but rush orders can be pushed through in a few days.
“Unlike other jewelry stores, 100 percent of everything we do is done in-store,” Alissa Sweet said. “When you shop here, you’re working directly with the owner and the person is making the (jewelry). Nothing gets shipped out anywhere. It doesn’t get more personal than that.”
Sweet describes her husband’s style as classic/traditional but incorporating eclectic and modern elements. Their clientele consists of people with a specific look in mind that doesn’t exist in the mainstream jewelry world. And with the legalization of gay marriage, Sweet said she’s seen an increase in sales. (Take that, conservatives!)
“Our first completed set of (gay marriage rings) went out two weeks ago,” Sweet said. “They looked amazing. (Legalized same-sex marriage) is going to be good for business.”
The jewelry business is an evergreen industry, and they’re already thinking of how to grow.
“People get engaged every day, so we don’t worry about (not having work),” Sweet says. “We’d consider opening another store for convenience, but it would be hard. Bob makes everything by hand himself. He’d have to find someone like himself, and that’s not going to be easy.”
Out of pep
Peppino’s Sports Grille, 213 Ann St. in downtown East Lansing, underwent a name change this week, but management’s mum on the “why.” Owner Kris Elliott, who licensed the name from the Grand Rapids-based pizza chain, didn’t respond to a request for comment. Its new name: Fieldhouse Sports Bar. We’ll keep you posted.
Sweet Custom Jewelry 1232-B Turner St., Lansing 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday; closed Sunday (517) 267-7600, sweetcustomjewelry.com