Opal Exclusively is the passion and brainchild of recently retired Ann Arbor dentist Larry Sklar. Here is the Opal Exclusively story in Larry’s own words.
I learned how to cut stones into cabochons when I was 12 years old, and at the conclusion of that class I took an additional course in opal cutting. I still remember the excitement I felt as I cut down through the potch (colorless opal) and exposed the thin color bar within my first piece of rough opal. It was almost as if the stone suddenly came to life, and I was the lucky one to witness the magical emergence of colors. That thrill still exists to this day, each and every time I cut into a rough piece of opal. It is precisely that rush, which is as strong today as it was almost 50 years ago that gradually led to my addiction to opals.
Over the years I was fortunate to be exposed to higher grades of opal, including one summer (1982) during my University of Michigan days when I was hired to cut opal for a local jeweler who liked to purchase rough, but was not a cutter himself. Unfortunately after that, however, my cutting dwindled due to the high cost and low supply of rough gem grade Australian opal. There’s plenty of commercial grade rough Australian opal available, however the best material is always cut and sold as finished pieces since the value of a finished opal far exceeds the rough value. During this time, I began building a beautiful collection of boulder opals, as well as learning as much as I could about the different types, localities, and properties of opal.
The emergence of Ethiopian Welo opal, in 2008, has been a game changer. The Ethiopians were not fully aware of the quality and characteristics of their opal in comparison to Australian opal, and priced the rough far below comparable Australian material. For the first time ever, I was able to buy a large quantity of terrific opal - including true gem quality - for a very reasonable cost. This enabled me to get my cutting groove back, and I started cutting many, many stones.
The toughest part has always been finding reliable sources for the rough, and I’ve been lucky to work with suppliers directly in Ethiopia as well as meeting suppliers at the annual Tucson gem shows. I got the feeling early on that the lower cost of rough material, and corresponding lower cost of cut stones, relative to comparable Australian opal, would help bring gem quality opal into the mainstream. It turns out that I was right - lower cost, coupled with dazzling colors, fascinating patterns, and unusual physical properties has led to a surge in the popularity of the Ethiopian Welo opal.
Before I knew it, I had several boxes of cut stones and the thought struck me – what on earth am I going to do with all these opals??! The answer was obvious – sell them! And so Opal Exclusively was officially born. My sales career started at the 2010 Ann Arbor Art Fairs, as I went around cold-calling on any jewelry artists I came across who displayed opal jewelry. The Ethiopian opal was virtually unknown at that time, and there were (and still are, unfortunately) many naysayers who questioned the stability and validity of the Ethiopian opals. I had enough success, however, to keep going. I’ve returned to the Art Fairs every year, and over the past few years tried to visit as many other local art fairs as possible every summer. In addition, I’ve called on several local jewelry stores and have several stones on display at a few of them. I also sell my opals on Instagram and an online site called Opal Auctions.
My goal is to one day be known as THE guy to call if you’re looking for a beautiful, well-cut Ethiopian Welo opal. Every stone I cut is a labor of love, and I don’t cut for mass production but rather to bring out the individual beauty of each piece of rough.
Thank YOU for taking the time to read this and learn a bit more about ME.
Halstead Bead, Inc. was born in Phoenix in 1973 by Tom and Suzie Halstead, who made and sold jewelry at local craft fairs. With time, they decided to stop making finished pieces and instead started reselling all manner of jewelry supplies. By 1975 the business had grown to the point where they decided to quit their regular jobs and make full time work of the company. Now relocated to Prescott, AZ, Halstead remains a family business, with Tom and Suzie’s daughter Hilary Halstead Scott at the helm, and the third generation of the family working as part of the team.
Although beads were central to the founding of their business, they are now a very small part of Halstead’s business, which instead focuses primarily on a full selection of sterling silver jewelry supplies. Having developed from a small business, it is their mission to support small jewelry businesses by offering competitive prices, outstanding quality and customer service, and ethical and environmentally responsible sourcing,
Halstead maintains their well-trained team by investing heavily in continuing education including job specific development as well as company-wide free metalsmithing classes in their in-house teaching studio so that staff may better serve the customers by understanding their craft.
Halstead is committed to helping emerging artists, and for the past 14 years has awarded a deserving up and comer the prestigious Halstead Grant. The award is based equally on both portfolio and business strategy, and is designed to help entrepreneurs think through critical challenges and seek out resources to build their businesses. They also sponsor jewelry events and workshops across the US.
With a history as a resource for the maker community, Halstead currently provides important industry content in the Halstead Jewelry Blog that includes business and educational articles, trend reports and technique tutorials. To keep you current during this time of distancing, the staff at Halstead encourages you to visit their blog and to take full advantage of the helpful articles and tutorials found here.
For more information on Halstead, please visit their website.
Armstrong Tool and Supply had its humble beginning in the conference room of a friend’s office at 12 Mile and Middlebelt Road in January of 1989. After 10 years, Don Squires had just left his position as the Director of the Industrial Marketing Division at the Kerr Corporation, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of dental consumables. During that time, as the head of the division that managed jewelry industry related products he had gained a thorough knowledge of products and techniques used in the industry, so he decided to put that knowledge to use as a supplier to the industry himself. Joining him in this endeavor was his wife, Carolyn, who has been active in the business from the start managing purchasing, accounting functions, and other critical office activities.
Working out of that conference room, Don traveled around Metro Detroit calling on jewelers with a head full of technical expertise and briefcase filled with tools. By fall the business had grown to the point of adding a partner and moving to a new space at 12 Mile and Haggerty Road. As the business continued to grow, shelves were erected in the warehouse, becoming the first actual showroom, and the company expanded its sales territory to include northern and central Ohio as well as the Indianapolis and Chicago markets.
Growth continued in 1991 when Armstrong acquired a half interest in the Norman Thomas Co. in Birmingham. They later acquired it entirely 1995 and it remained as an entity until its complete consolidation with Armstrong in 1998. In 1994 a satellite location was opened in Pittsburgh, PA. The Pittsburgh location remained active until 2008.
In 1996, Armstrong relocated to the first of two locations on Eight Mile Road in Livonia. Don’s son Kevin joined the business in 1998 and to this day remains a solid contributor to the sales and marketing of Armstrong’s products as well as being a driving force for their online storefront. In 2004 Mary Kernahan joined the team in a sales capacity, and assumed the role of developing and managing Armstrong’s wide assortment of classes and workshops. Armstrong moved to their current Eight Mile location in 2006.
Through the years Armstrong has been fortunate to have many skilled metalsmiths contribute to their expertise as part of the customer service team and as teachers. Each has brought their considerable skills to benefit Armstrong’s loyal customers and students. Among them are Lesley DiPiazza, Deborah Schornack, Jennifer Knight Brodhun, Emily Saling Ruff, Dan Neville, Kyle Dill, Christine Bossler, Lori Brauer, and Chloe Lewis.
Armstrong’s business has evolved from simply supplying the jewelry trade, and today extends to hobbyists, model makers, independent jewelry designers, secondary school systems, and college and university programs, as well other ancillary businesses such as optical lens manufacturers and dental labs. In addition to their physical store location, they continue to maintain a multi-state outside sales force, a full service website, and rigorous schedule of trade shows. Armstrong is continually adding to its product lines to insure that their customers have access to the latest innovations in products to simplify business and crafting needs and bring it all to the market with honest, personal and outstanding customer service.
And harking back to Armstrong’s early days, Don still makes personal sales calls on jewelers with his head full of technical expertise and briefcase filled with tools.
For more information on Armstrong, please visit their website or stop by for an in person visit.