'I enjoy the headache, the challenge': Custom-made jewelry a budding business for self-taught Perham man
Perham jeweler RJ Dolan makes and sells jewelry through his growing business, Creations of RJ. His custom-made pieces range from rings to bracelets.
PERHAM — Melting. Rolling. Shaping. These are the moves Perham jeweler RJ Dolan works through while creating pieces of jewelry.
Dolan's interest in making jewelry and being his own boss fired up about four years ago, following a lifelong interest in creating things. Working out of his home, he started with tin sheets and a soldering iron.
He now sells jewelry through his business, Creations of RJ, with pieces ranging from rings to bracelets.
“Since I was a kid, I’ve liked making things,” Dolan said. “I like being able to pull something out of my head and make it physical.”
But creating jewelry, he said, is a “love-hate” relationship. It can be very challenging, and very rewarding.
Before forming the pieces into custom-made options, Dolan starts by ordering the correct amounts of silver, copper and gold. He then melts the metals down, rolling them into flat squares and cutting them to their exact thickness. He compares the process to blacksmithing, except the metal isn’t hot. The remaining steps require bending the metals into their final shapes.
“Then you have to join the two ends. You have to make sure they’re absolutely flat with each other,” Dolan described. “Then you hit it with a torch about 1,500 degrees...and then that joins the two pieces.”
The process takes many different tools, to handle various jewelry shapes and designs. Pliers alone come in hundreds of options, Dolan said. Figuring out which tools he needs has been a learning process, as he experiments with different jewelry types. One of the first tools he used was a hammer and anvil to flatten the metal, before investing in a rolling mill.
He said he enjoys working on challenging projects and learning new techniques.
“It’s a longer process, you know, teaching yourself, but I like it. I’ve always liked teaching myself,” Dolan said. “I’ve never really done well in a learning environment, school-wise.”
“Oddly enough I enjoy the headache, the challenge,” he continued. “I don’t know why, maybe I’m crazy, but when I get stuck on something and it takes me four days to figure it out, it’s just the sense of accomplishment when you finally get it, it’s a really good feeling.”
While gold work is some of his favorite, and customers love the fancy appearance, the cost can be a deterrent to some. Dolan mostly creates gold jewelry for his wife, Brianna.
One of his most involved custom orders was a custom rose gold wedding ring, for which he created his own combination of gold, copper and silver to get just the right color.
“The more it scares me, the more likely I am to say yes,” Dolan said.
He’s recently ventured into stone setting, which requires cutting holes into the ring to place diamonds and other gems. His most popular items are spinning rings and plain rings that people add a colorful inlet or pattern to later.
In his first few years of business, Dolan said sales started slow, but the past two years have brought him closer to a livable wage. He also works at Otter Berry Farm in the summer.
He hopes to join a jewelry company one day, and later open his own store.
“The limits are basically as far as you can think, that’s your limit,” Dolan said.
For more information, visit Creations of RJ on Facebook.