BY KAREN BERGER, THE MIRROR, July 21, 2011
If a complex design calls for 100 tiny diamonds surrounding a larger diamond, Ray Butler can do it. If a customer wants to reset Grandma's wedding ring, have a chain repaired or get a lost earring reproduced to create a pair, Butler can do that too. While Butler's business is new to the Holland area, the Springfield Township resident has been in the jewelry business for 40 years - and prides himself on using oldschool techniques not often used by younger jewelers. "Having that old-school training has given me flexibility to custom design pieces over the years," Butler said. "Younger jewelers sometimes find it too time-consuming. But I enjoy the challenge." He learned from master jewelers including John Henry of the former Henry and Fairclough Jewelers, and Loren Masters. "I learn new things every day. It's taken 5,000 years for this industry to get where ifs at," Butler said. "And people come in with new ideas to custom design - sometimes piecing together three different items,"
He does use some CAD and CAM design. The use of computers and new technology has enhanced the abilities of jewelers, he said, but it still comes down to someone who knows how to use hand tools and put pieces together. While mass-produced pieces are available, a custom jeweler still puts pieces together by hand one at a time. "They're all either custom or fabricated," he said. Emerging from the workshop that houses hundreds of tools, Butler held out a sprouting, gray-colored sculpture. It's a ceramic mold of four different ring settings, designed using the ancient art of lost wax casting. A wax model of exactly what the piece should be is used to make a ceramic mold. Molten gold, silver or platinum is then injected into the mold. ''You've heard the term 'they broke the mold'? When the gold freezes we put tongs into cold water and break the mold after the model is made," Butler said. A customer can use one of Butler's existing ring setting designs or have one custom made. But it's the gem that is the star of the piece, and Butler finds himself scouring trade shows to get a selection. He often designs pieces around a specific gem, such as the six carat blue pear-shaped diamond on display. He won second place in the Ohio Jewelers Association jewelry design contest in 1999 for a sapphire pendant. He's also won prizes in minor trade shows. "I prefer color. It's so much more creative. There's a whole world of color out there," he said. "Sapphires come in blue, purple, yellow, orange and raspberry. It's second in hardness to the diamond. It doesn't abrade or chip, so it's nice for durability." He tries to get to know customers' lifestyles, preferred colors and design, as he guides them through options. "Right now, everyone is looking at white gold and halo rings," he said. Halo is a style where a ring of diamonds surrounds a larger center stone.
Ray manufactures fine jewelry in gold, silver and platinum, in 14, 18, and 22 and even 24 karats and has been practicing the art since 1971. Butler worked for a casting shop and learned to manufacture jewelry. That gave him a unique understanding of how jewelry was made, so repairing is more intuitive. After doing trade work for several shops, Butler opened a business of his own at Alexis and TremainsviIle roads in 1998. Last month, he relocated his store in order to be closer to his Springfield Township home. The store, located in the Holloway Plaza at Airport and Holloway, also featured Butler's line of earrings, such as hoops and chain· "stiletto" earrings of several colors of gold. Butler also features a line of Belair watches.