Don Kimble had been designing and making custom Celtic jewelry for over ten years. Recently we spoke with him about his passion for his profession.
What is your own heritage?
Although my ancestors came to America from England, they must have carried some Scottish genes with them for me to feel such a kindred spirit with my Scottish customers. It would be a stretch to think the name Kimble morphed from the Scottish Campbell at Ellis Island but who knows.
What is the company’s history and mandate??
In 1980 I owned and a small jewelry shop, The Company Jewelers, located in Little 5 Points near downtown Atlanta. One day George Carr walked into my shop dressed to the nines in traditional Scottish attire and commissioned me to make for him what he called “a proper” crest badge of solid sterling silver. “I’d like It to shine, laddy!” he said, “I want it to be a quality piece that will sparkle brightly atop my balmoral for all to see! Unlike these here made of plated pot metal and dull silver castings.” Little did I know at the time that that commission would lead me down a path that I am still traveling over 40 years later, for no sooner had I completed the original commission for George’s Clan Carr crest badge than he was back with commissions from fellow Scotts Ferguson, Douglas, and more.
How do you differ from the competition?
It became apparent right away that the standard methods we used to reproduce the work on any scale of production numbers was just too labor intensive to achieve the high polished finish we wanted. Lost-wax casting required much grinding, sanding, and polishing and even the best of castings sometimes had some porosity that no amount of sanding and polishing could overcome. So, we started over, replacing the one-step casting approach with a multi-step process that combined silversmithing, casting, hand engraving and assembly work. The strap and buckle or outer “donut” which was common to all clans would be struck from solid sterling sheet using special dies cut for the purpose. This pristine surface could be polished to a mirror finish! The center crests, unique to each clan, would be cast and soldered in place. The clan mottos would then be engraved into the surface of each badge upon completion of assembly. Years later, when it became available, we switched to Argentium sterling – the newest innovation in sterling silver alloy. This new sterling contained more germanium making it much more tarnish resistant than traditional sterling and further distancing us from our competition.
What are the challenges involved?
Once we had achieved the quality we wanted, we expanded the line to include the larger clans, and then hit the road to promote our badges at Scottish games around the Southeast. I recall the results of those early sales efforts at the games as being underwhelming and we retreated to explore a new venue, the internet. We created a website, in those very early days of the internet ,and together with our ads in Scottish magazines and word of mouth saw sales gaining momentum. We were expanding the line with every request for a new clan. It seemed we were on our way. Then sadly George, the soul and inspiration of Kimble & Carr, Ltd., our joint venture, passed away.
How has the company evolved over time?
With George’s passing the whole enterprise came to a grinding halt. It had been a back burner business for me but without George it was no longer even on the stove as I had diversified away from full time jewelry making. My wife and I operated a retail window covering business and later sold real estate. The Company Jewelers had shrunk to a studio in my home, and I was producing only a handful of badges each month. However, with the crash of the real estate market in 2008 I suddenly had extra time on my hands and crestbadges.com was awoken! I dusted off my jewelers’ tools, invested in a computerized engraving machine, and went back to work doing what I loved.
What are your core products and services today?
The Clansman badge as a pin, pendant, or bolo in solid sterling or 14K yellow gold (solid or plated) has always been my core product and I presently offer them for around two hundred clans. Clan badge options include a display box that lets you display your badge when you are not wearing it, clan badge buckles, clan badge plaid brooches, and more. In addition, I make badges for Armigers, Chiefs and Chieftains, as well as custom orders for personal crests.
What are your future plans for the business?
In retirement now my sole productive activity is my clan crest badge business, hence completing the circle of my life’s work – my first and last love; making beautiful pieces from precious metals for appreciative customers. Mass production was never my thing and it is why I never hired any help, preferring to be a one-man shop while creating heirloom quality badges, one badge at a time, one customer at a time. The variations and customizations that I offer for two hundred clans is so numerous that I no longer even try to keep completed badges in stock opting instead to stock all the necessary components for assembly on demand, a process that normally takes one to two weeks. I am now in my early seventies and, God willing, I will continue making badges in my home studio in St Marys, Georgia, for years to come but just in case you best not wait too long to place an order for your own “proper” clan crest badge.