A small company strikes a new kind of gold


Every business owner -- not to mention every stock broker -- knows about diversification. It's the best way to weather the whims of a fickle economy. But in the middle of this economic downturn, how does a luxury-oriented business diversify? Facing high gas prices, steep food prices and the continuing aftershocks of the mortgage crisis, jewelry might be the last purchase on anyone's mind.

Last week the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) brought some attention to John Christian, a small custom-jewelry company in Austin, Texas. Originally geared toward big-ticket rings, pendants and charms priced at $599 and above, the company found that skyrocketing gold prices were putting them in a sticky spot. "People are still going to get married and love their kids and celebrate special times in their lives," said Wes Weaver, John Christian's CEO. "But the jewelry's going to have to change."

The solution? A portmanteau: Platanium -- a unique, stainless-steel alloy that combines the luster of platinum and the strength of titanium. The company's executives, including John Waugh -- a 50-year jewelry veteran who used to run class-ring titan ArtCarved -- and his son Turner Waugh considered the downside of such a move. John Christian had spent years developing its high-end brand, and providing a cheaper line might confuse current customers and tarnish the company's image. But, at a certain point, it wasn't a matter of choice. "I was fighting to survive," Mr. Weaver told the Wall Street Journal.

Weaver and Waugh decided to "isolate and protect" their higher-end products while marketing the cheaper jewelry on a separate platform. It started a new brand called Carved Creations, selling Platanium and sterling silver products for less that $200. Some customers were wary of Platanium, but according to Weaver, once "you explain what it is they pick it every time."

Today, almost half of the company's orders come from the less expensive line.

B. Brandon Barker can also be found here.