After nearly a century in the jewelry business, we've seen innovations that change the way we work, as well as plenty of techniques that stand the test of time. We've come across the trickiest technical challenges and the most elegantly simple solutions. And we've received the lessons of countless trials and errors along the way. When you've spent a lifetime learning, what do you do with all that hard-won knowledge?
At Rio, we believe in passing it on. And that's what our Jewelry Tech Team is all about.
Rio Grande is home to seven master jewelry technicians whose sole job is providing you with answers and expertise, free of charge. Together, they represent two centuries of hands-on knowledge you won't find anywhere else. It's the type of information that can only be passed from one jeweler to another—because it comes from experience.
There's no problem too large, no detail too small. Like a league of jewelry-making superheroes, Rio Grande's Jewelry Tech Team is always ready whenever professional jewelers need help. For your most challenging jewelry-making and manufacturing questions, these are the creative scientists who are here to assist you.
Gregg Burgard has received multiple awards for his jewelry designs and holds four patents. After earning degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Art, he eventually worked his way up to Director of Product Development for a high-volume manufacturer for Avon, QVC, JCPenny, Walmart, HSN and more. Gregg enjoys using his vast expertise in wax carving, model/mold making, 3D printing, casting and product development to offer options jewelers hadn't considered in the past. "That is the best part about having experience," he says.
John Sartin is an award-winning jewelry artist whose work has been featured in Art Jewelry and Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazines, and Lark books' 30-Minute series. He is also the author of The Complete Photo Guide to Making Metal Jewelry and has spent over a decade selling his work at art shows, festivals and galleries throughout the country. He uses his expertise in hand fabrication, forming, forging, soldering, stone-setting and surface finishes to help jewelers solve problems that arise while working with metal. His favorite thing about being a member of the Jewelry Tech Team is having the opportunity to pass decades of knowledge onto like-minded people about the subjects he's most passionate about.
Phillip Scott's career began as an apprentice working in a Native American jewelry shop in New Mexico. He later ran a successful custom design studio and restoration business for many years, servicing nearly 30 jewelry stores with up to 1,000 pieces a day. Phillip joined Rio 20 years ago as a gemstone buyer. He loves stone setting, repairs, custom design and offering support for bench jewelers on just about any question they have. His favorite thing about being on the Jewelry Tech Team is collaborating with a team of professionals that has the same passion for sharing jewelry skills. "Through the years I have learned so much from so many fantastic craftsmen," he says. "It would be a shame not to share that knowledge with others."
Ronnie Mares started at Rio 37 years ago as a purchasing agent for our tools product line. With 20 years' experience on Rio's Jewelry Tech Team, he has deep knowledge of forming, tumbling and engraving. Ronnie has had many mentors over the years and loves being able to help other jewelers solve their process problems. He says he learns something new every day from his teammates and the jewelers he works with.
Scott Bradford is an expert in casting, rapid-prototyping and CAD design, as well as general bench, fabrication and repair practices. In his time working with rapid prototyping machines, he's been able to complete extensive research in successfully casting with 3D-printed resins. Since joining Rio's Jewelry Tech Team, he's enjoyed being able to work with such a diverse community of jewelers. "Whether they are a beginner or a veteran of the industry, we share a common passion and it's a great opportunity to learn from one another," he says. "It's been an amazing experience to be a part of such a talented and knowledgeable team from so many different backgrounds."
Thomas Flores first came to Rio as a Customer Call Center Representative, where he gained extensive knowledge about the products and services offered here. He is an expert in metal clay, plating, e-coating, metal forming and stone setting. Thomas' love for jewelry dates back to an assignment in a high school metals class: He made a hand-forged copper bracelet to show artistic ability and creativity. Since then, he's learned stone setting at the New Approach School for Jewelers in Franklin, Tennessee, and become a certified PMC instructor.
Sessin Durgham has decades of expertise in all hand-wrought metal techniques, stone setting, lapidary and micro-welding. "I got my start in a high school fine arts program that offered jewelry as a colorful side dish," he says. "It came easy to me and started my lifelong passion of the metal arts and jewelry design." He earned his BFA in Jewelry Metalsmithing. Mentoring as a bench jeweler, he spent five years creating custom designs in gold and platinum and refining his stone-setting skills. Sessin's favorite thing about being a member of Rio's Jewelry Team is learning about new tools and techniques and passing that knowledge onto other jewelers. To that end, he's also presented technical papers at the Santa Fe Symposium™, SNAG and MJSA.
If you call Rio for quick troubleshooting tips, for help finding a spare part or to place an order for your business, you'll speak with one of our amazing customer service experts in our Customer Call Center. Not only are these folks legendary at answering your day-to-day questions, many of them are jewelers with an impressive amount of industry experience. Here are three of their stories.
Debbie has made creativity, learning and teaching the central themes of her professional life. She earned a degree in arts education followed by an apprenticeship where she learned metal fabrication, wax work, mold making, lapidary, casting and repair in both silver and gold. She later served as a regional manager at a national jewelry chain and is a graduate gemologist. Debbie joined Rio in 2013. As a member of the RioPro team, she relishes "helping jewelers get the product, equipment and process information they need to grow their business."
MariaElena is an award-winning jewelry designer who began assembling jewelry at the age of 12. She joined Rio in 2007 and has since been a customer representative as well as a technical support resource for our Jewelry Tech Team. MariaElena is also responsible for developing and teaching Rio’s hands-on jewelry product and process training programs for associates. "I have a passion for teaching," she says, "and I feel so blessed for the opportunity to share the knowledge I've been given, and to watch others get excited about creating jewelry."
You could say that jewelry-making is in Xathena's blood. Her mother, a sharp-eyed master stone setter, helped introduce Xathena to mold-cutting nearly 30 years ago. Today, she is a master mold cutter and wax carver with over 15 years of experience in lost wax casting and finishing. She joined Rio in 2011 as a Customer Call Center Representative, where she's utilized her expertise in soldering, casting, stone-setting and repair work. "I absolutely love helping new jewelers build their studios," she says. "I make sure to get the right tool in the hands of our customers."
“I'm thrilled to death with Rio Grande's technical service. Thomas spent a lot of time with me, and his patience and knowledge was greatly appreciated. ”
Looking for quick answers? Rio's online product and process videos, technical papers and skill-building projects put technical expertise at your fingertips. Here are some of the most common questions that the Jewelry Tech Team comes across—and their answers.