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Hugo Kohl, displays silver bracelets that use powerful magnets

Hugo Kohl, owner of Custom Jewelry Design in Harrisonburg, displays silver bracelets that use powerful magnets to lock them in place on the wrist. Kohl has become renowned in the jewelry world for using decades-old steel stamps to create antique-looking pieces.

Hugo Kohl makes a bracelet by rolling a stamp over a strip of silver. He found the stamps earlier this year and added them to his collection of more than 3,000. His Harrisonburg shop on Federal Street is now open to retail sales.

HARRISONBURG - Hugo Kohl's growing collection of decades-old steel stamps has recently taken a "spin." For the last dozen years, Kohl, the owner of Custom Jewelry Design, has used thousands of steel stamps to make antique-looking jewelry.

He makes rings, cuff links and pendants of all kinds out of the hand-engraved metal stamps. They look so real, he's become one of the dominant manufacturers of that type of jewelry, experts have told the Daily News-Record.

This spring, however, Kohl stumbled upon a totally new kind of stamp. These were different, like nothing he'd ever seen.

They were large wheels, about the size of a doughnut. And like the rest of his collection, they were old - really old.

Although he's not sure exactly what the steel wheels were used for, about a month ago Kohl figured out how to make bracelets with them by spinning the wheels across a strip of silver.

All it took was a few months of tinkering with some old machines - the guys at Kreider's Machine Shop helped with that part - inventing a sturdy hinge and magnetic clasp and he was set.

Now, you can see them, too.

Thanks to a recent addition to his shop on Federal Street, Kohl pulled all 3,316 stamps out of his old drawers and displayed them on several homemade shelves.

It looks sort of like a mini-museum, but it's still usable and profitable. Starting now, his shop is open to the public for retail sales.

"This is three-dimensional hand engraving at its zenith," said Kohl, 48, of Harrisonburg. "You can't find a mistake if you tried."

How It Started

The story of Kohl's unique business began almost two decades ago when he literally found treasure from another man's trash.

One summer day in Providence, R.I., Kohl watched as warehouse workers tossed 300 tiny metal objects into a trash truck.

Curious, he waited for them to leave and then dived in after the objects. The plunge paid off.He later learned that the objects were called stamping or "die-striking" molds and would later make him wealthy.

Here's how it happened.

During the 1920s, European craftsmen hand-carved thousands of these unique molds. Craftsmen used giant machines to literally punch out jewelry from gold sheets. Then, they bent the stamped gold into rings or brooches.

By the 1940s, however, the labor-intensive process was replaced by a cheaper method called casting and the stamping molds were thrown away, lost or melted down into other products, explained Peter DiCristofaro, president of the Providence Jewelry Museum.

So, for folks like the warehouse workers, the molds were nearly worthless.

But that didn't stop Kohl.

In 12 steps, Kohl figured out how to use his old stamping molds to make casting molds. Kohl's stuff looks stamped but costs thousands of dollars less to make.

Kohl's collection of stamping molds has grown from 300 when he started to 3,316 today. According to several jewelry vendors, the collection is possibly the largest private holding anywhere.

Kohl estimates his collection took 30 to 40 lifetimes of work to make.

"I just bask in them all the time," he said. "It blows me away."

These days, more than 40,000 pieces of Kohl's jewelry are floating around the country, each with his initials and the word "H-burg" on the inside.

"I get to see them every day and I want other people to see them, too," Kohl said.

Check It Out

Visit Custom Jewelry Design Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. It's tucked away at 311 S. Federal St. in Harrisonburg. For more information, call 564-2755


Billy James said...

These bracelets looks so cool.
I truly admire his work. He is very talented!

Anonymous said...

Yeah james... thats bracelets look cool. hope can have one too. lalala... ^^

admin said...

this magnetic jewelry clasp blog looks so cool and nice .. cheer! :)
magnetic jewelry clasp

charm bracelets said...

Whether you find an heirloom bracelet or choose a modern vintage inspired bracelet, these beauties have design details that are reminiscent of the past Special intricate details give these items a custom, unique feel.

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