Monday, December 29, 2008

New Year, New You!

5... 4... 3... 2... 1... Happy New Year!

The new year is here! As the calendar flips over, we all start thinking about how we can make this new year better than last. A good question! And we've got a great answer.

It's a great time to rethink your wardrobe and your jewelry collection. It's time to reshape yourself. It's time for a new you! Try out new colors and styles of our southwestern jewelry. And just to make sure you don't get lost, we have five new friends to help you find your new style throughout the year...

Sienna has always been on the look-out for good ways to preserve the environment around her. She's the outdoorsy-type. Someone who really cares about nature. She decorates her home with pieces of Native pottery she's collected over the years and she loves the cozy rustic feel it gives her adobe house.

She recycles. In fact, she recycles as much as she can. Cuisine is about organic foods and her wardrobe is a collection of natural fiber clothes.

"My jewelry collection? Oh, I like earth-tones and mossy greens. They look really nice on me and it really blends into how my house looks. It's like taking a piece of home with me," she says.

You might find stones like smoky quartz, tiger's eye, jade, and serpentine in her collection. See what Sienna likes to wear!

If there's a word that describes Michelle, it's "hostess." She loves having her friends over for dinner parties at her condo with great food and wine, but the important thing is that people leave with a smile.

She's out-going and friendly, you know the type, the one that would strike up a conversation with you at the grocery store if the lines were long.

Her jewelry choices are the same way: bold and beautiful. She likes chunky beaded jewelry and bright colored stones like turquoise, rhodonite, and carnelian. She's not a fashion fanatic, but she definitely wears her personality.

"Am I the center of attention?" she asks with a laugh. "I don't know about that. I just want people to be happy, you know? Enjoy life! That's how I pick jewelry. The stuff that says, 'I love being here!'"

See what Michelle likes to wear!

Carrie's a career-minded woman. She's focusing a ton of energy on putting herself in a good position for the future, but she knows how to have a good time.

She's adventurous (she's been skydiving) and sharp-witted and lives on the opposite coast from her family -- she loves the rush of the work she does and the view from her high-rise apartment (it makes her feel like the world is her's for the taking).

Because she's far from her family, her friends are extremely important to her and she enjoys nights out on the town with them. Fashion is part of her lifestyle, she likes having sharp looks and a knock-out wardrobe. She drinks Apple Martinis when she's out with her friends. Her jewelry needs to look every bit as fancy as she feels.

"It doesn't matter where I am, the right look makes all the difference," Carrie explains. "I pick jewelry that gets just as much attention in the conference room as it does at the club. Sterling silver. Black agate. Sodalite. I know how to accessorize for success."

See Carrie's collection of our jewelry.

To Sarah it's all about family. Taking the kids to soccer practice... video-taping the school play... getting in on all the schoolkid gossip with her children... getting the dog to the groomer's... Sarah's drink of choice is some hot herbal tea at the end of the day, once she finally has a chance to slow down.

Her jewelry selection is less about the stones and more about the style. Smaller jewelry pieces that are easy to wear every day. She's got a mix of stones every thing from jasper to turquoise to mother-of-pearl, but the bottom line is that it has to be practical both in price and style – something that isn't going to be a hassle when she's rushing from one event to the next.

"If it looks good with jeans and works with my wallet, then I'd go for it," Sarah told us. "Really, who's not going to check out a good deal? Especially, on jewelry? "

Check out what Sarah's been wearing!

An empty-nester, Angelina, is enjoying a life of travel through-out the United States. She especially enjoys visiting the Southwestern United States (Arizona, New Mexico, Texas). She loves the warm weather, but she's happy to make the trip abroad -- especially to visit her vacation home. She knows her wine, and she knows how to find those amazing little secret cafes and restaurants.

For Angelina, it's time to have grand adventures! She likes southwestern jewelry and clothes and she looks for great sterling silver jewelry with some substantial stones.

She fancies milky aquamarine and spiny oyster shell, but her real focus? "Great turquoise, lapis and tiger's eye," she claims. "The really nice traditional southwestern stones. I visit the southwest every year, and I like having that jewelry as a reminder."

Steal Angelina's style!

Be sure to be on the lookout for advice and picks from these five fabulous and fashionable ladies. Visit Relios online and start planning out your new look for the new year.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Wax In, Gorgeous Out

The journey from idea to physical product is an interesting one no matter what is being made. Here one of the steps to making beautiful southwestern jewelry is injecting rubber molds of the design with wax. The process, however, is tedious and tiring. Someone has to hold the rubber mold, firmly clamp it down by hand with pieces of plastic, and then push it and hold it up against the wax pot to inject wax into the sprue (hole) in the mold. It's exhausting and while the folks doing it for us here at Relios are tough cookies, they are also human.

Well, we're taking steps to help reduce the strain and give our efficiency a boost. Recommended by a friend of company President and Founder, Bill Pollack, we're currently testing a new automated wax injection machine.

The new wax injection machine at rest.

At an estimated 10,000 units per week, this system can help speed up our production of new sterling silver jewelry pieces, better preparing us for meeting the demands of our customers. But along with speed, Production Director at Relios Jewelry, Chris Ruiz, explains that there are positive implications for management of resources and personnel.

Production Advantages
To begin with, the computer-controlled system allows for sophisticated order management. By scanning a barcode, the system can match a mold to a profile of specifications that dictate how that mold is supposed to be handled. These specifications may include clamp pressure, the injection time, and how many more of a particular wax piece we need. This makes it easier for us to handle different orders at once. Since the system tracks our progress for us, we can spend more time handling the production of new jewelry pieces and less time on counting pieces. If we place a mold on the conveyor belt that has already finished its full order, the mold bypasses all of the pots and is deposited in a bin at the end of the machine.

What makes this machine even more helpful is that it allows us to handle orders for several different types of pieces at the same time. The first three wax pots are all standard auto-clamps. These clamps are all the same size and assume rubber molds of a specific size with their sprues all cut in the same place. The last auto-clamp is an integrated auto-clamp. Using the specifications of the mold, the auto-clamp will adjust its position to match the sprue to the nozzle on the wax pot. We can also vary the wax mixture, temperature, and air pressure in each pot, and then use the system to route individual molds to the correct pot.

Personnel Advantages
The next area where we expect to see the new machine have an impact is with personnel. You might think that a new automated system would mean paring down our factory staff. Well, we're happy to say that's not the case. While the machine does improve efficiency and speed, it still takes several people to keep the process running smoothly.

Newly injected molds cool off on water-cooled brass plates. Once those molds have cooled, someone needs to remove the wax pieces from the molds. Someone else will place empty molds on the conveyor belt and monitor the orders. All-in-all as many as three or four people can use the machine at once.

But most importantly the new machine helps reduce the potential for injury and increase consistency. The handheld method puts a lot of strain on the forearms and wrists of workers. First, they have to firmly hold the rubber molds closed. Secondly, there's no denying physics, pushing the mold against the nozzle of the wax pot means that a person is absorbing part of the pressure of the wax being injected into the mold -- that might not be significant for a small pair of earrings, but it can be for a larger sterling silver bracelet.

Over the course of a day, the repetitive nature of picking up a rubber mold, holding it closed and pressing against the wax pot wears out your arms. By the end of a shift, you may not hold the mold as tightly or push the mold against the wax nozzle as strongly. This may translate into molds that aren't properly filled. With this automated system, we reduce the number of wax molds with defects -- a concept that rolls neatly into our Lean Manufacturing program.

For the time being, we are refining how we create the rubber molds and the specifications for each mold, but we expect to see the new wax injection machine kick into full gear in the coming weeks turning out wax molds of our southwestern designer jewelry.

Don't forget that December 22,2008 is the LAST day to place orders (using expediting shipping) to get your jewelry gifts by Christmas. Run over to the Relios Jewelry website and place your order today!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Lean Manufacturing

When you're building products for customers, whether it be southwestern jewelry, cars or books, you sometimes come to feel as though you could do a better job. Confidence as a manufacturer is rooted in how your customers perceive your product quality and how efficiently you were able to make your products at that quality level. Because we want to do a better job, because we want to waste less, Relios is beginning to implement a lean manufacturing program here in our Albuquerque factory. Our first pilot project is our "Today's Special Value" piece for QVC that is going to be featured in March 2009.

Model Carving

What is Lean Manufacturing?
Started at Toyota just after World War II, Lean Manufacturing focuses on building better customer value by addressing deficiencies or bottlenecks in the production process. So, Lean doesn't mean layoffs. It means reorganizing processes and efficiently using your staff to accomplish your goals.

Toyota focused on Muda, activities which don't add value, are unproductive, or prone to be wasteful. By reducing these kinds of activities, a manufacturer could reduce costs and increase quality in their products. Toyota's Chief Engineer, Taiichi Ohno, identified the "seven wastes": defects, overproduction, conveyance, waiting, inventory, motion, and overprocessing.[article]


By reducing wasteful activities and integrating quality assurance into the process stream, a manufacturer can improve their quality and their speed.

Lean at Relios
After taking several classes in implementing Lean Manufacturing, our team leads took a deeper interest in the flow of our manufacturing process. After studying our process in greater detail, it was decided that we would take what we've learned about Lean Manufacturing and apply it to the production of the March "Today's Special Value" item.

Production Leads in Class

The production team mapped out the entire process from creating the original model to shipping and focused on several key factors for each of the 60 steps such as cycle time, change-over time, equipment reliability, and part quality. What came from this exercise are things like more precise scheduling and more consideration for preventative maintenance.

Process Map

We were also interested in how Lean Manufacturing impacted training. We have used the Lean Manufacturing training timetable to look at our staff as skilled resources and in which areas they can be used to what degree. This will allow us to allocate staff to alleviate bottlenecks in future production.

We've been really pleased to see that the production leads have been interested in applying the tools and concepts of Lean Manufacturing. We expect it to lead to more efficient production and higher overall quality in our jewelry. Meanwhile, be sure to check out our current line of Sincerely Southwest® jewelry on, find complementing jewelry collections on the Relios homepage.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Is That Turquoise, Or Are You Just Happy To See Me?

Long before the days of Miss Cleo and Sylvia Browne, mystics in ancient India and Babylon attributed strength and power to the stones and minerals of the world that surrounded them. They would use gemstones to ward off illness, bolster the spirit and cleanse the soul. Astrologists would later assign gemstones to the signs of the Zodiac, to help people influence their ruling planets. Sound familiar? Thought so. We're talking about birthstones.

While most of us have the holidays on the noggin, some of us are also celebrating birthdays during the month of December. But Relios has you covered for southwestern gifts for more than just the holidays. December's birthstone happens to be a standard in southwestern jewelry: the sky stone, Turquoise.

If cold December gave you birth
The month of snow and ice and mirth
Place on your hand a turquoise blue;
Success will bless whate'er you do.
—Gregorian Birthstone Poems

Turquoise has a long tradition as a gemstone. The chalky stone has been a sought after gem not just in Native American cultures, but through out the world. The Aztecs, Egyptians and Persians all used the sky stone as a gemstone in ornamental jewelry. But would you believe that India and Japan would miss out on the beauty of turquoise until thousands of years later? Sounds pretty rough if you ask us.

If you're looking for a gift for that December birthday, look no further. Relios has a great special section dedicated to turquoise jewelry gifts for December. Find earrings, bracelets and necklaces ranging from clear blue to vivid green with a matrix, or pick something in between. You can find our special December birthstone category of turquoise jewelry by clicking the image below.

You won't find fake turquoise at Relios. We use genuine, natural gemstones. And we never use dyed turquoise. This effectively makes every piece of turquoise jewelry we make a unique gift, because the color of the stones will vary from piece to piece. So when you're giving the gift of turquoise jewelry by Relios to your December birthday girl, you can honestly say you've given them a one-of-a-kind gift.

The first people to produce imitation turquoise were the ancient Egyptians, using earthenware called faience.