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Matt Schmarje was a sophomore in high school when he discovered a knack for metal finishing.
Today, he supervises a team of metal finishers at Thumbies, where he has made his career since shortly after the day 19 years ago when he met the owner’s son over an afternoon playing video games with his high school crew.
“It was an odds and ends job,” Schmarje remembers of his early days with the company. “My first week was doing some light wax work.” Later he switched to a position as a bench jeweler, where he learned stone setting, fabrication, casting and wax carving. But it was metal finishing where Schmarje really found his niche.
“I instantly had an affinity for it,” he said. Schmarje spent four years as a dedicated caster before becoming the head metal finisher at Thumbies, a position he held for nearly seven years.
Today he is the company’s metal finishing supervisor, overseeing the training and work of a crew of five that grows to seven or eight during the holiday season.
From his very first days, Schmarje says he was drawn to the precision and science built into the process of reproducing a wax-cast fingerprint as a pendant or keepsake in an array of metals. Today, the process includes techniques borrowed from the aeronautics industry and continues to evolve as part of the company’s roots in cutting edge science and technology.
Schmarje says founder Tom Dougherty’s background as a biology major and teacher-turned jewelry designer is both part of the appeal of working at Thumbies and why the products themselves are so unique.
“We are really using advances in laser marking, laser welding … a high-end plating bath like one used in the aeronautics industry,” he said. “That’s unheard of in the jewelry industry.”
He also loves the camaraderie and teamwork involved in creating one-of-a-kind objects that bring comfort to people who have lost someone they loved. Team members, he said, are always bringing new ideas to the process and to the designs. “We always encourage our employees to do that, asking ‘Who’s got an idea for something new? What else do you think our clients might enjoy?’”
Off the job, Schmarje is an avid outdoorsman, who enjoys camping, hiking and fishing and who says he gets some of his best ideas for new designs from nature, from interesting shapes, colors and themes. “Nature provides all of that,” he says. He also beachcombs with his girlfriend, who also makes nature-inspired jewelry.
On the job, Schmarje also plays a role in customer service, helping to ensure that each piece is personally customized for a purpose that goes hand in hand with its quality as a unique and beautiful piece of jewelry.
The stories, he says, are often heartbreaking, but also inspirational, keeping him and the rest of the Thumbies team motivated and constantly thinking of ways to innovate and improve.
“I love working with my team. That’s what keeps me going in – the camaraderie, the combination of doing a good job and still having fun,” he says.
At Thumbies, our team members put their best efforts – and their hearts – into every piece we create because we know we are making more than jewelry. We are crafting keepsakes that help grieving people nurture a sense of connection with someone they have lost.
To learn more about what we can create for you, give us a call or click on the link below to connect with one of our team members today.