Local jeweler closes business, focuses on Internet sales

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Diamonds begin as lumps of coaland grow beautiful over time.

Just as precious stones improve, so has jeweler Karl Hoffman's craftmanship. After eight years doing business as Skull Creek Trading Company in Historic Downtown Craig, Hoffman is closing the store to focus on his craft as his work gains national recognition.

Hoffman currently has jewelry on display at galleries in Steamboat Springs, Santa Fe, N.M., and Jackson Hole, Wyo. Other work has been featured in magazines such

as Southwest Art and Cowboys

and Indians.

That success has allowed him to leave behind the daily responsibilities of operating a retail store to focus on his work, which he will now sell in galleries and online.

"It's every artist's dream to put all his time towards his art," Hoffman said.

Although his wife, Audrey, helped him runthe store, Hoffman found he had precious little time to make jewelry. On Wednesday afternoon, between answering the phone, servicing customers, and answering interview questions, it took Hoffman an hour and a half just to eat a calzone.

He's liquidating the merchandise at Skull Creek and planning to close the store at the end of February. The Kitchen Shop will move several doors over and take up his lease.

His workshop, now in the back of his store, will move to his ranch. Once Hoffman installs himself there, he'll beginning focusing on his two arts, fine jewelry and digital photography.

He's crafted jewelry for the last 30 years. He took up silversmithing after breaking his neck in a horseback riding accident. But photography is a new practice for him -- an artistic outgrowth of his effort to adapt to changing technology.

Two years ago, Hoffman decided to go online with his business. At the time, he didn't know how to turn a computer on and thought a mouse was something a cat chased.

But he adapted and learned computers and everything that goes with them, including digital cameras. While photographing his work for magazines and his Web site, he found his artist's eye was as adept behind a camera lens as it was examining precious stones. His portfolio reflects three areas of special interest: energy sources, women, and the Colorado countryside.

He's encountered new challenges while transitioning between retail and online sales, but his new business model has enabled him to service customers from Australia to California's Napa Valley.

"The nice thing about today's world is you can live here but work anywhere in the world," Hoffman said.

Foremost among obstacles, he can no longer meet the customers for whom he designs custom jewelry. Hoffman said just by meeting a customer, he learns a wealth of information about how he should design the piece. By seeing them, he learns how a piece can compliment their body shape, skin complexion, hair color and, perhaps most importantly, their personality.

He overcomes the distance barrier by sending the customer photos of the piece while it's in progress. In one instance, he sent a female customer a design of a piece incorporating rubies and emeralds. She said she liked the design but the colors were wrong, because she rode a palomino and was blond.

"That told me a lot about her," Hoffman said, "because she put her horse before herself."

It told him that she wasn't self-centered, liked animals and was an outdoor person, and following those inferences, he decided to make the piece a little more rugged but still feminine and not extravagant.

Although his store will soon be gone, Hoffman expects to maintain an active presence in the community. Starting in March, he will begin work on a photography series titled "The Women of Moffat County" as a fund-raiser for the Museum of Northwest Colorado. The black and white photo exhibition will attempt to document the life, family, careers, contributions and achievements of women of all ages in Moffat County.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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