For the last couple years, I’ve been doing my own nickel plating. What could be better for a young conceptual designer than working with highly toxic chemicals that need to be mixed in exact quantities? It was fascinating to learn and exciting when I got it right, but after a few encounters with boiling ammonia the novelty wore off. I needed to outsource.
I looked over many platers in New York City, and they seemed to fall into two categories. Modest labs that handle small batches from independent jewelry designers, and massive high-tech workshops that take engineering and aerospace jobs. The former didn’t have the kind of capabilities or turnaround that I needed, and the latter intimidated me. It would feel weird – embarrassing, even – to bring a cardboard box full of cluster bomb fins to a lab that sends its work into orbit.
When I called Epner Technology, a plating studio only blocks from 3rd Ward, the president of the company put me at ease. I told him about the cluster bomb fins, as well as their problematic, plating-process-ruining zinc coating. He sighed. “You’re a real pain in the ass, you know that? Can you come by now?”
David Epner’s office had a kind of organized clutter. Every flat surface was covered with samples from the business. Complicated mechanical parts, pieces of jewelry, even basic hardware, all gleaming with gold like an engineer’s Versailles. The company has been in his family since 1910, and he recounted the history with relish. He pointed out a familiar looking sculpture on a cabinet near the door – a model of a Richard Lippold the company helped produce decades earlier. It turns out that Epner has a long history of working with artists, from major names like Lippold, Trevor Paglen, and Matthew Barney, to local jewelry designers and metalworkers.
David was incredulous that I’d had any success with my own plating (or that I’d survived it unscathed) and came up with suggestions for future collaborations, including a definitely-going-to-happen gold-plated Beacon. When I left his office, my notebook was scribbled with fresh concepts and new reference sites. One of these was his blog, a fascinating and well-written look into his industry and the company’s history. After reading the kind of work Epner does, I’m amazed I managed to snatch so much of his time.
Less than a week later, the fins were finished. They were paired up and rolled in white tissue paper, the way movers pack fine silver. Even the most corroded and rusty now had a flawless, bright coat of nickel. My work had been treated with the same importance and care as the satellite parts and fine jewelry that pass through Epner every day, and it felt empowering. When you’re a startup, you expect brusque treatment from suppliers and contractors. Your business just isn’t very important to them, and courtesy is extended on the off-chance that you’ll keep using them if you make it big. When a company that REALLY doesn’t need your business treats you as important, and takes your work seriously, it brings two thoughts to mind. One is that they’re well-run, and understand how much great customer service is worth. The other is that they want to keep working with you, because they expect you to succeed.