Intrinsic Jewelry is a San Francisco-based, wholesale body jewelry manufacturer with a reputation for precision and excellence. Intrinsic’s products include septum curves, labret backs, eyebrow curves, body jewelry barbells, lip piercings, navel curves, magic plugs, and more. The company has experienced steady growth over the years, but new robotic automation systems are now taking things to a whole new level, according to Wickert Beasley, Intrinsic’s founder and CEO.
As a young man, Beasley attended trade school to learn to be a machinist, but then he got a job in a machine shop and went on to gain valuable experience working in a variety of different positions, including a job with two old-school tool and die makers and then working for a custom bicycle frame manufacturer.
“It really comes down to a lot of different skills,” said Beasley. “Most people who go into machining end up as the machine operator or the machine programmer, but the jobs that I just fell into happened to be much harder than that.”
In 1997, Beasley bought a lathe and started his “own thing” in a West Oakland artist studio, which quickly became packed in with machinery and equipment. His first customer was a body piercing shop near UC Berkeley.
“That’s how I got in,” he said. “I spent four years in that artist’s studio in Oakland with my machines making jewelry for that one shop. I learned a lot about how to make body jewelry, and then I got started getting work from other customers.”
Eventually, Beasley and his machines moved to San Francisco, first to a 2,000-square-foot, industrial space that he quickly filled up with more machinery. Then, he leased the 7,000-square-foot space he currently occupies in San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood.
“I filled up the whole place with all kinds of useful machinery,” he said. “That’s the hardest part—it took 20 years to be able to afford all of the machinery. I bought everything used and fixed it up. It’s endlessly interesting.”
About 4 years ago, however, “things got really interesting,” according to Beasley. “Early on when I got into the body jewelry industry, I had this idea of how to polish body jewelry using a robot. After about 10 years of trying to hire people to do this kind of work, I realized that it’s almost impossible for a human being to do it.”
Beasley spent 10 months building his own robotic automation system to polish jewelry. Today, he has built four additional robotic automation systems for the business, and he’s working on one more.
“The robots are taking the business to a whole new level,” he said. “I used every last little bit of skill and knowledge I learned over 30 years on these projects and to get the business to a greater level of productivity, which allows me to pay better wages and provide full benefits for my employees.”
Finding capable employees is one of Intrinsic’s biggest challenges, and SFMade has become a resource for the company, helping identify and recruit candidates, including someone Intrinsic hired about a year ago from SFMade and Humanmade’s Next Generation Manufacturing Workforce Development Program. The NextGen program is designed to train local residents to access jobs with good wages in the manufacturing sector and is an important part of Mayor London Breed’s plans to train residents who lack four-year degrees or who have other barriers to employment for jobs in manufacturing.
“Finding employees is one of the most difficult, time consuming things, and hiring the wrong person is a massive risk,” said Beasley.
“If you’re learning any software programs like the ones they teach at Humanmade, you’re learning something about how to get the right results from other computer applications,” he said. “In this case, the training didn’t specifically translate to the work the employee does on her day-to-day job, but it relates to everything we do and helps the employee understand more about what’s going on across the business.”
SFMade is also helping Intrinsic navigate the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan forgiveness program. The PPP program was designed to be a lifeline for businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the rules around PPP forgiveness are vague and confusing for many business owners.
“There’s almost no one you can talk to about this thing, and there’s a lot of money hanging in the balance,” said Beasley. “Pierre (SFMade’s Director of Advising and Education) took the time to talk to me and helped me understand how to work with my CPA to calculate the forgiveness.”
When the time is right, Beasley plans to ask SFMade for assistance with another hire.
“Every day there are hundreds of things in my business that only I can do,” he said. “I want to work with SFMade in the future to find someone who uses those kinds of higher manufacturing skills.”