Golden glory

ERIC FRANCIS

, Last Updated: 12:56 AM ET

Returning last month from Pittsburgh where he delivered the championship rings every NHLer craves, Miran Armutlu fielded a call from Florida Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria.

"One of his players (Hanley Ramirez) won the league batting championship so he wants to make him something special," said Armutlu, a fifth-generation Armenian jeweler who founded and owns Calgary-based Intergold.

Oh, and it will be special.

The last time Loria, one of the world's biggest art dealers, ordered bling from Armutlu it came in the form of a 2003 World Series ring that featured 250 diamonds, 150 grams of gold and was the weight of a baseball.

"He also collects watches so he wanted me to make a couple dozen for him that flipped open to reveal a clock," smiled Armutlu, holding the ornate flip-top bauble.

"No one had ever tried that before. So we did."

Going where no championship jeweler has gone before is what has put Armutlu's small company on the map, landing him contracts to design and make most of the World Series, Stanley Cup, NBA Championship and Grey Cup rings for the last decade.

So, in a billion dollar high school, college and championship ring business generally dominated by three major players stateside -- Jostens, Balfour and Herff Jones -- how does a Calgary-based company with 63 employees become King of the Rings?

"We're the best," smiled Armutlu, grabbing a national title ring he made for Florida State's football team in 1999.

"When we introduced that ring everybody was taken aback because before that the typical ring had a big synthetic stone and logo and that's it. No flare and no uniqueness. The reason for that was that the big three are not really jewelers -- they're tool and die companies. When we're competing against hundred-year history, their size and the fact they're American and we're foreigners, the only way you're going to win is by being different. If the competition is fair we have never lost. When they compare all the rings side by side, we don't lose."

Armutlu admits he got a big break in 1994 when Michael Jordan quit hoops to play baseball, allowing the Houston Rockets to ascend to NBA champs and opening the door for little-known Intergold to woo an inexperienced winner devoid of ring allegiances. It gave him a solid reference to add to the long list of Grey Cup winners, leading to a relationship with the Detroit Red Wings.

"Everything changed when we did the Red Wings rings in 2002 -- it changed the whole industry -- the big three had to catch up," he said.

"Custom cut stones, round and princess cut diamonds, 11 custom cut rubies in the winged wheel -- stunning. It was named, along with the Boston Celtics ring we did in 2008, the best championship ring every made."

Although obviously biased, Red Wings GM Ken Holland agreed.

"We met with several companies and asked if such and such was possible and he came back a couple weeks later with the goods," said Holland, holding the ring intertwining the Wings logo with the Stanley Cup.

"Once we saw it it was a slam dunk. He did some things other companies couldn't do. Everyone was blown away."

Armutlu figures Sid and his Kids' Stanley Cup rings represent the next step in changing the industry, given he used 23 different dies. The typical Cup ring involves five or six dies. The Penguins' rings include two mottos inscribed inside: "The Pen is in our hand" and "Ya hungry."

Adamantly against providing players rings for anyone else ("Shaq's agent didn't win anything so why should he get a ring?" said Armutlu), Intergold also does slightly smaller rings for players' friends and family members. Kevin Garnett was so impressed he ordered $250,000 worth after his crowning achievement in Boston two years ago.

"NHLers don't have as much of an entourage -- guys are quieter and more subdued so they take care of family members and people who helped them get to where they are," smiled Armutlu, whose southeast Calgary factory outlet will soon open a retail arm.

"Some of them buy rings for their young kids to put away. A common question is 'what size should I make for my four year old?' It's a good way for them to get their Christmas shopping out of the way."

The company has also rolled out a fan program allowing teams like the Penguins to sell a modified version of their Stanley Cup rings to team diehards. The Calgary Stampeders have a similar program.

While Armutlu relished the challenge of continually going where no jeweler has gone before, the longtime Calgarian admits one of the toughest rings he ever had to make was for the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004. It included 138 diamonds -- one for each regular season point and two for every playoff win -- as well as coach John Tortorella's motto: "Safe is death and good is the enemy of great."

"That was hard for obvious reasons," smiled the Flames fan who at least got to include a Flames logo as part of the teams Tampa beat en route to the crown.

"When I got there the Tampa paper had a story saying 'the jeweler from the city that lost the finals is here to deliver the Stanley Cup rings."

eric.francis@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos