By Georgann Yara
FUTURE BRIGHT FOR JEWELER
NightRider’s edgy designs finding fans in celebrities, locals
In addition to designer, artist and business owner, Nick Ballantyne can add magazine-cover man to his resume. Last year, the co-owner of NightRider Jewelry was surprised to learn that one of his pieces graced the cover of Vanity Fair magazine. The Tempe-based jeweler’s silver and black, giant fire skull pendant was worn by actor Johnny Depp on the cover of the magazine’s November 2011 issue. The news came from Alice Cooper, who purchased the piece and gave it to Depp as a gift. The Phoenix rocker phoned Ballantyne, who launched NightRider in 2007 with his brother Thad and father-in-law, George Ganem, the founder of Ganem Jewelers. The company has a production facility in Tempe and retail location in Scottsdale. It is looking to open a second retail store later this year.
Nick Ballantyne said he was pleasantly surprised but not fazed by the attention and international recognition. He likes knowing that NightRider’s rings, bracelets, pendants and buckles are capturing the attention of low-key patrons, too. “It wasn’t an expected thing. But just seeing how many people are walking through our doors in Scottsdale and liking what we’re doing is just as rewarding to me,” Ballantyne said.
At first glance, the jeweler’s line of edgy pieces that feature a lot of skulls, crosses and bold lines appear to be tailor-made for the motorcycle or extreme-sports crowd. But over the years, NightRider’s clientele has grown to include all walks of life, people who seek creative, high-quality jewelry and are willing to pay for it. “The feeling of freedom and self-expression associated with the biker culture is something everybody can associate with whether they are a biker or not,” said Ballantyne, who is not a biker but has been around the culture and crowd.
The live-free attitude appeals to Bill Rowett, a New Hampshire financial planner who became a regular client of NightRider since he purchased a home in Scottsdale about a year ago. It started with a bracelet, a gift he bought for his wife. Next it was a ring. So far, Rowett has purchased 25 NightRider pieces for others and himself. “I wasn’t a jewelry person until I saw their stuff. Now I’m addicted,” said Rowett, an avid art collector. “It’s literally fine art that you can wear. “Rowett, 58, said his 18-year-old son and his friends are also fans. “That says a lot about a product when two different generations are attracted to it,” he said. “It’s American made, masculine. It’s in your face without being obnoxious or blingy. From the design to the manufacturing to the quality, it’s unique.”
As a student at the Art Institute of Phoenix, Ballantyne envisioned a career in fine art or graphic design, but he had an interest in industrial design. In jewelry, he found a happy medium. His designs and attention to detail were noticed by Ganem, and in 2005, Ballantyne started creating pieces for the high-end jeweler. Along with Thad, the engineer, the brothers learned more about the jewelry business under Ganem, and two years later, the trio opened NightRider. The goal was to churn out high-quality, creative pieces that were produced locally, not overseas — an uncommon combination in the industry. “George felt there was a void in quality jewelry that was unique. It could be creative but it was poorly made. It didn’t make you feel like you were proud to own it,” Nick Ballantyne said.
They started having booths at bike shows and other specialty trade shows such as events put on by the Barrett-Jackson Auction Company. Through direct interaction with customers, Ballantyne said they learned more about what they wanted and used that to shape their business model. The Ballantyne brothers have a hand in every design. Most of the pieces fall in the range of $300 to $3,000. The priciest works have been solid-gold bracelets and pendants that went for $30,000. Despite the dour economy in recent years, the desire for well-made pieces that will hold their value has not wavered, Nick Ballantyne said. Although it would be cheaper to outsource production, that is a compromise NightRider is not willing to make. “Regardless of how bad the economy is, everyone wants something nice,” he said. “Regardless of how much it costs to make things here, we want to make them of the highest quality.”
In addition to celebrities, athletes and founders of major companies are among NightRider’s clients, Ballantyne said. The pieces are also big hits with many A-list country singers, he said, including Kenny Chesney, who bought a piece from the Scottsdale shop last fall. “You could be listening to songs on the radio and think, ‘Wow, that person is wearing designs we sell, and those guys come in and say they’re fans of what we’re making,’ ” said Ballantyne, a native of Nashville. What is also rewarding is helping bring attention to the fact that quality pieces can come out of the desert, he said.
“There’s that stereotype that everything that’s cool comes from LA or places that are thought to be cool,” Ballantyne said. “It’s pretty rewarding for us that people around here want the best stuff and they know we’re going to do it. You don’t have to fly to Asia to cheaply manufacture it. There’s no reason it can’t be done right here.”