Edmonton Journal (Alberta)
December 31, 2004 Friday
Final Edition

Calgary jeweller scores big on sports scene: Winning ground against
international giants

by Grant Robertson, Calgary Herald; CanWest News Service

CALGARY

CALGARY - Tom Wilson is no stranger to glitzy jewelry. For the past
15 years, the Detroit Pistons' chief executive has been the owner of
two championship rings from the National Basketball Association
team's back-to-back titles in 1989-90.

He remembers when the Pistons received those rings, they seemed so
big and extravagant.

But when the team received its 2004 championship rings last month, it
was clear times had changed. The latest Pistons bauble -- a
conglomeration of roughly $20,000 US worth of gold and diamonds --
makes the old ones look like a high-school ring, he says.

"It is gargantuan, yes -- three times the size. You can't lift your
arm. It covers two knuckles," says Wilson.

The man behind the masterpiece is Miran Armutlu, a fifth-generation
Armenian jeweller and the founder of

Calgary-based Intergold Ltd., a small company that has taken the
North American sporting scene by storm in the past three years.

In addition to the Pistons, the company has made championship rings
for the NHL's Detroit Red Wings, New Jersey Devils and Tampa Bay
Lightning; and Major League Baseball's Anaheim Angels and Florida
Marlins.

It has been a long road for the company Armutlu started with his
brother in the early 1980s. But Intergold -- the smallest player in a
business dominated by international giants Jostens and Balfour -- is
now commanding a good portion of the spotlight.

"Finally, over the last three years I would say, our reputation is
starting to precede us," says Armutlu, sitting in the boardroom at
Intergold's manufacturing plant in northeast Calgary.

"We're finding that when we get in the door, people have heard of
us."

Sales once were more difficult. When Armutlu decided the company
should branch out from designing jewelry, graduation rings and
corporate items into the sports arena, he walked into the offices of
the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 1989 as an unknown.

"I just told them I wanted to do their ring," Armutlu says of the
meeting with the team's managers, all of them ex-football players.
"They all stood up, looked down at me and said 'you better make us
the nicest championship ring in the world.' Well, these were big
boys, they could be very persuasive."

Intergold landed several Canadian Football League contracts after
that, including the 1992 Calgary Stampeders Grey Cup ring, but the
company still lacked a major U.S. deal.

Part of the challenge, says Armutlu, is that pro sports is dominated
by close relationships between teams and manufacturers. Once teams
picked a jeweller, they stuck with them.

In a strange twist, Intergold's break came when Michael Jordan left
basketball to play minor-league baseball. With the Bulls' dynasty on
hiatus, the Houston Rockets stepped in to claim back-to-back titles
in '94 and '95.

More importantly, the Rockets were a team without a jeweller.

"We were lucky. The organization didn't have any old ties, so they
took a chance on us," he says.

Being a small operation is an initial hurdle for Intergold against
its larger competitors, but that agility has become its biggest
asset.

Where other jewelers produce artist renderings of rings for teams,
Intergold makes a genuine version of each proposal, no matter how
many variations. Whatever rings aren't used get melted down and
recycled.

"We knew they were the smaller company," says Wilson of the Calgary
firm.

"But they kept telling us, don't make a decision based on something
that looks good on paper. If you like these five designs, we'll make
you five rings.

"Other companies were saying, 'Well, maybe we can do one ring, but
these things are very expensive.' ... We started to get a feel for
just how badly they wanted the job."