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The Time Travelers

Robert Scheer

Trekker Treats: Grafix products include Klingon Medallions, Borg eyepieces and other "Star Trek"­inspired pieces pictured here.

As 'Star Trek' characters don the futuristic work of local jewelry and watch designers, Grafix CyberWear's sales head out of this world

By Kelly Luker

UP VINE HILL ROAD OFF Branciforte, the Grafix CyberWear company can be found in a spacious house hidden under the towering redwoods. Owners John and Joey Thomas live upstairs with their children, then commute to the main floor, which has been converted to a workspace for them and their roughly half-dozen employees. A rustic mountain sensibility interrupted by the occasional toddler dropping by makes Grafix appear to be more rooted in Santa Cruz than distant galaxies, which is where their products end up traveling--along with the Star Trek voyagers.

Remember the medallion Worf wears on his sash? And the pulsating eyepiece worn by the fearsome Crosis the Borg? Both are Grafix handiwork.

How this company that specializes in micro-computer-controlled jewelry and timepieces moved from beneath the Santa Cruz semper virens into outer space is a success story with all the right ingredients: talent, hard work and a sprinkle of serendipity. It began with the artistic skills of Joey Thomas, who has been creating jewelry for years featuring Liquid Crystal Displays. Using the same component that gives a digital readout on watches, she would create fleeting, rhythmic bursts of pattern on a background of steel, chrome or graphite.

"When I first did it, it was only art," explains Joey, which rarely made it into the arms or onto the hands of customers. That changed as she incorporated more user-friendly LCD designs into her work--explosions of colorful stars, pulsing hearts and expanding waves. In the late '80s, about the time her jewelry began showing up in trendy Los Angeles boutiques, two fortuitous events coincided. Husband John Thomas, an electrical engineer for the defense industry (doing "real nerdy stuff," he says), decided to go into business with his wife. Around the same time, Michael Westmore, Academy Award-winning makeup director for the TV show Star Trek: The Next Generation, happened upon one of Joey's futuristic brooches in one of those trendy shops, and before you could say "Beam me up, Scottie," there was ol' Worf himself, proudly wearing what the Grafix folks quickly labeled the "Klingon Medallion."

"We acquired the business on the 25th anniversary [of the Star Trek series], so we ran to the Star Trek convention [to sell our jewelry]," laughs Joey. The convention was their first close-up view of the Trekkie phenomenon. Notes John, "I realized that Star Trek had successfully captured the imagination of an entire generation. It appeals to our quest for a progressive future."

As Joey recalls, "We got a special showing of our jewelry [in a newscast], and we got tremendous response." Thus were the Thomases inducted into the lucrative world of product licensing. "What makes us unique among licensees," explains Joey, "is we're the only ones with our creations actually on the show." All other licensees merely reproduce the Star Trek images for clothing, posters, toys and accessories.

Joey & John Thomas
Robert Scheer

Beam There, Done That: Joey Thomas and husband John Thomas, co-pilots of the Grafix jewelry company, have seen their business expand at warp speed since they began designing official Trekkie jewelry.

Future Tinkering

WITH THE OPENING of the latest Star Trek movie installment, Star Trek: First Contact, on Friday, Grafix will be moving ahead at warp speed. The eyepiece-accessorized Crosis will return with an army covered in Grafix-designed implants. The average person may not find flashing implants on monstrous outer space creatures a terribly attractive purchase, but we're talking Trekkies. Grafix expects an upsurge in their Borg "Eye-cons" after the movie's premiere.

Like most successful businesses, Grafix is continually expanding to new lines and markets. Watches seemed a natural progression for the company's talents, and the couple have taken a quantum leap in how the concept of time is expressed. Joey has designed a watch face that flashes three stars or three undulating bars for 3 o'clock--with a number in the center to designate elapsed minutes.

"It's a graphic way to tell time," explains John. Unique, attractive and, of course, utilitarian, the watches have been picked up by big-name catalogues like Flax and International Male.

The Thomases offer a tour of their combination offices, assembly line and shipping center, located conveniently below their kitchen and living room. A few computers handle marketing, shipping, inventory control, imaging and design ideas. In one corner, Kim Kondo lines up watch boxes to be filled. Around a partition, Richard Montgomery painstakingly attaches backs to jewelry pieces.

"Our prices are too high for mass market," says Joey as she studies Richard's work, "because our products are made here in Santa Cruz, instead of being sent overseas for assembly." Speaking of "Made in Santa Cruz," Grafix' entire line can be found at a store of that name on the Santa Cruz Wharf. And, the company's products can be viewed at its Web site.

Joey Thomas displays to her guest a box full of promotional pins, products that represent another direction the company is exploring. Using a company logo as background, Grafix adds LCD designs that wink and flash over the lapel pin face. So far, Grafix has sold the promotional items to the likes of McDonald's, PepsiCo., Blue Cross and Disney Gallery. Joey picks up one entrancing pin created for the California Literacy Association, a picture of a book with the letters R-E-A-D blinking on one at a time.

As each new market is tapped, it creates an unavoidable cash crunch, leaving the Thomases walking the tightrope that most growing businesses experience. Even so, Joey reports, Grafix grossed almost $1 million last year. She looks around at the close quarters. "It's time to separate our personal life from the business."

But Grafix was spawned by combining future vision with timeless values (pardon the expression). Besides their 5-year-old, Ashley Jo, the Thomases have twins Sean and Shayna, born last March. Often, Ashley Jo would come down to the office and be given simple tasks to do. "By having our business here, we could be a part of our children growing up," says Joey.

"It's like modern craft," adds John. "But such is the nature of the cyber world. This is a more natural way to live and work."

He's right, of course. The technical revolution has the potential to lead many back to the days prior to the Industrial Revolution, when livelihoods were pursued from home rather than factories.

Still, Grafix is far from turning back the clock (sorry). John predicts that LCDs will become an increasing part of the landscape of style. "Technology and fashion will come together even more," he predicts. John sees everything from raincoats to attaché cases emblazoned some day with electronically flashing designs and motifs.

Make it so, Grafix. Engage.

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From the November 21-27, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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