Day Job/Night Job: Metal and Creativity Collide at CRASH Jewelry
Written by Ed Attanasio, Autobody News
Published December 1, 2020
When your average metal technician looks at a damaged bumper, hood, door or quarter panel, their first instinct is to try and fix it.
But, when Christi Schimpke, founder of CRASH Jewelry in western Los Angeles, CA, sees any of these automotive parts, her perspective is dramatically different, fueled by her creativity and an artistic eye.
Schimpke makes sustainable jewelry from the metal of luxury automobiles for men and women.
Her husband, Dan, is the co-owner of Beverly CoachCraft, a 41-year-old shop specializing in repairing late-model Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi, Bentley, Porsche, Rolls-Royce, Maserati and other high-end vehicles. It’s a perfect source for parts from high-end cars, after anything from fender benders all the way to complete totals.
In 2013, Schimpke decided to set up her studio at CoachCraft and that’s when the magic began.
“While I was in my studio, making more traditional jewelry from silver and gold, I noticed these beautiful cars that were coming into the shop every day,” she said. “The paint reminded me of enamel, so I began wondering if I could create something with those fenders and doors and give them a second life.”
Schimpke’s husband, a former technician, has helped with her business every step of the way, she said.
“He began as a technician, so he knows a lot about the metals and the paint how they can be manipulated. If I have any questions, I have an in-house consultant right here to provide answers and he has been such a plus.”
When Schimpke came up with the initial concept for CRASH Jewelry, she knew it was doable but wasn’t sure how to proceed.
“I made a few mistakes at the beginning, but as I developed techniques for taking metal off cars and creating polished jewelry from it, I got better and better," she said. "Over the past few years, I’ve refined my process to the point where many people can’t initially believe that those earrings or that cuff actually started as part of a vehicle.”
When Schimpke started receiving accolades and great reviews for her first few pieces, from parts off a Ferrari 360 Challenge Stradale, she was obviously thrilled.
“I love the fact that people are continually surprised when they realize that a cuff or a necklace is made from a hood, door or quarter panel of a car,” she said. “When they find out that it’s from a vehicle, they are shocked and want to learn more about the process. By experimenting, we have developed methods to manually manipulate steel and aluminum, without affecting the car’s original paint.”
Since its inception, the sales at CRASH Jewelry have increased by 400%, and today its inventory has grown from 30 to 100-plus items. The company has been featured in numerous publications, radio and television programs.
"A guest on [the fifth season of] Jay Leno’s Garage was wearing one of my cuffs, and models on the runway during L.A.’s Fashion Week wore some of my jewelry as well," Schimpke said. The clientele at CRASH Jewelry spans a diverse demographic, including car enthusiasts, fashionistas, artisanal crafters and those who simply enjoy a good story about something handmade, Schimpke said.
“We take pride in our collection, and often embellish our creations with quality gemstones and cabochons," she said. "In this age of mass production, handmade craftsmanship seems to be a thing of the past, which is what makes CRASH Jewelry so special.”
Bracelets---aka cuffs---are Schimpke’s best sellers, making up almost 80% of her total sales. They range in price from $50 to $1,100, but average between $100 and $150.
“Three years ago, the business became viable and I started making a profit,” she said. “I’ve created approximately 3,000 pieces overall since day one. I get a ton of return customers and many people buy items from us for corporate gifts or will purchase gift cards, so that people can pick the jewelry they prefer.”
CRASH Jewelry is committed to being all-in when it comes to being a green business by repurposing discarded metal.
“We also donate a portion of every sale to multiple charities, and love to participate in fundraising events such as animal rescue, free legal aid, education and hospice throughout the year,” she said. “If an artist can use their art to help nonprofit organizations and causes I believe in, that’s so satisfying.”
Every once in a while, Schimpke’s day gets a little brighter when she finds out about some prime Lamborghini, Ferrari or unusual parts, for example.
“The most unique and special items that I’ve ever made have to be from a Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera,” she said. “That one stands out, including the five cuffs I did for an Australian race driver with parts from a 1954 456 Porsche. He crashed it, so I got a ton of metal from that one vehicle.”
In 2019, Schimpke found out about Susan Purkhiser, a stuntwoman who lost her beloved BMW in the 2018 Woolsey Fire that hit Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
“Her friends sent me a piece of fire damaged metal from the vehicle, and I made a cuff with it,” Schimpke said. “She was moved when she received it, and, of course, we were delighted as well.”
As the media continues to embrace CRASH Jewelry and more and more high-profile celebrities buy her pieces, Schimpke sees a great future for her company.
“I love doing this, and as long as luxury car owners will get into accidents, I will never run out of parts to turn into jewelry.”