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As a certified engraver, Christopher Grunch of Rineyville has done work for the likes of Nordstrom, Macy’s, Dillard’s, Ralph Lauren and Four Roses Bourbon.
The nature of the business, he said, requires him to be part of some special moments, such as when he engraves bottles of wine for anniversaries.
“I’ve had people cry on me and want to hug me,” Grunch said. “That’s fine. They can hug me.”
Sometimes, though, the special moments are unexpected.
Such was the case when he was at an engraving event and had some spare time. For such occasions Grunch carries several small polished stone hearts onto which he will engrave a word and give to passing store patrons.
At one event, he did just that, engraving the word “Smile” onto a pink heart and giving it to a woman who was passing by.
She started to cry.
Then she leaned over and whispered to him she had just been told she had cancer.
The woman, he said, was so moved she stayed and talked with him for a while.
“It opens doors,” he said of the gesture of handing out the engraved hearts.
Not all engraving experiences are quite as bittersweet.
One of Grunch’s favorite engravings was for a man who asked him to write “Date night stink” on his bottle of cologne.
Grunch has also engraved “Congratulations, you’re divorced” on an item before.
The hand engraving Grunch does evolved from his background in calligraphy.
Grunch first took a calligraphy course in 1985 when his mother asked him to escort her pregnant friend to a class. That friend paid tuition for him to take the class.
When, in 2005, Grunch’s sister wanted him to use his calligraphic skills to etch a candle holder with an electric etching tool he gave it a try.
“It looked terrible,” Grunch said.
Years after trying various engraving tools without satisfaction, he found Ken Brown, an internationally-known calligrapher, engraver and author. Grunch studied under Brown in Dallas and went through a certification process which involved more than 10 weeks of training.
Brown developed a method of engraving with a dental drill that operates at over 300,000 rotations per minute and allows engraving with very little effort.
When he originally became interested in learning to hand engrave, Grunch anticipated doing an occasional engraving for friends or even in connection with his job at the U.S. Bullion Depository, where workers can submit coin designs for consideration.
That wasn’t the case.
Grunch eventually had to open a studio in 2010 where he does some of his work.
“My bread and butter is going to events,” he said.
Department stores hire Grunch by the hour to do complimentary engravings on perfume and cologne bottles, cosmetics, wine and champagne glasses, brandy snifters and other items. For other clients he has engraved knives, guns, bourbon bottles, wine and champagne bottles and golf clubs.
His work often requires him to engrave some very expensive items, including bottles of Clive Christian fragrance, which touts itself as “The World’s Most Expensive Perfume.” A 1.7-ounce bottle of Clive Christian “No. 1” Men's Pure Perfume Spray, for example, is listed at the Nordstrom website for $865.
“You don’t want to mess those up,” Grunch said.
Such a mess up would be costly to the engraver. The cost would fall to him, whether it was a bottle of perfume or a bottle of wine or bourbon.
“If I make a mistake I have to eat it ... or drink it,” Grunch joked.
Expensive items are not limited to fragrances, either.
“I did a $3,000 gun the other day,” he said.
He no longer pays attention to the cost of the item, he said. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t still get nervous.
“I’m still terrified the first bottle I do at every event,” Grunch said.
Eventually, he said, he’d like to do mostly wine and bourbon bottle engravings, moving away from fragrances. He still does calligraphy for wedding invitations and other special occasions.
The work he thought he would do only on occasion takes up a lot of the time he has when he’s not working at the depository, sometimes resulting in 24-hour work days.
“All year it’s busy,” he said.
Robert Villanueva can be reached at (270) 505-1743 or email@example.com.