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New Mexico’s Nambe Ware Now Made Overseas

Wed, 05/27/2009 - 5:45am
Mark Oswald, AP Writer

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) -- Nambe is an iconic New Mexico brand associated with the state for decades. In fact, the company's Web site proclaims that since the early 1970s, "gifts of Nambe have been given by our governors and statesmen as symbols of New Mexico's heritage."

So where are those distinctive, silverlike dishes and housewares made from a special alloy and named for an Indian pueblo north of Santa Fe being cast now?

In India and China, said Nambe President Bob Varakian. "To our exact specifications and quality."

"Our product is still the same," Varakian added.

Nambe's Santa Fe foundry is not operating, although it's possible the plant will reopen, Varakian said.

The overseas casting started "probably a year ago," Varakian said. Some polishing operations remain at Nambe's Espanola plant, he said.

"We're still a New Mexico company," Varakian said. He noted that Nambe headquarters is in Santa Fe, distribution and polishing operations are in Espanola, and Nambe has four retail stores in New Mexico.

"We're pretty entrenched in New Mexico," he said.

Nambe is best-known for its proprietary metal alloy cast in a variety of modern designs -- serving dishes, bowls, platters, candlesticks and a long list of other items previously made in New Mexico.

The company has always been linked to New Mexico.

Its Web site has a section called "Nambe and New Mexico" that says its designs "reflect the landscape of their origin the visually stunning and timeless majesty of New Mexico."

"So many things about Nambe have become an integral part of celebration and tradition here in New Mexico," the site says. "It is by honoring Nambe's heritage and keeping an eye on the future that our name has become synonymous with that of our birthplace."

In 2006, the company announced it was closing its Santa Fe polishing department and laying off 26 workers but said at the time that it would continue to cast Nambe ware at the Santa Fe foundry.

Varakian said Monday that Nambe still owns the foundry and its equipment, and the company's "manufacturing people are all still with us," including the vice president for operations.

"We may or may not make products domestically" in the future, he said.

"Right at this moment, we're not," he said.

He said the foreign operation provides the company more flexibility to use new materials or develop additional products "since we're not tied to a single process." He said he hopes the company can increase jobs in distribution and retail in New Mexico.

Varakian couldn't provide specific information about Nambe's job situation.

He said the company has been affected by the economic downturn as tourism has dropped off in Santa Fe, where Nambe has two stores, and as its major wholesalers -- upscale department stores such as Nieman-Marcus, Saks and Nordstrom -- have felt the impact of the recession.

Varakian said it's nothing new for Nambe products to be made elsewhere. "Nambe is first and foremost a design company."

He said the company's crystal comes from Europe, and wood pieces and dinnerware from Thailand. Nambe flatware, currently produced in China, "has never been made here," he said.

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