With over 2 decades of experience and thousands of hours helicopter time plus 14 books and 5 videos to his credit, Russ Heinl is recognized as one of Canada’s foremost aerial photographers. His love of aviation, photography and adventure has taken him over virtually every corner of Canada and Alaska as well as over America and Europe. However this is not what grabbed my attention. I stumbled across Russ’ site at DeadRingers.com and I had to learn more about it.
Mike: Russ, you mentioned to me that the site, DeadRingers.com, is fairly new. How long has it been up and where did the idea come from?
Russ: Yes the Dead Ringers site is fairly new and the line has not officially launched yet although we are about to do that. The last few years has been spent developing the digital skulls, the 3-D CAD design work and precision molds that were done in Germany as we needed the highest quality possible and the Europeans are known for this.
So you asked where did the idea come from. As you know Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top owns two of our Dead Ringers “Jimi” (Jimi Hendrix) skull rings and Billy asked me the same question. As I explained to him I blame the whole thing on Keith Richards as I was looking at a portrait photo of Keith and he had his hands on this face and his infamous skull ring was in full view. I call this the light switch moment; when looking at the ring I thought to myself “that is a cool ring but wouldn’t it be really cool if it was HIS skull?” Then I thought what a twisted thought but I couldn’t put it down and a few days later I started exploring forensic sculpting ( facial reconstruction ) to see if it was possible to create a digital model of Keith’s skull, we used about 50 photographs and police mug shots for this. Once Keith was done then I moved on to “Jimi” and then the rest of the line took shape. These skull rings are exact recreations of these artist’s skulls with a degree of artistic license taken to make them wearable.
Mike: The rings are pretty bad ass. You actually make them?
Russ: Thanks, glad we got your attention. As I like to say in a previous life I was in the rock & roll industry and am now a photographer doing aerial work and car racing photography however I am not a jeweler, that is why I hired the best in the industry to help me develop the line from it’s initial concept. The silver rings are cast and finished in Canada and the gold and diamond versions are done in Germany.
Mike: DeadRingers.com is a premium domain name. Tell me about how you acquired it and can you share the purchase price?
Russ: Dead Ringers started as DeadRingers.ca as the .com was of course taken. A bit of history for you here: The name of the company is perfect for a few reasons. First we are dealing with “Dead” and human skulls with the exception of Keith and that is whole other story. Then we have “Ringers” and we make rings. The real hook here is that the origins of the phrase “Dead Ringers” means “an exact duplicate or replica” which is what we’ve done by recreating these famous rock star skulls. The phrase “Dead Ringers” was originally used as a “ringer” was a stand-in for a horse race when owners would secretly replace a slower horse with a faster horse of vice versa for later betting purposes. So of course the horses had to look very similar in order to pull off this con. The use of the word “dead” here is like “dead on” or “dead right”.
Now back to your question Mike. We had DeadRingers.ca and I never dreamed of owning DeadRingers.com as it was such a premium domain name then one day out of the blue I had an email from a domain registrar who had sniped DeadRingers.com as it was let go by the former owner. They had a price in mind in the low 4 figures but we ended up buying it for about $500.00 which I believe was money well spent. To protect the brand we’ve also been busy buying all of the other “Dead Ringers” domain names such as DeadRingers.rocks, DeadRingers.online, DeadRingers.jewelry etc etc.
Mike: I realize the site is young, but how much traffic are you receiving at this point? What means are you planning to use to promote the site in the future?
Russ: As mentioned the site is very young and we have no expectations for how much traffic we ought to be getting at this stage although it is encouraging to see it increasing on a daily basis. In the last two weeks we got Dead Ringers onto Etsy and eBay and began an ad campaign with Google AdWords. We were able to acquire an extensive media contact list that covers all the appropriate media outlets in North America and Europe, we will be sending out press releases to all of them in the next few weeks. We are at the moment working with a few other celebrities so we are holding off on the press releases until a few things are finalized.
Last week we became an official sponsor of Rock Legends Cruise VI 2018 which is a hugely successful floating rock and roll cruise going into its 6th year of operation. Each Rock Legends Cruise sailing has about 2,000 die hard rock fans aboard and the entertainment is supplied by about 15 to 20 famous rock bands that play through out the cruise. As a sponsor we will be featured in all their newsletters and member updates, their membership list is very, very large so we know Dead Ringers will enjoy a lot of exposure from our association with them. We are also planning a few other high profile sponsorships.
Mike: There are celebrities wearing your rings, people like Johnny Depp. Have you gotten feedback from these celebs?
Russ: Yes we do have a few celebrities wearing Dead Ringers skull rings. Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top is a friend and he has been very supportive of what we do and as you know he owns two of our “Jimi” rings, I recall when I gave them to him he said in his distinctive Texas drawl “Nice….. really nice. And the background story…… priceless”. The “Jimi” rings have special meaning for Billy as his first band the Moving Sidewalks toured with Jimi Hendrix in early ’68, both guitarists became close friends.
Richard Rawlings the star of the reality TV show Fast N Loud, owner of the Gas Monkey Garage and Gas Monkey Bar N Grill owns a “Jimbo” (Jim Morrison) skull ring and he has told me a few times how pleased he is with “Jimbo”.
Johnny Depp I’ve not spoken to directly as I work with his publicist and she has passed on that JD likes his “Keith” (Keith Richards) ring.
Mike: How is it running an online store? What are some of the challenges you’ve experienced?
Russ: The first challenge was getting from the concept of recreating a person’s skull to the making of fine art jewelry and I think we did a good job of that. The next hurtle is getting recognized online in a world awash with so many competing products. I have no idea how many people or companies are making skull rings but safe to say there are hundreds of them. So how do you get noticed with all that competition? We have a few things going in our favor. First, we have a truly unique product in that we are the only ones to ever use forensic sculpting or facial reconstruction to recreate a person’s skull and then take that digital skull and turn it into fine jewelry.
Secondly, we have rock and roll celebrity on our side in that we have recreated the skulls of four of rocks greatest legends. Everyone loves a great story that accompanies a fine product and I think we’ve got that. Now the next challenge is getting the word out there and getting some media buzz happening.