Surgeon uses same tools to mend joints, make jewelry

Dr. Mike Crovetti broke a bone and found a career.

As a college football quarterback, Crovetti stepped in a hole midgame and snapped his ankle. Crovetti hit it off with the orthopedist who repaired his joint, and later tagged along to watch the doctor conduct hip surgery. The experience gave Crovetti a professional goal.

Crovetti moved to Las Vegas in 1999 for post medical school training. Since he opened Crovetti Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine and the Nevada Sports Academy in 2000, he’s seen more than 25,000 patients and performed more than 8,000 surgeries, mostly on shoulders, hips and knees.

Orthopedics also led Crovetti to his side job — a second career as a jewelry maker and retail entrepreneur. On top of fixing bum joints, Crovetti runs Skeletal Metal, a jewelry business that sells bracelets, rings, earrings and pendants made from the same types of steel plates he uses to pin together busted bones. Skeletal Metal went live in June after nearly two years of developing prototypes and getting patents. The company struck an agreement with Ultimate Fighting Championships to promote Skeletal Metal on the UFC Web site, where it’s marketing pieces ranging from $49 to $350.

Question: You knew as soon as you watched your college orthopedist perform hip surgery that you wanted a career in the field yourself. Why?

Answer: I come from a family of builders and carpenters, and every summer, that’s what I did. It was long hours, but it was rewarding seeing something you created and built. Orthopedics was like that. I was so intrigued I wanted to learn more. Then it became kind of a competition. In orthopedics, it’s very difficult to get a residency, the training and the jobs that follow. It became, "OK, now I’ve gotta be an orthopedic surgeon."

Question: What do you like best about orthopedics?

Answer: The people. I love the patients. I’ve developed a friend-and-family referral practice over the years, so I’m taking care of great people, and they’re sending me their great friends and family. The practice has developed a personality. It’s almost like a family practice. And of course, I love the staff at the hospitals and at my office. It makes every day enjoyable.

Question: What gives you the biggest sense of success?

Answer: I’ll give you an example. There’s a new procedure called hip-resurfacing. Instead of replacing the ball and socket, we put a covering over the ball of the hip and put a new socket in. It’s amazing to take a 42-year-old with terrible arthritis and fix that young man’s hip, and have him kiss you on your bald head because he’s just so thankful. With that type of hip replacement, he can run, he can play basketball. I have an ice hockey player, I have a tennis player, a world champion in high-speed waterskiing. I have people doing things at such a high level with new hips. When you see patients who can’t do what they want to do, you fix them and they go do what they want. Every day is a win. You’re constantly winning, every day.

Question: Tell me a little bit about the epiphany that led to Skeletal Metal.

Answer: After an elbow surgery several years ago, a plate was made into a ring, and I wore that ring for six or seven years. Everybody asked me about it. It’s a neat ring because of its unique design, but when you tell people it’s the kind of plate we use to fix broken bones, then you’ve got them. It grosses some people out, but 98 percent of people are like, "That’s amazing." One or two people asked me why didn’t I develop this a little more, and I finally said, "I want to do this." My patients are some of our best customers. They absolutely love it. They think it’s innovative and cutting-edge and different, though no one has asked to have their own plate that was inside them made into jewelry.

Question: Do you make the jewelry yourself?

Answer: We manufacture the plates in North Las Vegas, and all the (plate) benders are here (in Henderson). We have benders now, but in the first three months, I bent just about every piece myself. I did it after hours at night, but when you’re enjoying something, it’s no different than a residency. The excitement keeps you from being tired.

Question: What do you like about Skeletal Metal? What kept you going on into the night?

Answer: It’s creating something that, when people see it, they say, "That’s neat," or, "Wow, look at that." I’ll be out somewhere and I’ll see someone wearing it. We had a launch party in October, and (Olympic champion swimmer) Michael Phelps came. We looked up, and he was in the disc-jockey booth wearing one of our bracelets. Forrest Griffin, the heavyweight UFC champion, came to our launch party, and he was wearing it. It’s just exciting to see people wearing it and liking it.

Question: How would you like to expand Skeletal Metal? Where do you see it headed?

Answer: I would love to see everybody in any action sport, as well as my patients, wearing Skeletal Metal. I just learned we have new entrée into rodeo. Rodeo is a perfect example of a sport with people who, unfortunately, need plates sometimes, and a lot of them would look at (plate jewelry) as a token of their war wounds. Look at motocross, skateboarding, snowboarding — all of these kids with their poor broken bones that I’ve fixed over the years. It’s all about battle wounds for these athletes.

Question: How do you market the company?

Answer: We do a lot of gifting. And the people we gift actually like it. They wear it because they think it’s neat. Also, online marketing is huge. The UFC is tremendous in the world, and their reach certainly supports what we’re trying to do. Mixed martial arts is the fourth most popular sport in the world. We’ve had online sales from Poland, Russia and Canada. We’re also partnering with companies that have distributorships and stores across the country. We’re the first jewelry line in the mixed martial arts space, and we’re also the first jewelry product made from medical devices. That’s two first-to-market opportunities.

Question: What do you see for the future of your medical practice?

Answer: I don’t want anything to change in my practice. I love my patients. I love the surgeries I do. Surgery will constantly evolve. I love to teach. I’ve had amazing opportunities to teach all over the world. It’s been an amazing eight years. I don’t know that I would change my practice at all.

Question: Do you see any other medical devices that would make good jewelry?

Answer: Oh, yeah. A friend of mine in internal medicine just sent me something about aneurism clips. My friends call me and send me things in e-mail, like, "Hey, I saw this today, here’s some great spine hardware."

Question: What has been the hardest thing about starting Skeletal Metal?

Answer: Retail is a space I’m not tremendously familiar with. My advice for any entrepreneur is to surround yourself with great people. I have two partners (baseball’s 1995 American League Rookie of the Year Marty Cordova and Anthony Bonifazio) with connections and knowledge. If you surround yourself with great people, you can be successful in any business.

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at jrobison@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512.

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