The art of Christmas ornaments: How Hallmark makes its collectible holiday Keepsakes

Hallmark is not just about greeting cards; the Kansas City-based company is also known for sentimental holiday ornaments. This year, Hallmark collectors can choose from 516 unique ornament designs.

Jim Tronoski is the product development director of Keepsakes and Hallmark brand ornaments. Recently he talked with us about the most wonderful time of the year — although for Tronoski, the holiday season lasts all year long.

Kansas City SPACES: Do the ornaments’ colors and materials follow trends for the year?

Jim Tronoski: We do look at trends, but it isn’t as driven (by trends) in the Keepsakes category. We want it to be fresh, but it’s more about, ‘Does it make sense?’ My job is to look at everything holistically. If we’re doing a baking theme, I want to make sure there is a good range within the line. We don’t want to get too repetitive in the same themes.

SPACES: Who designs the ornaments?

JT: There are 35 artists, two editorial directors and three engineers. It’s a highly creative group of specialized talent. We have four Master Artists in the studio who have worked in a variety of areas and backgrounds, and it’s not a coincidence that some of the most beloved ornaments that define Keepsake come from them.

SPACES: How far back does the Keepsakes collection go?

JT: Keepsakes is celebrating 45 years in 2018. It was developed and designed right here at Hallmark in 1973 with six simple glass balls and 12 characters made of yarn. They’re really adorable and cute.

We are in our 39th year of a series of an Eskimo story — a boy with his dog and their adventures. It’s all about innocent fun in different situations, like going ice skating. The series lives on because it’s still relevant.

We also have a nostalgic Christmas series — as in, ‘What did life look like in the 1950s for those of us who didn’t live it?’ What is something we can channel? We look in our imaging vault and reissue past ornaments in vintage packaging. Of course, we weren’t actually making them in the ’50s, but I think it’s the filter of what we bring to it that’s unique.

SPACES:Does the second group of ornaments you oversee have less traditional themes?

JT: Hallmark brand is a younger line — eight years (old) — with exclusive rights for licensing Disney, Warner Bros., Mattel and Lego names. It’s for people who want to buy Spider-Man for their son or Wonder Woman for their daughter. We are trying to go where people want to go. We have the Christmas enthusiast who wants beautiful Santas, and on the other side, we have consumers looking for something in the “wheels” category, such as an old Mustang.

SPACES: Is anything new in the ornament industry?

JT: We have a category unique to the market. Storytellers Interactive Ornaments feature sound, light and movement when plugged in and can synchronize. They are like actors in a movie that deliver lines and interact with each other.

SPACES: Do some ornaments become serious collector’s items?

JT: There is a secondary market. Hooked on Hallmark is a site dedicated to resale. People go there to find the missing pieces in their collection. Our tendency is to not reissue a No. 1 in a series, but maybe we’d repaint it or make a different version of it.

SPACES: How do you cater to collectors?

JT: There are exclusives for big events like Comic-Con, where we might make a limited run of an obscure Star Wars character. And we have the Keepsake Ornament Club, which you can join to up that whole experience of getting a special product. We hold conventions with artists to sign their work (and plan) seminars and stage events to celebrate the artists and the fans.

Is it always Christmas in July for Hallmarkers?

I kind of decorate all year and add things here and there. The company puts up beautiful trees that are very trend-forward. As soon as that happens, everybody else kind of catches up to us.