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How This California Jewelry Retailer’s Brainstorm Fostered a Sense of Unity in the Midst of Natural Disasters

After cities are devastated by fire and mud, jewelers offer emotional boost.

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A powerful message on a burned-out Ventura home.

With fire raging through Ventura, CA, on the night of Dec. 4, Debbie and George Fox left their home and took refuge in their car. When they finally could make it to their downtown store, Fox Fine Jewelry, they camped out on the floor. Within a couple of days though, before the smoke had begun to clear, the Foxes were looking for ways to help their neighbors, many of whom had lost their homes to the Thomas fire.

Fox has a tradition of giving away jewelry to people in need of an emotional boost. In 2009, Fox Fine Jewelry offered a free “Hearts of Hope” sterling silver pendant to the unemployed on Valentine’s Day, an initiative that garnered tremendous goodwill in the community and, over time, around the country. Years later, recipients return to the store, wearing their necklaces and sharing their stories of how they pulled themselves out of the recession. They still remember the retailer’s kindness that gave them hope during a bleak time, and many have become loyal customers.

This time, they decided the giveaway had to be even more significant. So they designed a Ventura Wave necklace with a 5-point diamond. “I encouraged people who lost their homes to take this as a gift that had meaning in the beginning of their healing,” Debbie says. “Because most of these people in Ventura, at least those who left on that first night, left with nothing.”

They wanted to give something to everyone who had lost their home. At first, that number seemed to be about 150. But by Dec. 14, 900 homes in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties had been destroyed. The fire had burned more than 242,500 acres and was only 30 percent contained. Within weeks, 175 people had come to the store to claim a necklace. 

In response to the expanding devastation, George designed a second pendant, too, with the message “Thrive 805,” for residents within the whole area code, recognizing that the tragedy had spread beyond their town. A pendant for the community of Ojai soon followed. Floods were followed on Jan. 9 by mudslides that devastated Montecito and killed 23 people. And as more people who did not lose their houses began buying them as a symbol of unity, they decided to donate half of the proceeds to the Thomas Fire and Flood Fund.

“We were grief counselors,” Debbie says. “People were coming in with their masks on and crying, showing us videos of their houses going up in flames.”

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Jewel-Craft helped them keep up with the demand as orders outstripped their shop’s capacity. Within a couple of months, they’d given away 500 necklaces and raised $50,000 for charity. Still, they struggled just to cover costs from overtime and credit card fees to boxes, wrapping, administrative costs and commission. It drained resources in the shop and the sales floor. 

Christmas shopping in Ventura was not what anyone expected, but Fox Fine Jewelry saw crowds every day as a result of their generosity. “The amount of good will that we have created from this simple act puts our business in a completely different light for people,” Debbie says. “This necklace is becoming a symbol of strength. It’s becoming an iconic kind of thing.”

The giveaway has been featured on local TV news and on the front page of the local paper. And it gave the Foxes something they weren’t afraid to advertise. “The necklaces made all the difference. Our Christmas was almost as good as the year before, which is really amazing, because I had written Christmas off.” People began bringing in their fire-ravaged jewelry for restoration, too. “It’s built a level of trust you can’t buy,” Debbie says. “You cannot advertise your way into this. There’s something important about being given something by a stranger. It’s just precious to people.”


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Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.

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This Jeweler Set Up Shop In Grand Central Station

Her travel-themed jewelry is a hit with tourists and locals alike.

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FAR-FLUNG ADVENTURES and an affinity for whimsy inspired Nicole Parker King’s creation of a line of jewelry with a travel theme.

She’s visited more than 50 countries, and like many a peripatetic traveler, is always searching for a treasure to remind her of a favorite destination.

“I was looking for something small, chic, collectible and wearable that would remind me of my most special memories on my travels,” she says. “You can sometimes find charms in different locations, but there was nothing that covered all of the places I’d been, so I had to create it.”

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She launched her wanderlust-inspired Jet Set Candy jewelry collection in 2014 featuring luggage-tag charms and charms depicting airplanes, mermaids, seashells, in silver, gold-plated and 14K gold. The jewelry was sold on her own website and in boutiques and gift shops across the U.S. The packaging is bright and plush. The whole collection is presented in a passport-style book with photos and pricing.

“We really did pretty awesomely from the get-go,” she says. But something was missing.

“I don’t think it’s possible to build a true brand just living online, digital only,” she says. “People need to experience the physicality of a space for a brand to exist and for people to care about it. We’ve done a lot of pop-ups in the past but hated the transient nature of only having the pop-ups.”

In July, she opened a 316-square-foot store in New York’s Grand Central Terminal, and for the first time was able to fine-tune visual merchandising to reflect the brand’s playfulness.

There’s a lot going on in the small space, including perfect Instagram opportunities: A 6-foot-tall hot pink Statue of Liberty, and a closet transformed into a travel shrine with a floor-to-ceiling, travel-inspired collage.

There’s a mint-green ceiling, travel quotes on the walls and a custom-designed backlit cash wrap highlighting a map of the world. The store also features an engraving machine on site for personalization. Consumers shop by continental regions, creating a unique flow to the experience. The overall theme of “The World” is juxtaposed with “New York City.”

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A central island is dedicated to all things New York as well as rings with travel-themed slogans and necklaces spelling out “wanderlust.”

“People have seemed delighted to stumble upon it, and long-time customers are excited we have a permanent home for the brand,” King says. “I think there is always going to be a place, especially for jewelry, to see the product up close and try it on. No place is better than Grand Central for our audience, which is a good mix of tourists and New Yorkers.”

Nicole Parker King

King, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, studied graphic design and has career experience in branding. She lived with her husband, a diplomat, in India, where she learned about jewelry from artisans. Her jewelry designs are heavy with graphics and she does all the technical drawings.

Although Jet Set Candy is her first foray into jewelry, she’s loved it all of her life. “I had my own charm bracelet when I was a kid, a sterling bracelet from James Avery.

“My favorite type of jewelry is whimsical quirky pieces that tell stories and have the smile factor.”

The long-term plan is to open additional stores in airports. But short-term, she’d like to try pop-ups to test target destinations including Los Angeles, London and Las Vegas.

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Tacos, Tequila and Tattoos: Gold Casters’ Contest Draws a Diverse Crowd in Bloomington, IN

Unusual event infuses King Baby jewelry line launch with excitement.

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Flyers combined with a radio and social-media marketing campaign created interest.

FINE JEWELRY STORES often face the challenge of balancing elegance with approachability. Tequila, tacos and tattoos go a long way toward melting the ice, discovered Brad Lawrence of Gold Casters Fine Jewelry in Bloomington, IN.

Lawrence, who specializes in bridal jewelry and high-end watches, found a fun way to break down those threshold barriers on a Saturday with, of all things, a social-media-friendly tattoo contest to introduce the jewelry line King Baby.

Lawrence considered it the perfect complement for King Baby, which he describes as having an edgy biker look. In addition, he surmised that people who like to adorn their body with works of art would also find a deep personal connection with jewelry.

“We are what would be called a guild jeweler, and we are always trying to look for ideas that are more on the casual side,” Lawrence says. “Most of our events in the past have been black-tie or at least more traditional.” Yet Bloomington, IN, is a college town where students make up a significant percentage of the 100,000 population.

He called the event Tacos, Tequila and Tattoos.

Once he had conceived the idea, Lawrence worked with his affiliated marketing experts on getting the word out. The store placed flyers with a Harley Davidson dealer and biker bars, along with a bevy of print and social media marketing created by Porte Marketing. The event was also promoted with a radio campaign orchestrated by Roy Williams.

On the day of the event, margarita-sipping shoppers lined up for the taco bar, purchased pieces from the jewelry collection and were invited to share the story of their tattoos with the store staff, who judged the contest. Each participant received a $25 gift certificate. The contest winner received a $250 gift certificate.

Those who shared their tattoo stories defied any stereotypical expectations. “It was a much more diverse crowd than I would have expected,” Lawrence says. “We had people in their 60s and 70s with tattoos. Some people had full sleeves.

Several people had investments of $10,000 or more in tattoos.

“The event was very inclusive of our community and yet brought in a different demographic for us. It was a way of gaining new customers and having people feel more comfortable. Without question, 90 percent of the people we saw that day were new faces.”

After the event, the marketing team invited others among the tattoo-clad Bloomington population to share photos and stories of their tattoos on Gold Casters’ social media, continuing to give participants $25 gift certificates and also selecting an online winner by Facebook vote, who was awarded another $250 gift certificate.

The stories behind the tattoos turned out to be fascinating, Lawrence says, and in all about 100 people shared their stories in store or online with photos or videos.

King Baby is known as a men’s line, primarily, which the store needs, but it also has the magical versatility of being unisex. “We turned our entire investment in the line,” he says. “We sold all of the highest-end pieces we had in stock.”

The event attracted media coverage on social channels, on the radio and in the newspaper. “It was very well received by the community. People are still talking about it today.”

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Santa Fe’s Reflective Jewelry Aligns with Owners’ Ethics

Fairtrade Gold designation puts the focus on miners.

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Marc Choyt and Helen Chantler work to ensure their business aligns with their environmental and ethical beliefs.

MARC CHOYT AND HIS wife, Helen Chantler, of Santa Fe, NM, have been focused on green initiatives for decades, in all aspects of life.

“We bought land in northern New Mexico in the ‘90s, and there was a creek bed there that was badly eroded from over-grazing to the point that there were cliffs instead of gentle banks,” Choyt says. “We began to realize the impact we have locally and globally. That is a core value for us.”

Their business, Reflective Jewelry, a custom and designer jewelry studio, has been named Green Business of the Year by the city of Santa Fe and Santa Fe’s Chamber of Commerce. “This is a great honor, especially given the industry we’re in and the fact that Santa Fe is a green business city,” Choyt says.

Reflective Jewelry is the only Fairtrade Gold jeweler in the United States, a certification they received in 2015.

“Though there are over 250 Fairtrade Gold jewelers in the UK, we are still the only Fairtrade Gold jewelers in the entire USA,” says Choyt. “We produce our entire two-tone line and much of our bridal collection in Fairtrade Gold. This supports local economies, alleviates poverty and reduces global mercury contamination for small-scale gold producers. Because it’s an international brand and is the only system that audits suppliers and jewelers, it is the best option to create a foundation for responsible jewelry.”

Fairtrade Gold was only one reason, though, that the city of Santa Fe recognized Reflective Jewelry. The shop uses LED lighting, washable cloth towels, biodegradable bags for shipping, organic dish soap and non-toxic floor cleaners. Jewelers use citric acid for pickling, fluoride-free flux, a soap-based solution for tumbling, sink traps for catching heavy metals, and vacuums that capture dust and compounds—all of which are recycled. Their landscape garden, once a concrete foundation, now has mature apricot and cherry trees and native plants fed by water channeled off their roof.

Chantler, an experienced bench jeweler, launched her jewelry design business in 1994, while Choyt led the sales effort, initially concentrating on distributing jewelry to 250 stores and catalogs.

By 2001, they refocused on online sales and their own retail store. Today, six people work in the shop and the store.

Along the way, they began using recycled metals in production, which was a logical place to start, Choyt explains, but doesn’t address the big picture. “Basically, gold is going to be mined, and that’s independent of how much is used by jewelers. If we’re going to really make an impact, we have to support small-scale mining communities.”

When Choyt explains to customers that the Fairtrade Gold designation is the same well-known global brand used for Fairtrade coffee and chocolate, they are “astonished that I’m the only one operating this way, out of a small shop in Santa Fe,” he says.

So while Choyt can point to numerous 5-star Google reviews and show clients the studio where the jewelry is made, he can also ensure ethical, fair-trade sourcing from mine to market, adding another level of authority and credibility.

“Certainly one of the most important elements of any jeweler is reputation. Fairtrade Gold is just another thing that makes people feel really good about buying from us,” he says.

When the U.S. consumer market adopts Fairtrade Gold, he says, hundreds of thousands (or possibly millions) of small-scale miners finally will find their lives improved.

“When this happens, we’ll be able to point to our small studio on Baca Street as one of the catalysts.”

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