Preserving Memories: One Grain At A Time

Michele Krempa found herself initially interested in glass beads nearly thirteen years ago. She began working with jewelry and glass beads as a hobby, but it quickly built up in to something amazing. Upon realizing that the beads she wanted to work with were rather pricey, she decided to pursue creating them herself. With a background in chemistry, she had an interest in glass that began in school, “chemists have a bizarre affinity for glass,” she joked. Six months after taking a bead making class, Michele was out on the art circuit selling her glass beads at top jewelry and art shows, and has continued to do so for 10 years.

In learning the process, it took Michele a good six months just to make perfectly round beads. This does not include decorating them or coming up with innovative styles. “It’s a very creative medium, working with the glass, because there are so many colors,” she says. “There are two types of glass,” she continues, “soft and hard. Although more difficult to work with because you have to work faster, I use the soft glass because I like the colors that are available and have an eye for putting them together. You need to have a really good eye for color. I was once told by a glass artist that if you could put colors together that was half the battle.”

Michele is best known for her award winning sculptural glass beads, which required a delicate hand and a commitment to precision. She sculpted and line of ocean themed beads including mermaids and fish. “It’s very difficult to do sculptural soft glass work because as the glass cools, and you reintroduce it to the flame, it wants to crack, but you have to keep the piece warm to work on it. In addition, as you’re keeping the piece warm, you have to be careful not to melt the details you’ve already created,” she states. “Glass working is a very precise artwork. You have to practice hour after hour,” says Michele.

Michele is her toughest critic, “I want to do better every year and if I can’t, I told myself I’d quit. So you might say I challenge myself,” she joked. This dedication was key in getting Michele where she is today.

Michele began to realize how truly special her beads were when she attended a jewelry show in Ocean City, Maryland one autumn. She had 60+ Ocean City themed beads sell out almost immediately upon arriving, it took less than twenty minutes, and she was empty handed.

 

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After returning home, to quickly make more beads for the next day of the show, Michele’s husband John presented her with a challenge, “Wouldn’t it be cool if you could put sand in these beads?” he asked her. Michele began to think of how much sense this made because it would allow customers to keep a piece of their favorite beach with them at all times. However, this idea posed a few major problems. Michele assumed that since the sand would melt during the bead making process, the idea might be impossible. However, armed with such a great idea, she decided to give it a try anyways. What resulted was not only any entirely new, innovative, and personal jewelry line, but also the birth of a national jewelry brand, Beach Memories Jewelry Collection.

With her new line in hand, Michele decided to attend the Miami trade show. Here she picked up ten clients almost instantly. Between these new clients and the two jewelry stores she was already supplying, Michele knew she could not keep up with the sales volume on her own, so she reached out to a small manufacturer in West Virginia that she knew could help her.

Michele went into the manufacturer and personally trained the staff in her glass work techniques. She then began to advertise through word of mouth as well as mailers and phone calls to jewelers. Soon enough Michele’s beads were receiving more attention than ever before, and the inquiries began pouring in. Her beads were creating such a buzz that it wasn’t long before her manufacturer called her to say his facility could no longer handle the volume of the demand.

Today Michele works in conjunction with Montesino International in the Dominican Republic. “They have amazing artists there,” she says, “they are the most wonderful people and it is truly a joy to go there and work within the Dominican culture.”

At the facility there are 14 glass artists that Michele has personally trained with a training process that is close to six months long. Michele and the glass artists strive to produce handmade beads that maintain a high quality. “Every bead is one of a kind. They are never exactly the same,” she says. Michele prides herself on maintaining this quality and holds herself and her beads to a very high standard. “I don’t want to brag,” she says, “but I think the quality of our beads surpasses anyone else at this point.” And she’s right, the standards and process put in place by her and the glass artists shines through strongly, allowing each and every bead to feel truly like a treasure.
_MG_5066 - CopyThe Beach Memories beads are affordable, very high quality and help preserve vacation memories. All of their products are comprised of rhodium plated sterling silver componwents. The collection is very near and dear to Michele who grew up in Baltimore taking family vacations to the Ocean City Beach. “You grow up with these memories of the beach,” she states, “and you have an affinity for it. I just thought about how nice it would be to be able to give somebody the way I feel about my beach, and to give them a little piece of that emotion to take back with them and know that they will always have it. That’s really the driving force of the entire business.”

Michele’s beads aren’t just specific to coastal beaches. There are Great Lakes beads, beads with sand from baseball fields and even golf courses. The possibilities are endless and there can certainly be a bead for almost every memory. “We want to make people happy, and we can adapt this idea to so many things in order to do so” says Michele. “We pride ourselves on the quality of our work and bringing joy to people in preserving their memories, that’s what we’re all about. We just want to make people smile when they see our jewelry,” she says.

In addition to her current work, there is a lot on the horizon for Michele. “Moving forward, I would like to get into designer pieces as I get better. We can design some really fabulous pieces, with more silver and gold that will really highlight the glass,” she says. Recently she has released a collection of region specific work. From the eastern shore of Maryland down to Florida and to the Alaskan Coast, New York and the Caribbean, these new lines include a lot or ground. Each piece will include color specific beads as well as charms to represent each region. With the help of her amazing metal smiths and glass artists these new complex pieces are sure to make waves in the industry.

 

 

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Author:Jewelry Business Advisor

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