Denver-based jeweler revives ancient jewelry style with a modern twist
(DENVER) - An ancient style of jewelry is finding new meaning in the 21st century as more people look for inspiration, motivation and emotional connection in their lives.
“More and more, we’re seeing that people want a visible reminder of the universal themes that connect all human beings,” said Denver-based jeweler BB Becker.
Becker designs and manufactures jewelry engraved with emotion-evoking quotations. He said he took his inspiration from Renaissance-era “poesy rings” to create pieces of mostly sterling silver inspirational jewelry. He crafted his first piece in September of 2000, a bracelet inscribed with the Serenity Prayer.
Becker said he had been making jewelry as a hobby for several years when he found himself at a personal and professional crossroads. An emotional trip to an ancient Mayan site opened a pathway for him to follow through with his jewelry, and that first Serenity Prayer bracelet led to other meaningful quotations and new pieces of jewelry.
“I did some research and discovered that rings engraved with phrases of love and adoration were popular beginning in the 15th century,” Becker said. “It seemed that style might work with a more contemporary feel.”
He started designing and finding manufacturing sources, ultimately developing a new, proprietary engraving process. He asked his wife to help by providing the calligraphy for each quotation. In addition to the Serenity Prayer there were styles featuring the Navajo Prayer and the Protection Prayer by James Dillet Freeman, inspired by astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s trip to the moon in 1969.
By 2001, Becker had several samples and was beginning to show them around to potential buyers at various jewelry trade shows. He sent out brochures to potential sales outlets on the West Coast in May of 2002. Within weeks, the momentum he’d built up in his fledgling business came to a crashing halt. A San Francisco-based jewelry designer claimed he’d infringed on her designs and ordered him to stop. Becker’s lawyer wrote back a denial, pointing out differences in their designs and quotations used.
Two years later, Becker was finding more success for his designs, including an invitation to the prestigious International New York Gift Fair, when the same designer sued him in New York federal court, alleging trade dress infringement and unfair competition; she sued several others, as well. Becker enlisted pro bono help from Chris Beale, a lawyer volunteering for Colorado Lawyers for the Arts, and teamed up with New York law firm Latham & Watkins. Their research led them to Joyce Jonas, an antique jewelry expert most known for her work with television’s “Antique Roadshow.”
“Joyce Jonas was a lifeline for us, proving that engraving sentiments on pieces of jewelry was an historic concept that could not be claimed exclusively by a contemporary artist,” Becker said.
The six-day jury trial attracted the interest of jewelry trade publications as well as local news publications. In October 2005, Becker won a verdict in his favor. He said the inspirational jewelry genre is now open for even the biggest of companies to produce.
“But I think my designs are still unique and very meaningful,” Becker said. “Especially for people seeking to connect on an emotional level.”
Becker said he and his wife are now constantly on the hunt for quotations that communicate heartfelt sentiments. He said he seeks out quotes that speak to him in some way, searching antique bookstores and history books for inspiration.
The BB Becker line has grown in the last decade to encompass more than 100 pieces – rings, bracelets and pendants including some pieces for men. In addition to the original Serenity Prayer, the words of Mahatma Gandhi, Buddha, Helen Keller, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Psalms have also been used, among others. He has recently added some bronze items to broaden the jewelry’s appeal. Each piece is individually made, and the engraving is still in his wife’s distinctive cursive handwriting. Becker’s jewelry is sold in more than 100 stores nationwide.
“My jewelry helps remind them of the words of comfort and support they want to share,” Becker says.
The BB Becker collection can be viewed online at www.bbbecker.com.