Stringing beads seemed like an easy job after singing opera. My jewelry studio Marco Polo Designs grew from zero into a nice success selling to glass galleries, especially Las Vegas. I did the business from 1995 to 2009, when I finally sold it to follow my next passion – healing!
There have been so many chapters in my life, I can’t even remember. Each one was a cathartic shift in my focus and life purpose, often punctuated by life-and-death challenges. Sometimes it was an illness, usually a move to a new city or a new country, a loss of family and friends, and always having to let go of all my possessions and start over. I didn’t want any of these changes. Somehow it was a choice forced upon me. As if the universe asked me: “Ok, do you want to shrivel up and die now? Or do you want to throw yourself into the river of your life and swim?”
What did I learn in jewelry business? I learned about how to build a team, how to be like a mother to my employees. I learned about color and light, about glassmaking and reflections. I had to be consistent and reliable as a human being. In this chapter I suffered great loneliness and jealousy from others, who cannot see the difficulty. I learned the hard way to avoid negative people, and had to extract a few curses. I learned the truth about the financial system, foreign exchange and manipulation in the world. I learned how the system makes success impossible for the small guy, whereas the big guys can build and dissolve businesses on such a large scale, they don’t even care if all is lost, as long as their particular group gets bailed out. In every chapter I learned to disregard fear. And in the end I lost everything – again. Yes, a fantastic learning experience that didn’t hurt me at all. Here are the last photos. Enjoy!
Ice Age Bracelet
Marco Polo Designs began as a collection of exotic Chinese jewelry for the Imperial Tombs of China, a traveling museum show. It became an instant success, and I saved enough money to travel to Italy and buy a few lamp work glass beads. The beauty of the glass was so astounding, that soon the China collection was forgotten, and the focus changed to handmade lampwork beads made in Murano and Venice, Italy. I speak Italian, and somehow was able to invent the beads myself, to befriend and communicate with the best artisans who produced them for me. Each jewelry collection had a theme, name, and color spectrum. Each collection came with a gift card, color image, and an original poem that I wrote for it. Customers cherished the cards too. I sold as Marco Polo Designs and also Giovanna Bartolini, my Italian opera stage name.
The Chocolate Extravagant Necklace, with black glass filigree over gold foil.
I had 12 employees at the peak of the business, and we mostly worked in my converted garage studio. These were very talented and highly intelligent refugees from all over the world, chosen for artistic skill and kind hearts. I loved them all. It’s interesting that our employees could not speak English, but we all communicated perfectly. They trained each other in the techniques. Together we created a powerful bond in a team group.
Almost forgot to say – I invented a bead stringing machine that made a 2-hour necklace in just 20 minutes. THAT was the big secret to success. We strung the necklaces on tiny tubes of liquid silver and liquid gold-plated silver. It made a stunning effect, like tiny filigree threads of light holding these divinely inspired glass beads. Competitors in Venice and also China tried to copy my technique. But they didn’t have the quality creative beads or the bead stringing machine. Some eventually succeeded in reproducing my designs.
I sold the business in 2009 because I was exhausted. It was mostly emotional stress of radically changing Euro-Dollar exchange rates, exhaustion from three trips to Italy each year. Then there was the poor integrity fit with my Las Vegas customer, plus the sheer complexity of inventory management. I was ready to move on, to have my freedom. I had no idea what I would do after that. In fact I stayed on to help the new owners way too long, until I finally BROKE my ankle tripping on a LEAF, and was FORCED to stay home to heal for 6 months. Ha Ha! That was kinda painful, but a gift in disguise!
After 15 years with Marco Polo Designs, I announced to my beloved employees that I was selling, but they would not believe it. I tried to be honest and kind, but their faces showed total disbelief. The amazing part is that they all stayed on with the new owners. Sadly, five years later the new owners went out of business. And the employees REFUSED to LEAVE! They said “No. We’re a team. Just tell Jane, and she will come back.” But by then I was in a different universe. I gave away everything, lost a great deal of money, and I earned my freedom. Yes, it happened that way. Thanks to Marco Polo Designs, now I can write and heal and do service, which otherwise would have been impossible.
I recently found a few photos leftover on the web. This is all that is left of Marco Polo Designs. Here are a few samples. Enjoy!
Lights of Venice – with gold and silver foil cubes
Can’t remember the name. Maybe “Rigoletto”.
Heart Pendant – Can’t remember the name
Primavera, with gold and silver quadro foil.
Snakeskin bracelet with copper screen inside the beads, made by Mazzucco.
Snakeskin set with copper screen inside the beads, made by Mazzucco.
Black Dichroic – can’t remember the name.
San Marco Cubes Earring with 24k gold foil.
Lotus in the Sky with gold and silver foil.
Lavender Nebula Bracelet
Dichroic Cube earring.
A small sample of the Chocolate Jewelry Collection! Yum!
Mona Lisa Earrings