Years ago, when Facebook first came out, I got an alert from a distant relative’s wife in complete panic.
“Jessica, hi, how are you?” the message started.
“Oh, hi,” I said, a little confused since we had never really had a proper conversation.
“Jessica, I am in London and lost my passport and bank card and I don’t know what to do.”
Being a fourth cousin’s wife, I was touched that she thought of me in her moment of need (which, in retrospect, is not a normal reaction).
“That is awful!” I told her, and said I would try to help her out.
I actually called Western Union, fully intending to wire some money so that this 60-something woman could survive long enough to make it back to the United States.
No, I never sent the money. At the last minute I passed it by my mom. “Jesus Christ Jessica,” she groaned. “Are you serious? It’s fake.”
I would love to say that I haven’t fallen prey to other scams, like the one where a company needs access to your computer immediately or a hostile foreign entity will wipe out your files, but that would be a really big lie.
So, I have been on high alert for fraud in an effort to learn from my mistakes.
After I re-launched my website, I am lying in bed and get a message from a woman who claims she is from T.J.MAXX and is interested in my jewelry.
My boyfriend, who has had to physically stop me from allowing scam companies to access my computer, immediately tells me to erase it.
“Uh, Jess,” he says, with that dubiousness you hear toward people who give strangers access to their computers. “They’re from Russia.”
Thankfully, I still had a modicum of hope and faith, and responded to what turned out to be a lovely and real person, with a real company that sells real jewelry.
Within a few days I went to Framingham and sat with the buyer and laid out my work made from a decade of found objects from around the world.
Then things (strangely) moved quickly, unlike literally every other promising endeavor that has come my way. Before I knew it, I had to figure out how to produce 1700 pieces in under a month. They chose 13 items; one of each would arrive in 100-150 of their stores around the country.
They picked an eclectic mix from various antique saint amulets, to the Puglia lace cuff, aquamarine stud earrings and my Thai Buddha amulet.
This was a seamless process.
Being a one-woman show, it was more like what could go wrong, went wrong, even things you couldn’t possibly predict.
With the help of some amazing RISD students and my steadfast assistant Sydney, we weathered the obstacles tossed our way.
For example, imagine epoxy sealing 900 paper saint images to tiny frames. Now please erase it from your mind. I am sorry for doing that to you.
We laid the frames out on a table, cut out the images to fit inside them, mixed the epoxy resin and dropped a dollop on each piece and then carefully filled in the tiny area. I wore this big magnified headset to see what was going on and would inevitably smear my hair and hands into the mixture. If bubbles formed or colors bled, we would have to feverishly pop the images out with a pin before they dried; thus sticking an army of little saints to our bodies, table and floor.
Then more minor issues arose, like, needing 200 custom-cut aquamarine stones shipped in time to be set in a silver setting then to be plated gold in under a month.
The stones were delayed in Delhi, India for days under a no-fly pollution haze, my silver earring posts didn’t cast so I had to cut every one of them off and get another post soldered, then set 200 stones when they finally arrived.
Several batches of jewelry came back from the plater completely wrong, and had to be re-plated way too many times.
Right before the delivery date, I had to drill larger holes in 600 beads to allow a thicker chain to get through. I didn’t pay any attention to my posture or ergonomics; I am quite sure I did irreparable damage to my hands.
There were some 18-hour days, a few tears (mine, really, when I lost a vital part of a mold), bad budgeting and planning, and moments of absurd cluelessness.
But the deadline came around, and in what now feels like a blur, we packaged it all up in extremely specific formations and sent it out in time. Yes, on time. I can’t believe it either.
Since then, people have kindly sent photographs when they spot the work in one of the 150 stores around the country that are now carrying the pieces.
There’s still jewelry available, so check out your local T.J.MAXX. Since the products are on crazy sale, I think of it as a treasure hunt meets a flash sale.
If you do buy a piece, please know that I touched every one of them, so they are truly handmade.