Each time I enter the private world of a female creative – no matter where in the world I find her – the experience is mystical, almost sacred. Upon reflection, it most certainly is sacred – for all creative endeavors are at their core, an impartation and reflection of our omniscient Creator. The creative space is then a sanctuary for collaboration with spirit. And, for those of us highly attuned, like the allure of the siren’s song – mesmerizingly hypnotic.
I first met Bobbie van der Vlugt a decade ago during an art walk in Miami’s design district. Her collectable pieces have won the hearts of Royals, celebrities and renowned fashion houses. With wide appeal, her clientele ranges from teenaged friends of her daughter to grande dames. Recently, I caught up with her at her tranquil home studio, aptly rooted in the veritable oasis of Coconut Grove.
How did Musa come to be?
My mother had Alzheimer’s and I had to hire a caretaker for her. It was a really difficult time because she lost her independence. She was sad and felt devalued. I was a stay at home mom, with 2 young children – working as a writer from home. I wanted to find something to keep my mother busy and feeling useful. I remembered that my mother had always been creative. She liked to sculpt and was really good with her hands. She made my sister’s wedding dress. She would make my daughter Halloween costumes and dolls…So really, it was a moment of desperation. What project could I give her and the caretaker to do?
I began looking around my home and noticed beads that I had collected from my travels – African beads, Aboriginal beads, Tibetan beads…I had silk pareos from Bali and all over. I started to tear apart the necklaces and shred the silks and braid the lengths. Then, I took these things over to my mom’s and showed her and Olga how to put beads on the strips of fabric. So it started very rough and organic – like the piece I showed you in my office.
How did your mom respond?
I think she liked it because she felt like she was helping me. She loved to feel that she was being helpful and useful. Even years later, she would come and help me in the studio – and my father too, even when he was 89-90, he would come and help – he had been a jeweler and it made him feel good too.
So then you became inspired to create jewelry?
Yes. I began to think, well this looks pretty beautiful actually, and I started to wear them out.
Do you remember the first piece of jewelry that you sold?
Yes. I do.
I was at the Rosenfeld gallery in NY and wearing a necklace and the gallery owner’s daughter came up to me and said, A woman here loves your necklace, she wants to know where you got it? I told her that I made it and she said, Well she wants to buy it from you. And I said, it’s not for sale. Undeterred, she said, Don’t be silly, what would you sell it for?
I hadn’t even considered selling. So I just came up with a ridiculous number because I didn’t want to sell it. And she bought it for $750.
And then what happened?
I started taking my bag with all of my jewelry with me when my husband (at the time) and I were boating on Fisher Island. At the end of every weekend, I’d come home with several thousand dollars and at that point, my husband said, You need to turn this into a proper business.
So it happened like that. And it just grew from there. I literally had women coming up and knocking on my boat, is the jewelry lady there?
I was just creating pieces that I thought were beautiful and cool.
History & Healing
And then the next step was when I spent some time in the Aeloian Islands (off the coast of Sicily). The islands are volcanic and I got sort of obsessed with the volcanic beads – I felt better there than I have anywhere in my entire life.
So that’s when I started to research a bit about the beads and the stones because some of my clients had become really taken with pieces and they would tell me, I can’t get on the plane without my bracelet – or, I lost my bracelet can you make me another one? I felt so protected – I feel weird without it.
I heard so many stories like this…so I began to research what it was about the stones and beads that were attracting clients energetically.
Just yesterday I had a new client call me asking for dark blue beads – she came over and fell in love with this beautiful big chunky aquamarine bracelet. I told her that aquamarine can improve communication and the throat chakra – it’s a calming stone. And she said, that’s so interesting, because sometimes I speak out of turn and I was actually not so nice to my husband this morning.
So more and more, I would say that my clients are looking for meaning. I’d say about half of my clients buy things because they are interesting and cool or to color coordinate with their outfits or cars (mostly guys) and the other half will tell me the ailment or emotional/psychological condition that they want me to design a custom piece for.
That stones and colors have healing properties, this is a belief that goes back thousands of years. You see it in Michelangelo’s work with the colors of Mary’s cape made of crushed Lapis Lazuli – known to protect against negative energy – in the Middle East, you see the blue everywhere for protection.
More and more, my clients are looking for pieces that have meaning for them.
What are some of the obstacles and challenges you’ve faced?
I would say for me, as an artist, the business side has been challenging. When people ask me for business advice, I struggle a bit – It’s all just been sort of organic for me. I was a writer and a wardrobe stylist/art director before and I identified mostly as a writer. I remember the first time someone came up to me and said, Aren’t you the jewelry designer? I had to stop for a moment and think about this new identity and learn to let go of the idea that I had spent 6 years in school for another profession – to become comfortable with this new role.
Another huge challenge is that I’ve been copied and “knocked off” so much – from people who have been friends and former clients, people you wouldn’t expect – so that was really hurtful, especially in the beginning…now I just have to wish all of the copycats well and just let it go. That’s the not so nice aspect of my business.
Also, there is a bit of danger in my work – there have been a few times during the hunt that I’ve been in some tricky situations trying to buy beads – like the time in Turkey when I found myself following a guy from a bazaar into a dark alley into a pitch-black abandoned warehouse filled with garbage backs and shotguns. I look back and think is this really worth it to buy amber?
What are you most proud of in your journey?
I think the longevity of it. Every year I think how many bracelets or jewelry can people have? In the beginning I remember thinking, well this is just a fad – people wearing their Buddha beads and bracelets. I never imagined it would stick around this long (14 years). So I’m very proud that this is how I make my living and how I pay my bills. I’ve never been in the red, never not made money. I think it must be ancestral; I must have a little bit of business acumen somewhere, right?
I’ve seen so many friends and women put in a ton of money in marketing, advertising and PR and things – I’ve only had a proper business card once. I don’t think I’ve had a business card in 13 years. I write a little ID card so people know what’s on their piece, I think people love that – I do a little history for each bracelet. So let’s say, if I was making something for your birthday, I’d write something like, Karen’s birthday bracelet – white conch for love and light, aquamarine for calming… so I do a little identification piece. I’ve also never had proper packaging. I hire a Cuban lady to make me little bags with fabric I buy from the Amish because I love to support other women in business.
Do you have a favorite stone?
I have so many favorites. I think if there’s a signature material for me it’s the white conch beads. Usually they come from Tibetan malas, from the Indian Ocean. I’ve collected them for many, many years. There are 108 in a mala, so I ask permission and bless them before I cut them and then it feels like I’m spreading those prayers everywhere. It gives them a new life – repurposed. I do love prayer beads and African trade beads, and then I incorporate the gemstones for their healing and spiritual properties. So there’s a history and a healing aspect to my work.
Tell me a favorite jewelry story – any lessons learned?
Now I only wear things out that I’m ok with selling because women will want what’s on my neck or on my wrist. A while back, I was having dinner at a restaurant on Harbor Island and the owner came over to me after introducing me to a couple. He said, the husband wants to buy everything on your wrist for his wife. I said, I don’t want to sell them. He said, don’t be stupid, ask whatever you want – take a few off, give what you will and sell them the rest of it – so I sold them for $10,000 – I still felt slightly violated though because I was like, UGH, I have nothing now – they’ve stolen my MOJO – I mean a girl has to have boundaries.
You can find Bobbie’s work @musajewelry and on her website.
Hi & welcome to “How’d she do it?” – my brand new blog that features extraordinary women around the world who have courageously smashed the status quo to create businesses and lifestyles they love. My name is Karen Roth and I’m an international photographer & psychologist (Ph.D). I’m passionate about my work and I would love to create beautiful images for you and/or your brand, email me here to get started!