Angela Gianfrancesco, executive designer and owner of Stella Blue Designs, says she used to play with her grandmother’s jewelry tower while growing up in St. Louis. She recalls coming upon a box of jewelry a neighbor had thrown away and finding a spinning ballerina surrounded by piles of shiny jewelry.
“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” Gianfrancesco said.
Gianfrancesco says she has loved working with jewelry ever since she was a child.
Now 35, Gianfrancesco owns a business in Lakeview in the Southport Corridor. She said her jewelry is inspired by nature and gemstones.
When she was in middle and high school, she took old jewelry and turned it into something new. She attended garage and Estate sales to sell it.
At first, making jewelry was a hobby. She began working in the real estate market and still works for @properties. But now it’s the other way around; Stella Blue Designs is her “bread and butter,” as she puts it.
“Real estate is the most emotional selling because it’s your home and money. When selling jewelry, I’m making someone’s day. They love it,” she said.
Gianfrancesco launched her first collection of jewelry in 2008. Two years later, she opened up her boutique, Stella Blue Designs, before Black Friday. The name Stella Blue originates from a song by The Grateful Dead.
“Its an awesome song. All my pieces are named after a song. They’re named from The Rolling Stones to Jay-Z,” Gianfrancesco said.
She said she designs most of the jewelry in the store, but the rest is vintage jewelry. She said 50 percent of the store is custom jewelry, which involves reinventing old jewelry into new jewelry.
“People bring in old gold, old diamonds and stuff from the ’80s they don’t really like, and I create something fabulous for them,” Gianfrancesco said. “I’m shocked by the level of custom I’m doing, too. I didn’t think that I would be doing that. I love it.”
Gianfrancesco is working on a few collections: an exclusive line under her name, a line under her and her sister’s name, and a men’s line, which she plans to make vintage cufflinks and rings. She also works with a lot of brides and customizes their bridesmaids’ jewelry for them.
Gianfrancesco works with a lot of natural gemstones that come directly out of the earth. The gemstones found throughout the store are rubies, diamonds, tourmalated and rutilated quartz, labradorites, chrysoprase and druzies. All these stones are either a pair of earrings, a necklace, a ring or bracelet.
“My favorite pieces are all things druzy,” said Gianfrancesco. “They’re one of a kind.” Druzies are rock-like lined stone with projecting shiny crystals. They come in all colors.
Gianfrancesco works with 10-12 vendors from all over the world. Over the last 10 years, she has built relationships with all of them. One of her vendors brought her green uvarites from the Kola Peninsula of Siberia.
Jewelry prices range from $18-$2,800. Business in Stella Blue usually gets busy around Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Christmas. She said she earns more than one-third of her profits for an entire year in the month of December. The first month her business was open in December 2010, she paid the rent for the next nine months with the profits made in that month.
“It was a good month,” Gianfrancesco said.
Gianfrancesco also wholesales to retailers who are willing to sell her jewelry. Chicago-based retailers such as Embellish Boutique, White Birch Trading Co., Vintage Bazaar and a few others carry her line. She also works with retailers in St. Louis.
“I love working with retailers. Its just residual business,” said Gianfrancesco. “It’s good business.”
Gianfrancesco has three to five independent contractors working within her business. She refers to them as a family. Gianfrancesco said her family is her motivation. She grew up in a family full of entrepreneurs.
“It’s just in me. I love what I do,” Gianfrancesco said. “It motivates me to keep coming up with better ideas and making people happy.”
Gianfrancesco said it’s all a learning experience for her. She said independent jewelers, David Yurman and Nicole Richie’s House of Harlow line inspires her.
“When I started and see how far I’ve came, that inspires me a lot,” Gianfrancesco said.
She said her biggest challenge was finding balance and sleep.
“I find myself in the studio some nights until 5 in the morning,” she said.
Gianfrancesco said business is good. She reinvests 80 percent of her profits.
“It takes money to make money,” she said. “But it’s definitely paying the bills.”
She refers to her boutique as a “hidden gem on a great street.” Gianfrancesco’s goal is to make quality jewelry that will last a lifetime. Still inspired by gemstones and nature, she describes her jewelry as “eclectic, sophisticated and natural.”