TW/CW: Death, illness, grief
In January last year, my maternal grandma passed away due to COVID-related complications. Exactly three months later in April, my Mom died after a five-year battle with cancer. And a few months after that, my perfectly healthy uncle on my dad’s side of the family died suddenly, as well as our family’s 12-year-old goldendoodle, Bailey.
My dad had already passed away my senior year of high school after his own battle with cancer, so with both of my parents now gone, my life changed dramatically. I quit my job and decided to live in my childhood home for the remainder of the summer to figure out my next steps and focus on processing this complex, compounded grief.
Losing someone, or in my case, everyone seemingly, can make you take more risks. For some, it could be a chance to explore a new religion. For others, it could be trying out a new hair cut or color. For me, it was a small business in an industry I knew nothing about. The idea of a fresh start in something that I could completely immerse myself in seemed inviting when most of my mind was stuck in painful memories, cleaning out my house, and big words I didn’t understand from my attorney.
My jewelry journey began a couple of months after my mom died, when I tagged along with my boyfriend to meet his brother and sister-in-law for the first time. I quickly clicked with my boyfriend’s sister-in-law and she was the one who ultimately convinced me to try out an Instagram business for second-hand jewelry. After returning home, I watched her account grow and flourish daily in a community of solid gold jewelry enthusiasts. I had no idea this niche group existed! I started to follow more accounts that she followed to gain a better understanding of these 10-24 karat obsessed, diamond and gemstone loving women and men. I’d always liked wearing jewelry but generally pigeon-holed myself into buying purely Mejuri pieces that were gold vermeil.
“Gold vermeil,” “gold plated,” and “gold filled” are all terms that describe gold mixed with other alloys–types of gold you wouldn’t find acceptable in this Instagram community. The group consensually seemed to be looking for solid gold, estate, pre-owned (or “pre-loved,” as what is lovingly used) gold rings, chains, bracelets, and charms, all in the name of creating a more sustainable and affordable way to own gold jewelry that won’t tarnish.
I loved the idea of an eco-friendly business and being able to buy jewelry I would wear myself to curate a shopping experience for others with similar taste. If something didn’t sell, then at least I’d enjoy wearing it! That mindset has stayed with me and it’s been fun to watch my taste and my shop expand and grow as I learn more about the history and meaning behind different pieces.
Besides sourcing and learning to test the gold itself, my first hurdle was deciding on a brand name. After careful consideration, I decided on “Teruko,” my mom’s middle name, after her maternal grandma. Even though my mom never spoke of fine jewelry besides her wedding and engagement rings, I wanted to honor her with this small business that I was hoping to use as an aid in my healing process. Coincidentally, “teru” means “to shine” in Japanese, and it seemed like the perfect sign to move forward with this name. Teruko Jewelry was born, and now the only thing left was figuring out how I was going to ship orders.
In the spirit of the community’s emphasis on sustainability and affordability, I decided to make use of what I had around the house. With a growing pile of newspapers, my mom’s craft closet, and drawers of gift wrapping materials, I had all of the things I needed to securely pack orders into biodegradable bags I found online.
For each order, I cut up strips of newspaper to create a cushion for the jewelry. Then, each piece of jewelry was placed into one of the many drawstring jewelry bags my mom had hoarded over the years from her own purchases, and I could sometimes tell by the boxes they came in which stores my mom had shopped from and how old that purchase might have been by the outdated design. As an avid scrapbooker, my mom had packs and packs of blank cardstock and I used those to write personal notes to each of my customers. The presentation may not have been the fanciest, but it was truly homemade with care and memories. Now that my business has grown, I’ve used up all of the newspapers, my mom’s drawstring jewelry bags, and the blank cardstock and have since switched to other sustainable options. But I’ll never forget the humble beginnings of my small business and how I was able to honor my mom every step of the way.
It has been nine months since I launched Teruko Jewelry and I’ve learned so much about the Instagram jewelry market, testing and cleaning gold jewelry, and even my own evolving taste. The most unexpected part of this journey has been this supportive community who have taught me how personal jewelry can be. My daily Instagram feed features birthstone rings to zodiac charms, to family heirlooms, mourning jewelry, talisman charm-studded chains for good luck, engraved pieces to bring comfort based on country and culture; there is something for everyone for any occasion. Seeing others show off beautiful pieces in memory of lost loved ones inspired me to start my own collection in memory of my late family members.
In the first few months since starting my account, I was surprised to find several chains, charms and rings while sorting through my mom and grandma’s belongings. I wear them now as part of my own personal collection and find peace in acknowledging both of them whenever I put them on.
I have since added a charm for my grandma and I’m looking forward to acquiring more pieces to wear in honor of my parents. When I joined this community of gold jewelry enthusiasts, I had no idea how much they would help me through this hard time, let alone aid in my own healing. Jewelry is now so much more than a small business or a side hustle–it’s about my family.
Follow me on Instagram @terukojewelry whether you love jewelry or just want to say hi! I’d love to connect with you regardless!