By Amelia Beamer
Growing up in the Carolinas, I was lucky to grow up by the crystal waves of the coast. From the time I could walk, I’d teeter behind my Nana down the tideline early in the mornings near her ocean home, hours before the tourists flocked down to mark their territory with fluorescent umbrellas and boogie boards.
“This is the best time to find treasures,” she’d tell me, as we walked slowly, leaving no shell unturned, and putting our favorites into buckets. As a kid, my bucket was usually filled pretty quickly with a bunch of broken (albeit shiny) shells. Nana had more patience. Over the years, she taught me how to find the true treasures, too—sharks teeth, whole sand dollars, and my personal favorite, sea glass.
For whatever reason, sea glass has always been my favorite find. Blue, green, clear, it doesn’t matter—it’s always been more about the idea that one person’s discarded beer bottle, wine bottle, or other long-forgotten form of glass had entered the ocean somewhere else in the world, and had been tumbled by the ocean into something beautiful, smooth, and rare.
When it came time to make a decision on what university to attend, I couldn’t help but be pulled—one could say by the tides—to the University of North Carolina Wilmington, in the Port City that lies right on the portion of coast known as the Atlantic Graveyard. This nickname comes from the number of shipwrecks off of its shores, and its past filled with pirates, looters, and now, tales of their ghosts.
For five years, I lived near the ocean, and for several of them I was lucky enough to live beachfront on Wrightsville beach. When I wasn’t in classes, my days were filled with naps to the sounds of crashing waves, and scavenging the shore for “treasures.”
After 24 years of treasure hunting the Atlantic, I fell into a state of dismal acceptance that I wouldn’t be finding any sea glass or sharks teeth when I moved to Syracuse, NY to attend graduate school for journalism. I missed the smell of the salt air, and the way my skin shone perfectly sun-kissed year round in N.C., but mostly I missed the feeling of stumbling upon something unique and exciting, knowing that I was the only person in the entire world who’d made that exact find.
This lull I’d been feeling lasted for several months, but finally began to shift one morning, unexpectedly in a local coffee shop, towards the end of an interview that I’d been conducting with a local entrepreneur named AJ Richichi. I noticed that he had an intricate gold ring on his finger—one unlike any I’d ever seen before. I squinted, asking him if it was a class emblem. It turns out it wasn’t. It was something much cooler. The ring had been handmade by his girlfriend, and was made from an old key. It was a JoJo Ring, one of the very first. He took it off and let me examine it. I wanted to know more about where it (and the idea behind it) had originated.
Luckily, AJ was extremely excited to set up a meeting for me to meet his girlfriend Jordan Dudden.
In the year since that coffee shop morning, I’ve gotten a unique view of JoJo Rings—one most customers don’t get to see. I’ve interviewed Jordan multiple times, as well as AJ, and have become good friends with both of them.
I was given the opportunity to visit their former workshop (in NY), where I was able to see the exact (and intricate) process by which each and every single JoJo Ring and wrap is made by hand—both in bulk for wholesalers to sell in their shops, and for each specific order that comes through their website. They even let me “help” (in quotes because I was probably mostly in the way), which put into perspective for me just how many steps and how much effort goes into every single piece that comes stamped with the JoJo logo.
If the excitement that I felt when I first saw AJ’s ring brought me out of my inland-induced-lull, getting to sort through tons (literally tons, as in the metric measurement) of would-be-scrap-metal keys, and then watching the process by which each key was shaped into a beautiful piece of jewelry lifted the lull completely. I was back by the ocean again, with a piece of glass in my hand, wondering where it had been, what it had been used for, and how I’d been the one to find it.