Marine-themed jewelry “sells all day, all year long, to customers from eight to 80” at Tumbleweeds, a Niantic, Conn., boutique, said Owner Tara Wyatt. The family business has sold sea glass and shell jewelry on the Long Island Sound waterfront for nearly 50 years.
Whether by the Atlantic, the Pacific or on the Gulf of Mexico, American coastal retailers do a brisk business in marine-themed jewelry. Locals love pieces that reflect their beach lifestyle; vacationers cherish seaside souvenirs. At Tumbleweeds, visitors to the 2,000-square-foot store will find a mix of “fun, beachy jewelry” featuring shells, seahorses, sailboats, mermaids, and waves.
Some of the pieces are “similar to a Pura Vida style,” Wyatt said. Customers will often buy multiple anklets and bracelets to stack and layer in different colors, with or without charms.
One line, popular with boaters, offers necklaces, bracelets and anklets crafted from heavy waxed, waterproof marine cotton and string. A local teacher makes wire-wrapped sea glass pieces; an artisan in nearby Waterford incorporates sea glass, shells, and wampum sourced from Connecticut beaches.
Many of Wyatt’s artisans craft their own displays from repurposed materials like driftwood, barn frames, or even a castaway lazy Susan. “For tourists, it’s nice that our merchandise is locally sourced, locally made,” Wyatt reflected, “but I’ve noticed that locals are looking for the same thing.”
At Coast Boutique in Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, Fla., “everything is coastal inspired,” said Owner Ina Marjakangas. Her 8-year-old, 1,000-square-foot store specializes in sea-themed pieces from local Florida designers. “We’ve got turtles, starfish, octopus, jellyfish,” Marjakangas said. She’ll display sea glass jewelry amid rice “that looks like sand,” pose rings on starfish arms, and drape pieces over shells and coral in larger cases.
A highlight is enamel jewelry from a nearby Hollywood artisan. “You normally only see enamel in the very high end, or else you see it done very poorly in costume jewelry,” explained Marjakangas. “But this hits the sweet spot; the clasp, settings, and enamel work are impeccable, yet also very affordable.” Prices start around $50 for a stackable ring to hundreds for a more elaborate piece.
Another line features sea-life motifs rendered in sterling silver set with larimar, a brilliant blue stone only found in the Dominican Republic. “The blue is just outstanding, everything a turquoise wishes it could be,” Marjakangas said.
On the lower end — $50 and under — sea glass and pearl jewelry sell briskly. And while Coast’s prime jewelry demographic is the over-35 crowd, wave-themed rings are hot with kids. “Pura Vida and others have made the wave motif popular, and now they’re all going bananas for it,” observed Marjakangas. “I can’t keep those rings in stock.”
For Michelle Alexander, owner of Rascal’s Ladies Boutique in San Clemente, Calif., the coastal lifestyle is both a passion and a vocation. Alexander started working at the store as a teenager a quarter-century ago; three years ago she bought the business. “I do buy a lot of nautical, because we’re by the ocean and I love it,” said Alexander of Rascal’s jewelry selection — seashells, anchors, seahorses, and crabs on everything from earrings to charm bracelets.
In her store on a picturesque stretch of the Pacific, Alexander carries the theme through with elaborate, color-themed window displays. “I’ll include gold sea stars with other gold jewelry, perhaps against a green silk camisole,” the retailer explained. “For bolder pieces, I’ll style them on a complete ensemble, so the sea pieces become a focal point.”
At Rascal’s, the top-selling jewelry is anything with a starfish from the popular Brighton brand, followed by pieces set with dolphins and sea turtles. “There’s just something about a starfish,” Alexander said of her “hands-down” best-seller.
Other favorites include Brighton sea-themed earrings, necklaces, charm anklets and charm bracelets. But Alexander also carries sea-inspired baubles from other lines; a popular American line features anchor and seahorse earrings, and there are bejeweled lighthouses and seashells from Swarovski.
Alexander said she can hardly keep up with Rascal’s online orders from customers around the country, many of whom repeat-order for gifts or add-ons. “They’ll buy a gold starfish pendant and then the matching earrings,” she noted. “You just can’t get more coastal than that.”
For Dana Spanierman, the concept of “sea-themed” is more expansive. The jewelry she conceives for Leeba, her Santa Cruz-based business, might look like dolphins, starfish, or whale tails — but it also may feature abstract designs in materials like abalone, a pearly seashell. “A ring with abalone is ocean inspired, because abalone comes from the ocean,” explained Spanierman, who works with a local shell and stone shop to place and polish the shells.
Since launching Leeba in 2014, Spanierman has sold her wares wholesale and online, as well as at events and festivals. For those in-person sales, Spanierman typically displays jewelry grouped by shell type, so shoppers can easily find their favorites. Best-sellers include pendants set with abalone and feather-motif rings in a variety of shells and stones.
Leeba’s business model succeeds thanks in good part to social media; the Instagram account has a huge following. “I get a lot of orders from men, though women ages 30 to 70 are the biggest demographic,” Spanierman reflected. Yet the sea theme has universal appeal: “I’ll get the cute little 7-year-old girl who wants the abalone heart earrings, the man buying for his mom or sister, women buying gifts for each other,” the jeweler said.
At the two Sea Glass Lane locations in Sanibel and Sarasota, Fla., the typical shoppers are “fairly affluent women aged 40-60, likely tourists, dressed in what we like to call beach bohemian,” said Owner Scott Brogan. Most jewelry sells in the $50-150 range.
Earrings and necklaces sell best, with bracelets coming in third. Brogan’s team gets creative with displays, draping necklaces on vintage white ping pong paddles and studding lentil-filled boxes with shiny earrings. Other items are spotlighted in white vintage window cases with LED lighting.
Unsurprisingly, authentic sea glass jewelry is the lure. “I think generally customers love the idea of sea glass being a reverse gem,” Brogan noted. “While all other jewelry is created by nature and refined by man, sea glass is created by man and refined beautifully by nature. We like to tell how it starts out as trash, with sharp edges — but like the rest of us, softens with age and acquires a beautiful patina.”