A Jewel of a Second Career

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Business school alum uses her degree to balance her artistic side

Only a few years ago, Brenda Smith was the creative director for a chemical company in Canton, Ga. When the company was sold, she was forced into early retirement. But retirement didn’t sit well, and soon Smith was learning how to make jewelry.

“After a while retirement got boring and I started making jewelry for fun,” she said.

In 2005, Smith started with beads, then she learned gold and silver smithing. Soon she was identifying and grading gemstones.

Today her handcrafted jewelry can be found in Hollywood and New York showcases and sells for thousands of dollars. Her designs have won international competitions and she is a sought-after designer.

“Never, ever did I think that I would be self-employed and doing something like this,” said Smith, who received her Executive MBA from Kennesaw State University in 1999.

“My Kennesaw State EMBA was instrumental in starting my jewelry business,” Smith, who also has a bachelor's of fine arts from Kent State. “It was really the impetus for going into business. The degree gave me the confidence to create a marketing plan. Everything I learned from the degree program has come into play, from organization, evaluating competitors, profit-and-loss reports, analyzing my strengths and weaknesses, trends, etc. I couldn’t afford to hire someone to get me started so I had to draw on the skills I acquired from the EMBA degree and do it myself.”

Smith teaches at the William Holland School of Lapidary Arts in Young Harris, where she burnished her jewelry-making skills. In 2009, she traveled to San Francisco to take classes at the Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts, where she was encouraged to enter design contests.

“I wanted see if I was good enough. I wanted to see if I could compete on a global scale,” said Smith, who lives in Woodstock, Ga.

She could. Smith has won awards and commendations in contests sponsored by the American Gem Trade Association, Cultured Pearl Association of America and Palladium Alliance International. Her designs are on display in the Aaron Faber Gallery and the “Out of this World! Jewelry in the Space Age” exhibit at The Forbes Galleries in New York through September. Smith says that she finds inspiration everywhere: her Celebration earrings came after watching July 4th.

“Sometimes, it’s in the stone. When I see one that talks to me, I purchase it. The design process starts with sketches. I like to make metal look like it’s not metal. I like it to take on organic shapes.”

For the 2011 awards season, her earrings were in the showroom of Los Angeles celebrity stylist Michael O’Connor. This season the Celebration earrings and a 2.82 carat fire opal ring with diamonds and sapphires were in O’Connor’s showroom. Three other pieces are in the Palladium Alliance International stylist’s showroom.

Smith’s EMBA helps her balance her artistic side. “A lot of artists paint, draw or sculpt. But they usually are not business people. That didn’t stop me. It all came together for me in a perfect combination.”

"My Kennesaw State EMBA was instrumental in starting my jewelry business... It was really the impetus for going into business"

-- Yolanda Rodriguez