Beth Millner ('08 BFA) started a jewelry business in the corner of her tiny kitchen while attending NMU. She was committed to creating sustainable, handcrafted designs inspired by the U.P. landscape and Lake Superior. She opened a storefront studio and shop on Marquette's Washington Street in 2012 and now employs seven full-time and part-time staff, including NMU alumni. The growth, innovation, philanthropy and workplace culture at Beth Millner Jewelry led to its selection as the 2020 Woman-Owned Small Business of the Year in Michigan.
It is an especially noteworthy achievement because all businesses in the state with 500 or fewer employees that are owned at least 51% by a woman or women were considered. Beth Millner Jewelry will be honored by the Michigan Small Business Administration and Michigan Celebrates Small Business as part of a virtual awards gala at 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 28.
“We strive to make ethical decisions at every stage of the production process, to choose recycled materials, and to be a company that provides fair wages,” stated a blog post announcing the award. “We also believe that part of any successful business model should include giving back to the community. Our fundraiser pendant and fundraiser mask programs are just one way that we have been able to do this. Additionally, we shipped out over 30,000 pieces of PPE for free during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We don't do these things for recognition, we do them because it is what we believe in. That said, we are so grateful that our community and state see businesses doing things right, and that they chose to honor us out of the many incredible small businesses in Michigan. We want to thank our customers, coworkers and community for the support and dedication to the Upper Peninsula and our business.”
Millner was also honored for her success as an artist and local business owner with a 2018 NMU Outstanding Young Alumni Award.
According to a website description of the creative process, each Beth Millner Jewelry design starts as a drawing that is scanned and printed on paper as a template. The template is glued directly to the metal and used as a guide to precisely saw the figurative elements. A variety of hand-tools are used during fabrication, including jewelers' saws, files, hammers, handmade stamps and rotary tools.
The studio also includes a small casting area where some components of the jewelry are cast from recycled sterling silver in the lost wax cast method. After that is completed, pieces are hand-finished by Millner and her assistants. The intention of the design typically dictates whether the piece is cast or hand fabricated but most pieces are a combination of both production methods.
Favorite local sites such as Little Presque Isle, Wetmore Landing, Picnic Rocks, Presque Isle Park and the Iron Ore Heritage Trail have served as the inspiration for many mixed metal and silver pieces.