Studio Notes: The Commission’s Commission for Gravel Jewelry and Other Custom Jewelry Ideas

Who: The Alcona County Road Commission

Why: In my small, rural community, the county road commission is a lifeline. Professional drivers in lumbering orange trucks vanquish ice and snow in winter and patch up weather-worn pavement in summer.  So when administrative assistant Marlena Mac Neill offered me $100 to make a pendant for an auction fundraiser at the Michigan County Road Association annual meeting, my creativity went into overdrive.

How: I asked Marlena for permission to collect some stones from the county’s gravel pit. Then I cut them into cabochons and set them in sterling silver gravel jewelry. I had no idea what colors the stones contained underneath their weathered surfaces. So it was like opening a surprise package. Orange pebbles, when polished, turned a dark, warm red color. Fossils had unusual textures and holes I could tuck pearls into.

Tip: Don’t have lapidary equipment? Join a local rock club for help.

Why gravel: It’s cheap. It’s plentiful, and it localizes a piece of jewelry, giving it a “story” that road crew members can relate to. Besides, gravel can contain surprises. In Cripple Creek, Colorado, road commission gravel contains tiny pieces of turquoise; in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, you could find bits of amethyst.

gravel jewelry by Betsy Lehndorff

Capitalizing on the Gravel Jewelry Idea

To some of you, $100 may not be much of a commission. So here are some other ways to capitalize on a simple idea. To make more $$$, I could:

  • take pictures of the gravel jewelry and . . .
  • advertise this custom gravel jewelry-making service in the Michigan County Road Association magazine.
  • post this service on social media sites.
  • create a class and teach others how to make gravel jewelry.
  • write a step-by-step article on this gravel jewelry adventure for the November/December issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist.
  • make a line of gravel jewelry for art galleries and craft shows, using pebbles that are local to the area.

Other Custom Jewelry Ideas

Enough about me and gravel jewelry. Come up with your own ideas about other off-beat markets, such as a line of:

  • beaded stretchy bracelets in high school team colors
  • custom etched or stamped logos on metal disks for special celebrations or other occasions
  • simple jewelry or charms for a business or cause
  • recycled materials from an industry transformed into jewelry for that industry
  • personalized leather and metal jewelry for members of a team or crew
  • non-jewelry items such as key chains, spoons, souvenirs, and other items for a museum gift shop, animal hospital, hotel, candy store, farm supply, bait shop . . .



Betsy Lehndorff has been writing for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist since 2010. In the March/April issue, she writes about grants for artistic jewelers and wax carving combined with 3D printing. You can reach her at

Learn more about making jewelry with rocks and gemstones in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine!


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