Karen Helmrich is not one to be accused of making normal jewelry. Now, the area designer’s store in downtown Fulton lives up to its business name. Creating Unkamen – pronounced “uncommon” – is a jewelry and jewelry-supply company.
“We were sort of an uncommon family, and we were doing an uncommon thing,” Helmrich said. “I just thought I would spell it a little differently to make it a little more…” – she paused, then added with a laugh – “uncommon.”
Customers can purchase necklaces, bracelets and other trinkets, or request their own custom creations. For example, a daughter in search of a Mother’s Day gift might tell Helmrich her mom is a fan of birds and her favorite color is blue. Then, the designer would create a necklace with those themes.
“A lot of what we create is customer-inspired, and I think that’s why my business has been so successful– because I’ve listened to my customers,” Helmrich said. “I enjoy helping people make something special. That’s where my greatest sense of satisfaction comes from.”
Creating Unkamen’s Fulton Brick District location, 528 Court St., is the brick-and-mortar version of an online business Helmrich and her family started 10 years ago. In its early days, she and her husband, Ralph, made only jewelry. While homeschooling their two children, Leah and Byron, they sold their creations on the e-commerce website Etsy.
But the Helmrichs had an obstacle – the quality of their jewelry-making supplies did not meet their satisfaction. That realization inspired them to start making their own. Soon, the family was selling more supplies than finished jewelry.
“Our supply sales took over the majority of our business,” Helmrich said. Now, she estimates about 90 percent of the company’s sales come from supplies, and the remaining 10 percent from jewelry. A glimpse around one of the main rooms near the store’s front entrance reveals cabinets with dozens of drawers. Each is stocked with hundreds of tiny circular components known as jump rings.
Helmrich explained their purpose: “The basic building block of jewelry is a jump ring, and that’s what we’re known for. We can make them out of all sorts of materials and all sorts of sizes. … We’ve made jump rings from every imaginable material – copper, brass, aluminum, silicone, gold, sterling silver.”
“They’re distinctive, they’re hypoallergenic and they’re a lot of fun,” Helmrich said. “We can make a (sensitive) woman able to wear fun, fancy jewelry again.”
Jump rings are used mainly to connect jewelry components to each other. A few of Creating Unkamen’s pieces use them wider than that, though. For example, one bracelet on display is made entirely of jump rings – about 800 of them. Helmrich estimates it took eight to 10 hours to complete; she compares the process to crocheting.
Creating jump rings involves winding wire over a steel tube, cranking it to make a coil, then cutting it.
“We can do this in multiple wire shapes,” inventory manager Travis Lane said, as he demonstrated the hand rig. “The possibilities are pretty much endless.”
“We do have the capacity to make large volumes, but what we’re really known for is custom work,” Helmrich said.
Production methods are not necessarily a business secret. Creating Unkamen often hosts jewelry-making events, and has more than 200 online tutorials.
But can anyone learn to make jewelry? Well, that depends on what the designer is trying to make – some pieces are harder than others.
“I think you need mostly the desire to do it,” Helmrich said. “I think anybody can make some form of jewelry, but some jewelry can take skills that would take years to develop.”
Creating Unkamen still holds a large presence online. It’s the nation’s fifth-highest Etsy store, and biggest shop that sells handmade items.
When she decided to expand the company to a physical store, Helmrich relocated from her longtime home in Rolla. The Brick District spot was available, and she liked its surroundings.
“This area really felt like it was the perfect fit,” she said. “It features other small businesses, and has kept the quaint appeal of small-town America.”