Text by Lisa Cavanaugh
Imagine saving the sand from the first beach you ever visited; your seaside honeymoon; or that unforgettable family reunion by the ocean. Holly Daniels Christensen, owner of the Dune Jewelry company, makes holding on to those memorable occasions easy by fashioning the grains into beautifully personalized jewelry.
Christensen was born by the beach, on Cape Cod, and lived there surrounded by extended family until she was twelve. “I was lucky enough to live in Orleans when it was still a place with lots of natural space around,” she says. “We had pigs and goats. It was amazing.” After the death of her father, she and her mom moved to inland Maine, but Christensen never lost her connection to the sea. “The beach was an integral part of my growing up years. And I don’t think I ever lost that.”
Christensen eventually settled closer to Boston, got married and pursued a career in real estate before a friend’s handcraft venture spurred a new creative passion. “I always had an artistic side, but never really an outlet for it,” she says. “When my friend asked me to help her grow her beach sand ornament business, I discovered an incredible medium.”
Christensen saw the emotional connection people had to something created with sand from “their” beach, so she branched out into beach sand jewelry. She took jewelry making classes at Metalworks in Waltham, Massachusets, and began making necklaces, earrings and bracelets with sand from local beaches. Still working in real estate, Christensen used her spare time to create these personalized jewelry gifts at her kitchen table. “It built my confidence to see my friends wearing them, so I started selling my wares at arts and crafts shows,” she says.
She also began her unique “sand bank”—a vast collection of sand from different beaches, now numbering in the thousands. “I would call town officials and ask them if I could take just a cup of sand from a local beach — one cup can make up to a thousands pieces and they nearly always said yes.” Christensen would travel to arts and crafts shows and collect nearby sand, and as her business grew, customers would send in their own special supplies. “I tell people we only need a capful, but they always send extra. So now we have sand from all around the world.”
She has learned over the past decade how to process all types of sand (and shells and other natural materials) and make it work in different designs. “It is a vast medium really… sand goes from fine powdery to super grainy,” says Christensen. “I had to learn how all of it behaves.”
Although it was a frightening leap, Christensen gave up her real estate job in 2010 and has been full-time CEO of Dune Jewelry ever since. She now employs 26 team members, many of whom are artists in other capacities as well, and recently moved her operation into a large renovated mill building in Hyde Park, Massachusetts.
“I used to be a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of girl, but I really do have an ultimate goal,” she says. In addition to someday bequeathing her successful company to her two young daughters, Christensen also wants to truly make a mark. “I feel we’ve gone from beach jewelry to what is an experiential company,” she says. “Our pieces let you wear a tangible reminder of a moment in your life. We are changing the perception of what precious jewelry really is.”