Local Jewelers Creations have two ingredients: Friendship, and Time

The City of Duluth is home to a lot of exciting events every year: Grandma’s Marathon, music and art festivals, Bentleyville, and so much more. But, 1.1 billion years ago, Duluth was home to one event that changed the shores of Lake Superior forever and has been exciting collectors like local jewelers Emily Pilz and Emily Rakos ever since.

A billion years ago, the North American continent began to split apart, making way for lava to spill into the basin that we now see as Lake Superior. The lava created lava flows that are now exposed on the north and south shores of Lake Superior, and air bubbles began to rise to the surface of this lake of lava, starting to bubble up on the surface like water about to boil in a pot. Eventually, the lava cooled, trapping the air bubbles in place. Read more about the process here.

The crevices of these air bubbles had just enough room for water to slowly sneak in and drop off minerals like iron and quartz into the lava in layers, which created the precious gemstones called agates that many seek out today.

Lake Superior gates found on Lake Superior’s North Shore

Glaciers began expanding and retreating across Minnesota over millions of years, carving out lakes and leaving behind what are known as Lake Superior agates all across the region.

Even before the polishing process agates are distinguishable by their prominent bands of red, yellow, and orange colors that come from the oxidation of iron. The bands of luminescent colors blend and swirl in different patterns across the surface which help them stand out amongst their dirty surroundings.

Today, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Lake Superior agates are the Minnesota state gemstone and are thought to be some of the oldest in the world. But, they are not the only treasures used in the beautiful pieces of jewelry created by this pair of Emily’s.

Sea glass is another gemstone Pilz and Rakos spend days gathering along the North Shore. Sea glass has its origins in the glass garbage that has found its way into Lake Superior from things like tableware, jars, old soda or wine bottles thrown into the water, shipwrecks, car parts, and other tiny pieces of glass litter drifting along in the lake.

The small pieces of broken glass have spent decades, or even centuries, tossing and turning at the will of the tides, slamming into the shoreline over and over again, in the end leaving nothing but an absolutely captivating, smooth-edged rock laying on the beach waiting to be found. It comes in different shapes and colors, most commonly a frosty white, almost transparent color, but also more rare colors like cobalt blue, red, teal, green, or orange.

That is where Pilz and Rakos enter into the process. Pilz, of Forest Lake, and Rakos, of Brooklyn Park, both graduated from UMD in May of 2020 and both studied environment, sustainability & geography, and both have a passion for Lake Superior and creating.

Emily Pilz (Left) and Emily Rakos (Right) posing in front of Lake Superior

By 2018, the two friends had been amassing an inventory of timeless gemstones during their adventures along the North Shore over a billion years after the whole process began, with no expectations as to where their treasures would take them.

Pilz had dabbled in wire wrapping once or twice, but never took it seriously. One day, while looking at their growing collection of sea glass and agates and at a loss with what to do with it all, Rakos said to Pilz, “Hey we should maybe try doing wire wrapping with these and make some jewelry.”

They remember watching youtube videos to get themselves started, making sure to secure the gemstones firmly in the wire. Eventually they began branching out and experimenting with new ideas and styles in their designs.

“It’s almost therapeutic to be crafting like this. Obviously it is work but it really gets the creative juices flowing,” Rakos said.

The time it takes to create each piece varies by size, type, and complexity. Handcrafting a wire-wrapped ring can take less than half an hour, but hand-crafted suncatchers that reach up to 20 inches long and include more than 10 pieces of colored sea glass can take many hours of work from Pilz and Rakos.

That same year they began posting their jewelry creations on Instagram for their friends to see, sometimes selling each piece for just a few dollars via the app and also through word of mouth to friends and coworkers.

Next thing they knew they created a page specifically to post their creations, under the Instagram name @lake_superior_jewelry.

Sea Glass necklace from Em’s Gems Lake Superior Jewelry

“I think about that a lot actually, how I never expected to be so invested in it, but it’s been really fun,” Rakos said.

“It helped that we had a stash of sea glass and agates already, so we had an inventory to kind of build off of,” Pilz added, “and it’s just continued to grow a lot more. And I think more people share posts and stories on Instagram and it’s just continued to expand.”

Their business, Em’s Gems Lake Superior Jewelry, has since grown to over 800 followers on Instagram and they have been shipping the jewelry curated by the Great Lake all over the country.

With the growing demand in their business, Rakos pointed out that they stepped up to the plate and began polishing both the stones and the way they did business.

“People just kept buying them, so we kind of had no choice but to invest in better quality materials, and with that increase our rates a little and become maybe a little more professional with our page too,” she said.

Sea Glass earrings from Em’s Gems Lake Superior Jewelry

The crafting happens primarily in their bedrooms, the collections of different stones and materials spread out all around the room on different surfaces so they can easily find the best shaped stones and the best matches for earrings.

Their recently released website states that they are committed to eco-friendly business practices and value sustainability, which they achieve through things like minimal and recyclable packaging, locally sourced materials, and even local drop-offs in the Duluth area.

“Seaglass is just litter. But we’ve taken it, we’ve cleaned up the beaches and turned it into something pretty, and that kind of gives it another life,” Pillz said.

Emily and Emily appreciate the history and impact of Lake Superior and its North Shore and are inspired by them every day.

“I just think that having sea glass or agates be a part of your jewelry, especially around here, it just feels special to have near you or on you just because the Lake is so special,” Rakos said.

With the pandemic canceling the post-grad employment plans for Rakos, she has since dived head-on into self-employment with the help of Pilz who is finishing up her degree at the end of the Fall semester. It is work, but customers and friends expressing how much they like the end product makes it all worth it.

You can find necklaces, earrings, rings, and even suncatchers made using breathtaking, locally sourced stones on their website and also their Instagram page, where you can stay up to date on all their latest creations.

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Luke Brynjulfson

Communication and Journalism student at the University of Minnesota Duluth