Published January 04, 2012
BB Becker, a boutique jeweler from Denver, makes bracelets inscribed with a quote from Gandhi: "There are no goodbyes for us. Wherever you are, you will always be in my heart."
Becker sold some of these bracelets to David Baker of River Oak Diamonds in Gateshead, England.
Baker, in turn, sold one to a woman whose son was serving in Afghanistan. The woman gave it to her daughter-in-law. The daughter-in-law became part of a chart-topping music sensation in the United Kingdom called the Military Wives Choir.
Becker marvels at this chain of events: His bracelet is now the very first image in the Military Wives' music video, "Wherever You Are," which has been viewed by more than a million people online. (See the video at http://tinyurl.com/c6qbm7k.) Becker's bracelet is unmistakable because, like all his pieces, the words are in his wife's whimsical handwriting.
"Wherever You Are" by the 100-member choir was the No. 1 single in the U.K. on Christmas, bumped from the top spot by superband Coldplay on New Year's Day.
What does this mean for Becker? He is bracing for a rash of orders, having helped inspire the song that is now defining what it means to be a military wife in the U.K.
He will start bracing for even more orders if the song spreads to the U.S., where there are even more military wives. But at the moment, he doesn't know what to think.
At 54 years old, Becker has felt himself close to big success before, only to see it slip away.
"A month ago, Oprah calls me, and they say, 'Can you send us some samples? We're considering you for our February "Favorite Things,'" he said. "I get all excited, right? Then she calls back two weeks later as says, 'Where can I send the samples back? We're not gonna do that.' So who knows what's going to happen?"
But something is already happening. "I have been inundated with requests for the bracelets," said Baker, the only retailer who carries them in the U.K. "The stories I hear from people who are purchasing the bracelets, either for themselves or loved ones, are so touching and inspiring. I get told greater emotional and life stories from people buying BB Becker jewelry than I do from couples in love purchasing engagement rings."
Becker grew up in the projects of Coney Island, N.Y. He became a flight attendant and moved to Colorado. In 2000, he found himself atop an ancient Mayan temple, asking the great spirit of the universe for direction. When he returned home to Denver, he developed a line of bracelets, pendants, rings and necklaces using timeless quotations from the Bible, Buddha, Albert Einstein, Laotzu and van Gogh--to name a few.
A tai chi instructor, Becker merely set out to share words from all the great spiritual teachers in his own artistic way. Yet over the past 10 years, he's had to fight grueling worldly battles, including an expensive lawsuit from another jeweler who also puts quotes on jewelry.
More recently, Becker has struggled with a sluggish economy and rising silver prices. Still he forges along, believing that words set in silver and bronze hold mystical powers.
He feels the Military Wives Choir might just be his ticket, yet oddly enough, he's not sure he wants his "Wherever You Are" bracelet to become an international sensation. He knows words can be cheapened if they are over-commercialized. He knows that noble artistic efforts are sometimes corrupted by money.
"I have to be careful," he tells me. "These are military lives. These people are dying. I can't be looking like I'm monopolizing off of this."
Most people I write about would never even think this way. I tell Becker that if he indeed struck it big, he would not be "monopolizing" so much as providing folks with a means to express themselves. If he ended up making a bracelet that soothed the world's war wounds, it is only natural for some profits to follow. This is not just capitalism. This is karma.
At the end of the interview, though, Becker's eyes sadden as he recalled what he felt must also be said about the words he sells on bracelets:
"My mom passed away on 9/11. She'd been struggling with cancer for two years. She happened to pass on that day.
"At her funeral, I recited that quote: 'There are no goodbyes for us. Wherever you are, you will always be in my heart.' I never realized how powerful that quote was until I had to read it at my mom's funeral."
(Al's Emporium, written by Dow Jones Newswires columnist Al Lewis, offers commentary and analysis on a wide range of business subjects through an unconventional perspective. Contact Al at firstname.lastname@example.org or tellittoal.com)