By Bill Thorness, special to the Phinneywood Blog
The idea for Baraka Gems came to its founder while performing a humanitarian job in an entirely different realm. The name for his new company arose from a wholly different experience. But they combined to put Jamie Jockwig on a path that will enable the continuation of twin passions, with the opening of his new family jewelry store in Phinneywood.
Dispensing with the riddles, Jockwig’s tagline for the store reveals the story: “For a More Beautiful World.”
You would be excused if you never thought to put those concepts together. But then, you’re not the young man who devoted himself to AIDS education in east Africa. Jockwig “fell in love with the orphans in Kenya” but, being a nonprofit guy, had scant resources to offer help. In 2009, soon to return to the U.S., he asked a local expat American what was unique to Kenya that would sell in the U.S.
“He said tanzanite,” recalls Jockwig. “I realized there was this gemstone over there that was cool and that I could sell.”
He bought a tray of the Tanzanian stone, which was discovered in the 1970s. Its unique colors “can switch from blueberry blue to violet purple.”
Landing in Seattle to pursue a graduate degree, with the blue-purple gems he was hoping would fund aid for orphans, he was soon introduced to George Smith, the owner and bench jeweler at Phil’s Jewelry in Ballard. Smith had a long tenure and “was giving about 50% of his profits away to charity at the end of his career,” Jockwig recalls. The two bonded over their social entrepreneurship approaches, and Jockwig began to learn. Smith saw someone who might take over his business and offered connections along with guidance.
“One day George put his hand on my shoulder, and he said, what do you think you’re going to do with this in the future?” Jockwig recalls. “And he said, you’re going to be great at this.”
By 2012, Jockwig had set up his business in the ground floor of an apartment building in Ballard, where he’s been until beginning a long search for a new location, which ended with his spot at the southeast corner of Greenwood Avenue and 83rd Street after considering nearly 80 locations. He was drawn to it by a connection with the building owner, Ron Lewis, who has family ties to South Africa and is also involved in aid efforts there.
He knew he’d made the right move when he met other Phinneywood business people who welcomed him with comments like “We love being here, this is a great place to be and to do business.”
Jockwig describes Baraka Gems—which will be by appointment only and fully compliant with Covid-19 safety measures—as “a social entrepreneurial fine jewelry store.” He and associates Taylor and Maria will offer full service, outside of watches, he says. “Custom designs, engagement and bridal, vintage and estate, gemstone and diamonds. And we buy from the public.”
He takes special pleasure in working with engagement couples, and his inclusion of gemstones, not to be found in every jewelry store, springs from his love of color. “I was a rockhound as a kid” growing up in Michigan, he says. Now he’s wowed by teal Montana sapphires, spinel that ranges from red to lavender to platinum, and Oregon sunstone, which “looks like the sunrise.” He will also source lab-created gemstones for clients who seek them.
His drive to help African children has evolved into founding a new nonprofit called A Ring of Hope that will focus on assisting vulnerable youth, seeded with 10 percent of profits from jewelry store sales.
The nonprofit will seek to fund food, water, shelter, medical care, education and vocational training. His Director of Development Courtney Yorks is helping launch the effort, including forming the board of directors, recruiting volunteers, and overseeing the support base.
Even the store’s name echoes hope for African children. On his flight to the U.S. in 2009, he sat across from an elderly white couple who were accompanying a young black African girl. She cried incessantly, but when she finally settled down, he asked the couple about her. They had just adopted her, and she’d never been away from her community, which had recently been destroyed.
They said her name was Baraka, and Jockwig asked the man what it meant. “He said it means ‘blessings.’”
Later, on another trip to Africa, he met with an old nonprofit friend who was laboring to start his own orphanage in Kosele, Kenya. The name his friend had chosen? Baraka Orphanage.