How She’s Managing: Jeweler Dee Berkley, Recovering From COVID-19

Every Thursday during the pandemic, we’ll be checking in on members of the jewelry trade in an attempt glean shareable tips and tricks for a better and more productive quarantine (and for most, reopening).

Today we hear from Dee Berkley, a Las Vegas–based jewelry designer and the founder of Dee Berkley Jewelry, who contracted COVID-19 in June and is still recovering from the illness. Incredibly, she spearheaded a fundraiser during the pandemic that’s resulted in her retail partners raising more than $70,000 for​ ​roughly 30 charities (and counting).

JCK: Where are you based, and who are you shacked up with currently?

Dee Berkley: I’m based in Las Vegas. I know what you’re thinking, but, yes, people actually live and work here! It’s an amazing, tight-knit community, and I’ve called it home for 26 years. Aside from the summer heat, there’s not much I would change about it.

I’m currently shacked up with my husband and 17-year-old daughter. My husband and I always used to joke that we could never work together because our styles are worlds apart. He’s linear and loves to attack the hardest task first. I wake up and peruse pretty inspiration on the internet and chat with customers. I can’t dive deep into a hard note right away. But, we’ve both been working from home since quarantine started, and, I have to say, I’m pretty impressed with how we’ve managed to make our styles work alongside one another.

Dee Berkley home
Berkley working from home
Dee Berkley community support bracelets
Dee Berkley community support bracelets

I’m so sorry you contracted COVID-19. When did you have it, and what was it like for you?

I had COVID-19 in the middle of June. It hit me like the ceiling opened and dropped a ton of bricks on me with zero warning—that’s the best way I can describe the exhaustion that it brought on so suddenly. I was really fortunate not to have any of the breathing troubles that so many people affected by this virus do. For me, it was all about feeling achy and incredibly​ tired.

As soon as I was diagnosed, I self-quarantined and we fogged my entire studio and office (which we continue to do every month). I’m so happy to report that, because of the precautions we took when we reopened, every single person on my staff tested negative as did my husband and daughter.

How long did the illness last and how do you feel now?

The illness itself lasted about three weeks and, while I’ve since tested negative, I’m still not 100% myself.

I have to rest every single day in the afternoon. I can’t get through the full workday in nearly the same way I used to—which, if I’m being honest, is probably a good thing. It’s forced me to slow down, to refocus, to allow myself time to do nothing besides rest and breathe. It’s been a total wake-up call for me. I went from being a nonstop workhorse—I’m talking wake up, work, make dinner, go back to work until I collapse, repeat—to being someone who meditates and catnaps every single afternoon. While that shift was forced upon me, it was totally necessary. Sometimes, the universe wakes you up and reminds you to take care of yourself.

While I’m still not feeling myself, it goes without saying that I am ​incredibly grateful to have made it through this virus alive while so many others have not. That fact is never, ​ever​ lost on me.

Dee Berkley and daughter
Dee Berkley and daughter Maddie

Describe your work life in quarantine: What is your environment like, where in your home do you work, what are your hours like?

During quarantine, I was working from the exact same living room where I began my business before I ever had a studio space—talk about things coming full circle. My daughter was an infant in a bassinet back then, the furniture was different, and our apple tree was much smaller. But here we are, 17 years later, creating designs from that e​xact​ same space. It’s pretty wild.

Quarantine really forced me to organize my home for ​work.​ I’m a bit obsessed with aesthetics, so our house is pleasing to the eye—but it wasn’t designed for a creative work space. I’ve had to rework the space for energy, creativity, and flow (as opposed to solely focusing on what looks the prettiest). I’ve moved furniture around, found the right lighting, and opened up the space a bit. I’ve also become incredibly mindful about where I place things and how that will affect my ability to create in this space.

We reopened our studio in April, so I’m not 100% working from home like I was at the beginning of quarantine, but I still try to create from home when I can. I learned there were certain things I did much better from my home space, sitting in my courtyard with my hummingbirds. Now, instead of rushing right into the studio in the morning, I take some time to ground myself creatively, catch up on calls, and find inspiration at home.

My hours are about the same as they were before—morning through evening—but I now take time to myself to rest and reground (this unfortunately came as a result of getting sick). Typically, from 2:30–3 p.m., I now meditate, take a power nap, and focus on my inner self. It’s helped dramatically. Taking those 30 minutes to myself every day has been so vital to my focus and creativity…even though getting ill with coronavirus is what originally forced my hand to do that.

How has the pandemic changed your business plans for 2020 and beyond?

If there’s one lesson I’ve learned, it’s that we’re all in this together, and we need to get through this as an industry together. I truly​ believe that, and it’s since become a belief that’s pivotal to our business plans.

Prior to COVID-19, we were on the path to work with Make-A-Wish Foundation for a fine jewelry collaboration. The photo shoot and efforts that went along with that were unfortunately put on hold (but will be resuming soon!), But I knew I wanted to continue to help communities, even if that looked a little different than we’d first imagined.

Our focus shifted. It became about finding a way to help retailers through this crisis while also supporting the communities that so need our help. We wanted to empower our retailers to become their own hometown heroes, and we wanted to make it easy and seamless for them to do so.

Our Community Support Program [see more on that below] was born to serve that goal, and it’s since been so successful that it’s now abundantly apparent to me that this will be a part of our business plan going forward.

How have things changed at retail for you? 

As far as retail goes, our shop is now reopen with all of the necessary precautionary measures in place. Customers have to make an appointment to come see us. You get your temperature checked at the door. We offer masks if someone doesn’t have one, and we’ve rearranged the shop to allow for social distancing. We’re also doing curbside deliveries from our website.

During the pandemic, I’m grateful to say we were able to keep many of our all-female workforce employed and working from home. Surprisingly, shipping didn’t miss a beat. We are now back to almost 100%. While I don’t do any of the shipping myself, my team was able to drop-ship to our retailers without a single hiccup—all from the safety of their own homes.

The funny thing about the designs themselves is that COVID-19 has allowed us to really lean into what Dee Berkley Jewelry is all about. The notion of what you’d wear with a plain white T-shirt has always been the blank canvas for each new piece of jewelry I design, and that seems to be more relevant now than ever. I’m focused on creating designs that make you feel a little dressed up, pretty, and inspired even—no, especially​—when you’ve been working from home in the same pair of jeans (OK, yoga pants) for three days in a row.

People want to feel comfortable and grounded but still elevated and confident. They want heirloom-quality pieces but without breaking the bank. My line has always spoken to those desires. So, COVID or not, I’m focused on creating natural, affordable pieces that make you feel special, regardless of how ​not​ special homeschooling children and cooking three meals a day can make you feel.

Dee Berkley working in her backyard
Berkley working in her backyard

Please tell me how you came to start fundraising during pandemic—what inspired you to do it, and how you are going about it?

We started by creating bracelets for our own studio where 100% of profits went directly to Three Square, an incredible local food bank that feeds families across the Las Vegas Valley. Once we realized how successful that was and saw just how much our customers loved it, we wanted to create a program that allowed our retailers to do the same—to remain engaged with their customers ​and support a charity of their choosing through the sale of our genuine gemstone bracelets.

Here’s how it works: each bracelet wholesales between $12 and $15. Retailers decide the beads they want, how much they’d like to resell each for, and what percentage of proceeds they’ll donate to their chosen charity. There is no minimum purchase. We create any marketing materials they need (think professional photography and copy) and even drop-ship the bracelets directly to customers if they’d like. The idea was minimum effort on our retailers’ part [and a] maximum-impact program—we wanted to create something that allowed retailers to become their own hometown hero, but in a way that was super easy and effective for them to do so.

How much have you raised so far and for who?

Through our amazing retailers, we’ve been able to raise almost $70,000 for​ ​30 charities across the country, and we are just getting started. The best part has been learning about all of these incredible charities we didn’t know about prior to this. From We Love Birthday Parties to Peyton’s Promise, it’s been really cool to see what charities our retailers choose to support.

We have created bracelets in Las Vegas for Three Square Food Bank, Help of Southern Nevada, Keep Memory Alive, Nathan Adelson Hospice, ALS Nevada Chapter, and Communities in Schools.

How do you think the pandemic will change the jewelry industry—and jewelry retail—going forward?

You know, it’s probably pretty obvious, but a shift toward digital is going to be major. We have to learn to pivot to be more digitally savvy. How can we best showcase our pieces virtually? How can we make our online-to-curbside funnel intuitive and easy for customers? But, at the same time, how can we keep those human roots intact while making a shift to a more virtual business model?

In my opinion, the brands who come out strongest on the other side of this will be the ones who’ve managed to best merge human touch with digital ease. My business was founded on the idea of connection, and I want to make sure we never​ lose that. You’re still going to have people who prefer a phone call, who want to try a piece on in person, who love interaction, and who value our opinions as retailers and artists. We can’t let customer service go by the wayside and rely s​olely​ on a screen to tell our entire story.

Logistically, I believe we’ll need to be fair and lenient with our return policies. And great photography is going to be a big​ one. As we start to rely more on online sales, we’re going to need to make sure we have the right marketing tools in place to showcase our pieces in the best possible light, both figuratively and literally.

How have you been relaxing or mentally escaping during quarantine?

I’m spending more time in the kitchen. I’d say I’ve stepped up from being a horrible cook to being a not-as-horrible cook…although my daughter might disagree. I’m also having some pretty fun Zoom cocktail parties with girlfriends. Eating out was always something my family looked forward to—it was a huge part of our family time together. So, now we do dinners at home with takeout from local restaurants and reconnect that way.

I force myself to turn off the news for a few hours every day and, as I mentioned before, have started resting and meditating in the afternoon.

It’s also been extremely relaxing and rewarding to connect with my daughter. She’s going into her senior year of high school, so she’s upstairs looking at colleges and wondering where her life will go from here. I’m trying to spend time with her and emphasize the fact that this won’t be forever. There will be weddings. There will be dances. There will be family gatherings. Getting that message to her as a young adult going out into the world is ​so important—that’s been a big part of where I’ve focused my downtime.

Do you have any good book/TV/movie/podcast recommendations?

I was going to ask you the same question! I seem to be asking everyone these days for media recommendations.

I’ve probably seen more Seinfeld episodes in the past few months than I did in all of the time since Seinfeld ended. (I mean, can you beat the puffy shirt episode?) If you need a good belly laugh and want to check out of the chaos for a few hours, there’s no better show to turn to, in my opinion. I also finished the entire series of Schitt’s Creek. It’s such a feel-good, happy, nonjudgmental show that I actually cried when it was over.

I also have a newfound obsession with the series Outlander. I highly recommend it! It’s this time-traveling show where a World War II nurse suddenly finds herself transported to Scotland in 1743. Of course, as I watch it, I’m going, “Oh—wow! She set up an apothecary. I wonder if I could have set up a bead shop? Wait—could I have traded my jewelry for venison? Would that have kept me alive?” My husband laughs and thinks it’s a little crazy that that’s​ what I’m focused on as we watch. But, what can I say? Once a jewelry designer, always a jewelry designer, regardless of the era. “Will design bracelets for deer meat.” Is that a bad note to end on?

(All photos courtesy of Dee Berkley Jewelry)

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JCK Magazine Editor