Denver-based jeweler B.B. Becker designs and manufactures jewelry engraved with emotion-evoking quotations. He took his inspiration from Renaissance-era "poesy rings" to create pieces of mostly sterling silver inspirational jewelry. His first piece was crafted in September of 2000, a bracelet inscribed with the Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference.
Becker had made jewelry as a hobby for several years when he found himself at a personal and professional crossroads. An emotional trip to an ancient Mayan site (Palanque) opened a pathway for him to follow through his jewelry, and that first Serenity Prayer bracelet led to other meaningful quotations and new pieces of jewelry.
"I did some research and discovered that rings engraved with phrases of love and adoration were popular beginning in the 15th century. It seemed that style might work with a more contemporary feel," Becker said.
He started designing, ultimately developing a new, proprietary engraving process. He asked his wife to help by providing the calligraphy for each quotation. In addition to the Serenity Prayer there were styles featuring a Navajo Prayer and the Protection Prayer by James Dillet Freeman.
By 2001, Becker had several samples and was beginning to show them around to managers at various jewelry trade shows. In the aftermath of 9/11, Becker said he saw a need for people to find comfort.
"The quotations engraved on my jewelry could provide comfort and emotional connection," Becker said.
In May of 2002, Becker sent out brochures to potential sales outlets on the West Coast. Within weeks, the momentum he'd built up in his fledgling business came to a crashing halt. A San Francisco-based jewelry designer claimed he'd infringed on her designs and ordered him to stop. Becker's lawyer wrote back a denial, pointing out differences in their designs and quotations used.
Nothing more was heard from the San Francisco designer for almost two years. Becker was finding more success for his designs, including an invitation to the prestigious International New York Gift Fair when the designer sued him in New York federal court. Alleging trade dress infringement and unfair competition; she sued several others, as well. Becker couldn't afford to defend himself but believed his designs were protected forms of artistic expression. A lawyer volunteering for Colorado Lawyers for the Arts agreed and took Becker's case pro bono.
Lawyer Chris Beale (then with Faegre & Benson in Denver) enlisted the New York firm of Latham & Watkins to help, also pro bono, and they plunged into preparation for court, including researching poesy rings. Their research led them to an antique jewelry expert, Joyce Jonas, well known to viewers of television's "Antiques Roadshow," who agreed to testify for a reduced fee because she believed in his case.
"I had everything on the line," Becker said. "Even with lawyers working for free, I still had to dig into my life savings to pay $95,000 of additional expenses and out-of-pocket costs. Joyce Jonas was a lifeline for us, proving that engraving sentiments on pieces of jewelry was a historic concept that could not be claimed exclusively by a contemporary artist."
The judge presiding over the trial told Becker and his lawyers very quickly that they should settle. H"e told us, 'I can read juries and this jury is going to rule against you.'" Becker said. "―I was already terrified. All I could do was pray. And I asked everyone I knew to pray for me. It took all of my faith to keep on going."
"My heart was right. We won a verdict in our favor in October of 2005," Becker said. "The genre is open now. Even many big companies are producing inspirational jewelry now. But I think my designs are still unique and very meaningful, especially for people seeking to connect on an emotional level."
Becker and his wife continue to look for quotations that communicate heartfelt sentiments.
"The quotes have to speak to me in some way," he said.
His line of jewelry has grown to encompass more than 100 pieces – rings, bracelets and pendants including some pieces for men. In addition to the original Serenity Prayer, there are quotes from Mahatma Gandhi, Buddha, Helen Keller, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Psalms. He also has added some bronze items to widen the jewelry's appeal. Each piece is individually made, and the engraving is still in his wife's distinctive cursive handwriting. Becker's jewelry is sold through more than 100 stores nationwide.
"People just want to support one another on an emotional level," Becker said. "My jewelry helps remind them of the words of comfort and support they want to share."
BB Becker is no stranger to trials and tribulations. His sight of hope in a time of despair motivated him to spread words of inspiration, kindness and love.