Salted Gems Lavallette NJ shop inspired by earth, sea, nature elements
Even before they met and married, activities like surfing, traveling, and appreciating the earth’s bounty came naturally to both Brian Robinson and Dot Bugbee-Robinson.
And it all came full circle nearly a decade ago when the couple launched Salted Gems, a Lavallette-based shop featuring a range of handmade jewelry, home décor, all-natural apothecary, crystals, seashells and more, all inspired by the earth, sea and nature’s most raw elements.
“Growing up, Dot and I both loved the beach and we ultimately met working at a surf school in Lavallette in 2012,” said Point Pleasant Beach native Brian, 37, who graduated from Monmouth University in West Long Branch with a degree in communications.
“As a kid, I was always fascinated with what the earth produced and I loved collecting and painting sea shells and making my own jewelry,” said Dot, 35, who grew up in Rockland County, New York, and moved to Lavallette when she was 17. “I attended Ocean County College in Toms River for two years, but ended up traveling and moving to Costa Rica to surf, run surf retreats and compete in international surfing contests from the time I was 19 to 25.”
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Dating by the time superstorm Sandy hit in October 2012, “we worked on rebuilding Dot’s parents’ house,” Brian recalled. “After that, Dot didn’t return to Costa Rica and instead we decided to go to Bali.”
“It was a new opportunity, world-class surf and an incredible, beautiful culture,” Dot said of the destination. “Friends of ours had stores at the Shore and would ask us to bring back handmade jewelry and sarongs, so we would stay in Bali for two months at a time, come back, and sell around $5,000 worth of items here. It eventually became a local trend for people to go to Bali and bring back stuff to sell to pay for their trip.
“At that point, we decided to go completely custom and unique and connected with a silversmith in Bali to learn more about working with sterling silver and making our own jewelry,” Dot said. “We launched Salted Gems in 2013 and started doing pop-up shows like Asbury Park Bazaar and selling products at Surf Taco and Langosta Lounge’s holiday shows, local retail stores like Plethora Boutique, and, later, at Gordon’s Surf Shop in Point Pleasant Beach and Wanderlust in Sea Girt. We also grew Salted Gems on Etsy and Instagram and out of our garage by private appointment,” she said.
After several years, the now-married couple decided to take their venture to the next level and open a brick-and-mortar shop. “We were doing well and started looking around, but rental spaces were hard to come by in Lavallette,” Brian said.
“However, we were coming home from a trip to the pet store one day in 2018 when we saw a ‘for rent’ sign in town and called the landlord. Two hours later we were standing in the store and the next day we were signing the lease,” he said of the launch of their shop. “Our store is located a block from the beach and we ended up buying the building in 2020.”
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Today, in their nearly 600-square-foot space, “the heartbeat of our store is our jewelry,” said Brian of their business, which currently features three silversmiths and a stonecutter who work to produce their ‘Salted Gems’ line (referring to the fruits of their “salty travels”), but which also carries other local artisans.
“We got into gemstones initially by buying pre-cut cabochons for rings, stud earrings, and pendants but then buying them in rough form so that customers could pick their own stone for our team members to cut,” Brian said.
“Our jewelry is mainly sterling silver and some recycled brass and is a reflection of our love of travel,” Dot said. “Signature pieces of ours feature fossilized shark teeth, Australian boulder opal, turquoise, Larimar (a beautiful turquoise volcanic stone found only in the Dominican Republic), and sea glass and wampum shell sourced right here in Lavallette,” she said.
“Other stones we work with include crystal quartz, amethyst, rose quartz, moonstone, citrine, pearls, abalone, amber and coral from such areas as the U.S., Indonesia, Africa, Thailand, India, Madagascar, New Zealand and Canada,” Dot said. Sold on their website as well, she said, “we’re delivering the beachy bohemian lifestyle for anyone in the world to enjoy.
“Every piece has meaning, symbolism, and a story and we love being able to tell customers where it’s from and what it signifies,” Dot said of their unique pieces. “Prices start at $25 for a simple set of studs or a wave ring and go up to $200 for an opal, turquoise or lodolite statement ring or necklace.”
The use of adjustable bands on their ring designs makes them easy to order for oneself or to give as gifts, she said, “and we offer adjustable chains as well.”
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Salted Gems also carries such other products as tumbled stones, specimen and statement pieces, shells, CBD items, mushroom tinctures, taxidermy, cactus and succulents, and incense, “and our customers are from all over the place, including New York, Pennsylvania, Canada, California, Virginia, Florida and North Carolina,” Dot said. “They may have come to the area for other reasons but end up experiencing our store and revisiting and/or buying online for the holidays, so we’ve built many repeat customers.”
Designing and sourcing all of the material that goes into producing upwards of 200 to 300 jewelry pieces per month, Brian and Dot said business has been strong.
“The pandemic helped our business because many people came down to live in their Shore houses or rent here,” he said. “We ended up seeing a big increase in walk-in traffic that’s been able to sustain us year-round.”
Among trends, “layering different chokers and necklaces is popular today, and there’s been a renewed interest in crystals, which amplify mindfulness and help to promote spiritual healing,” Dot said.
“People have anxiety and stress and need alternative, natural remedies, so products infused with CBD oil have also gotten big,” Brian added. “We sell high-quality CBD and take it every day ourselves.”
As for challenges, “we currently have two employees and have two more coming on board this summer, but it can be hard to find good help and we need employees we can grow our business with,” Brian said. “There’s a lot to learn about gemstones, jewelry, CBD and other things we sell, so it’s hard to train people quickly.”
Among their most noteworthy new products, “we have a big order of jewelry coming in that will include a lot of beautiful, triple-A-grade rainbow moonstone, plus our new signature ‘Dot Dangles’ line of funky earrings made with beads, shells and crystals,” Brian said. “Farther ahead, we’d love to open another location and also get into licensing of our Salted Gems brand name. We currently wholesale our jewelry and gemstones and see this expanding in the future as well.”
For Dot, working alongside Brian is the biggest benefit of all. “Being able to work with my husband/best friend and share this experience together is my favorite thing about our business,” she said.
“We’re super grateful to be here in Lavallette, a block from the beach and bay and able to put our feet in the grass or sand,” Brian said. “At the same time, we’re selling positive, uplifting things and it’s great to see people walk into our store, breathe in and feel better and happier,” he said. “It feels good to be able to make a living in a place like that.”
Location: 906B Grand Central Ave., Lavallette
Owners: Brian Robinson and Dot Bugbee-Robinson
Launched: 2013 (and in current brick-and-mortar shop since 2018)