Our Story

Our Story
Marc Choyt and Helen Chantler, shown here in a recent photo. They started Reflective Images Jewelry together in 1995.

Since 1995, under Helen's creative direction, Reflective Images continues to craft jewelry that brings benefit and beauty to the world.
Hey there, I'm Marc. Helen and I started Reflective Images Jewelry in Santa Fe, in 1995 and this is our story.
About My Wife, Helen
Helen is the creative force behind Reflective Images Jewelry and the company is continually recreating itself based upon her artistic vision and passion.

She grew up in England then went to high school in Southeast Asia and was always an adventurer. During her sixteenth summer she rode down all of Java, Indonesia with her boyfriend on his motorcycle. Then, she traveled extensively throughout Southeast Asia, studying art and design at ancient sites and eco-reserves. When she was 21, she moved from Singapore to the US.

She got her degree in Southwest Asian studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and, after more time in India, she returned to the US and settled in Santa Fe in 1986. She got a job making leather belts for buckle sets for a local jeweler. After two years, Helen wanted to try making jewelry. Her boss said, "Draw something up. If I approve it, you can make it in silver."

Helen had never made jewelry or had any formal training in art and design. She would show other jewelers the drawings and ask them how to create it. She was paid by the piece and her pieces had to sell in order for more to be ordered. She was nearly broke yet from her childhood, she had always loved making things, and so she was happy to be involved in more creative work. She began to develop handwork techniques rooted in southwestern style, including shaping, stamping cutting and forming metal. She had to do a lot of drawings, learn skills quickly and manage production in order to survive.

As For Myself…
After I went to studying English literature in college I spent two years in Haiti as a volunteer running an orphanage for street kids and working in Mother Teresa's clinics. I was there when Baby Doc fled the country and bullet riddled bodies were bleeding on the sidewalks. I arrived in Santa Fe in 1986 with a duffle bag, bicycle and $200. Fired from my first job, kicked out of a teepee at the edge of town, penniless and homeless, I was crashing on a friend's floor when Helen showed up. She had spent the summer waitressing and picking apples in Vermont.

We were not dating, but we became friends. I left the following year for a Buddhist retreat center in Canada. It was during that year of meditating twelve hours a day in a cabin that Helen sent me a card she'd written while hiking the continental divide in Colorado. When I returned at age twenty-eight, Helen and I started dating. Soon after, together we bought a "fixer upper" old adobe and began a remodel while living in it.

Our water froze in the winters and we had minimal electricity and a plague of mice. Having traveled with no money in developing countries, the house didn't seem so bad. While Helen was honing her jewelry skills, I worked as a high school English teacher at a school for Native Americans. I knew so little about building that I used a dry wall saw to cut a hole in our roof for our wood stove. Each evening after work we'd spend the night fixing up the house.

Helen learned quickly, and soon became one of the main designers for women's jewelry at her company. Yet after a few years she was tired of banging out Concho belts and tip sets and wanted creative freedom to design images based upon her own tribal heritage. I loved the kids in my job but I wasn't happy about the politics. We decided to take a leap. I quit my job and joined Helen, we were going to start our own company.

Starting Out…
We imagined that our entrepreneurial venture would bring us freedom, ease and wealth, but it was not to be.

While Helen worked designing, fabricating and polishing jewelry in an unheated shed covered in snow, I crisscrossed the country in an old car walking into jewelry stores and selling the initial Reflective Jewelry Images Collection of about twenty-five pieces. I was so green I didn't even know what the term "price point" meant or the difference between a carrot, karat, and caret.

But we had enough success to keep going. We turned our house into a badass illegally zoned jewelry manufacturing company and our staff of four worked in sheds and back rooms. We did a lot of craft shows and one time a customer found our house, to buy some jewelry, while I was cutting the head off a turkey we raised for Thanksgiving.

In 2001 we purchased our current building, and began a massive remodel going deeply into debt just before 911. Business mostly stopped for two months so our company became a construction crew. We continued to grow over the next seven years and eventually had a staff of fifteen. At this point our jewelry was in hundreds of stores across the US.

Just a word about our employment practices over the past twenty plus years… we pay good living wages, a healthcare and wellness supplement, three weeks of paid vacation, holidays and sick time annually. We highly value our skilled and loyal employees.

With the Great Recession, our sales dropped 30%. Then, a few years later we discovered that our bookkeeper, our longest serving employee, had been embezzling from us. We learned, now having accurate data, that we owed hundreds of thousands in taxes and credit card debt. We were one thread away from bankruptcy, and losing everything we'd built up over the years, even including our house. Plus, our entire accounting system built over the years with thousands of inventory pieces and customer sales data was utterly corrupted.

The stress over the following years nearly killed us. Yet, with the help of our great jewelers and suppliers sympathetic to our plight we began the long crawl out of the abyss.

RIJ 2.0
Over the last two years we've been re-visioning our company. We now have a staff of seven, including three amazing jewelers now employed with us (as of 2016) for six, eight, and fourteen years. We encourage them to design their own and pay them royalties. We don't work with CADCAM or computer modeling; it takes decades of experience, skill and practice to make the type of jewelry we make. Our jewelers have over seventy years of combined experience as makers.

We are always striving to merge business practices with our strong concern for ecological and social justice. Helen serves on the executive committee of our local farmers market as the treasurer and is very active supporting our northern New Mexico agricultural community. She also sings at hospices. I've taken action against dirty gold and the blood diamond atrocities. I've been writing, speaking, campaigning and whining to anyone who will listen to me about ethical sourcing jewelry issues for years. I am on a few Santa Fe boards and initiated and co-led Santa Fe's opposition to a proposed gold mine. I also co-founded Fair Jewelry Action in 2009, with my friend and colleague, Greg Valerio, who was just honored by Prince Charles for starting the Fairtrade Gold movement.

Our company began using Fairtrade gold 2011. In April 2015, after ten years of working with Greg and others we became the first licensed Fairtrade Jeweler in the USA. We continue to support Fairtrades' Gold launch in the US market as their commercial liaison, providing critical contacts that will lay the groundwork for more jewelers to enter the system.

Over the decades our understanding of what it means to be in business has evolved. We started out just trying to make enough money to survive. We created a strong company, nearly lost it and had to start over. I like to tell people I got my MBA in Haiti, because that is where I saw indescribable poverty and knew that whatever I ended up doing in my life, I had to alleviate suffering. Now, we see ourselves as a purpose driven business of makers and designers catalyzing global change. Being the only Fairtrade Gold jeweler creates amazing possibilities.

Imagine the first fair trade coffee or chocolate company in the US thirty or forty years ago. That's us for jewelry.

When the US consumer market adopts Fairtrade gold, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of small-scale miners will find their lives improved. When this happens, we can say that one of the starting points was our small studio on Baca Street in Santa Fe, New Mexico started by a couple that were not afraid to take some risks for what they care about.

We still live in the same house with chickens, turkeys, a dog and cat who is an excellent mouse hunter. The place become a permaculture oasis in our barrio neighborhood.


Copyright © 2017 Reflective Jewelry
Follow Us
Join In!