When you need just the right color accessory to match an outfit — for one event — there is only one thing to do: Go consignment shopping! Although the consignment store had the little purple purse I needed, it was the discovery of Kelly Brunell that made the trip successful.
Kelly, a Vermont jewelry artisan, had consigned a couple of her handmade gemstone designs at the shop. One, a beautifully strung red necklace, caught my eye with its incredible luster and brilliant color. The tag description read “Madagascar Ruby & Blister Pearls: The ruby is the stone of love and coin pearls the stone of pure femininity to the Polynesian people. Wear it in good health, Kelly.”
As I drove home clutching my latest find, I became fixated on its creator. I decided to learn more about this fascinating Vermont artisan.
Kelly Brunell was born of native Vermonters; her mother was a successful business owner, her dad an accountant for the state. The two shared a deep love for the mountains and Brunell was raised in a modest home at the base of Camel’s Hump.
“It was fun,” Brunell said. “We had the mountain pretty much to ourselves. I knew every rock and tree on that mountain. It was a time when children could wander about, the rain made your hair feel soft, and the snow practically buried your house.”
Although Brunell is deeply rooted in Vermont, that did not keep her from wandering about the country as a young woman. Her travels began at age 17 as a model for the Canadian company La Belle Femme.” During her short modeling career, Brunell developed a wanderlust that eventually took her to Seattle, West Virginia, Florida and New Mexico. Traveled out at age 38, Brunell returned to the Green Mountain state, the place she calls her real home.
Brunell began studying gemstones shortly thereafter and — as her mother had — started her own business, Opaque Mountain Designs.
“My passion for stones came from my childhood exploring the mountains,” Brunell said. “It was the fossil that mostly intrigued me, and still does. Then I fell in love with opaque gemstones. Contrary to their name, they are neither transparent nor translucent, but solid-colored in appearance and delightfully smooth to the touch.
“I love all varieties, including agates, turquoise, carnelian, and one of my favorites, Tiger’s Eye. This stone is remarkable because of its striking play of light and movement over the surface of the stone — kind of a wavy three-dimensional effect. Although most people recognize it as brownish-yellow, reddish-brown or grayish-blue, there are other rare varieties like Marra Mamba from the Hamersley Ranges of the Pilbara region of Australia. I have seen stones from there in shades of red, green, yellow and blue. I just can’t get enough.”
The treasures include Botswana agates, Chinese turquoise, Brazilian amethyst and Japanese freshwater pearls. There are jewelry designs hung everywhere in various stages of completion. Each necklace, bracelet and earring was well on its way to becoming a one-of-a-kind masterpiece.
And Brunell does not stop at gemstones. She makes jewelry from everything nature has to offer, including wood, gems of the sea and beads made from recycled glass.
Her philosophy is straightforward. She believes that it is essential to recycle, renew and reuse what is already on Earth.
Brunell, rolling her eyes, expounds, “We are getting smothered with cardboard boxes, glass and manmade materials that are creating mountains of a different kind. Mountains of trash that don’t produce anything, much less gemstones.”
Opaque’s jewelry can no longer be found at the consignment store. It is displayed at some area boutiques on beautiful driftwood displays handmade by Brunell’s husband, Jim. Although a few of Brunell’s pieces can be found at Elements at Stoweflake, Green Envy and the Stowe Emporium.
“The earth has many stones unturned,” Brunell said. “However, when they are discovered — and I get my hands on them — they will become one of my designs.”