The Journey

The Journey

The Journey: The early years

With the current state of the planet now more than ever it's important for us to remember to recycle to reuse and to reclaim. I want to tell you all about how we do just that at Gem Set Love but I thought I’d start at the beginning...


When I first opened my shop Gilt in 1994 it wasn't cool or even easy to recycle, in fact there was only one place to do recycle in Portland and my husband and I would save all of our recyclables and take them to the Sunshine recycling center once a month.

My first location was Sellwood, a little neighborhood in SE Portland, I would sit quietly all day restoring and resurrecting jewelry that I would buy from scrappers and junk dealers, making it back into the beauty it was when first made. One of my favorite stops on my buying days was a shop in North Portland. The owner was a big burly guy who sold “man stuff”, as he referred to it, and saved all the “girlie stuff" in a bucket for me. I wasn’t permitted to sort or inspect the monthly bucket, he would plop it on an old bathroom scale in the back room of his shop and announce in a loud voice the price per pound I would be required to pay that month. Many times it was all the money I had in the world but the lure of that bucket was more than I could resist. Buckets and dumpsters sustained me thru that first year of having a bricks and mortar, and eventually the word got round that I would buy all manner of “weirdness” and people started bringing me things. Broken, awkward, badly repaired, these jewels and bits of the past called to me like lost puppies begging me to love them to fix them to make them whole again.

Money was at best fickle and in the worst months non existent, so I did whatever was needed to nurture and sustain my little enterprise. I was a bartender at night, rescued fixtures and house parts from demolitions, and took every opportunity to save things from the dump.

Dumpster diving. Well this became a kind of art form for us, fortunately we had an old Pac-Bell van and Rod is a wizard with any kind of engine. We would take all the side streets on our way home from the bar on the nights I worked, searching for a dumpster to rescue pieces of the past from. We would sometimes end up with nothing at all and sometimes the van would be loaded to the ceiling and we'd drive home happy and dirty in the light of another sunrise. We found some pretty interesting things as you can imagine. And we had a strict code of ethics, leave it cleaner than we found it and leave a thank you note.

This is meant to be a series, so more soon…..

I’ve built my business on the foundation of treating the planet well and treating people well. All of the jewelry you find in my store is either vintage, antique or handmade using recycled components, recycled metals, and recycled gems. GSL is all about re-purpose re-use re-love. 

1 comment

  • Julie Strawitz: August 02, 2022
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    I just had a wonderful experience selling Paula some of the jewelry inherited from my mother that I lovingly kept for decades. It was difficult for me to part with some of the pieces, having ogled them since my childhood and dreaming about being the stylish woman my mother was. Paula was very sensitive and understood right away that it was an emotional experience for me. She immediately suggested that I send one of the rings to a gemologist because she suspected that it was worth more than I had thought. I didn’t realize that Paula started her business recycling old jewelry parts and creating new pieces. SO up my alley, as I’ve been a dumpster diving type also. Thanks, Paula! Such a pleasure doing business with you!!

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