Created in the wake of a home robbery, this husband-and-wife jewelry company has clients throughout the U.S.
When their home on Monroe Street in Wilmington was burglarized in 2011, Caelen and Samantha Bird found themselves without a TV, computer, and their favorite ice cream. (Yes, the thieves actually stole a gallon of mint chocolate chip out of their freezer.) While the couple attended an evening church service, the burglars, who were later identified as kids who lived down the street, entered through a second story bedroom in the back of the house.
Insurance covered the cost of the TV, but not the computer. In response, Samantha turned to a past hobby. “This loss drove me to dig out my jewelry supplies and start creating again to help pay for a new computer, since I needed one for work,” she says.
Several months after the burglary, in the fall of 2011, the Birds turned Samantha’s creations into a business, and Midwinter Co. was born. They started by selling necklaces on Etsy, an online marketplace for companies selling custom, handmade, and vintage items. Then, on Black Friday, shortly after they had established their business, a large order for necklaces came in from the flash sales site Fab.com.
They’ve continued to grow ever since. Midwinter’s e-commerce website brought in $28,000 when it launched in 2013. Annual sales have doubled almost every year since, and totaled $1.5 million in 2018. That’s when the Birds moved production from their home to a studio in Trolley Square, which is available for shopping by appointment.
Both Delaware natives, Caelen and Samantha have known each other since they were neighbors in Elsmere when they were 11. By age 13 they were dating and, in December 2006, under shooting stars in Rehoboth Beach, Caelen proposed. Eight months later, they were married.
Today the couple resides in Brandywine Hills with their two children, Norelei, 9, and Eldin, 4.
The Beginning of the Brand
Before Midwinter, Samantha was a self-employed photographer, graphic designer and web developer. She started making jewelry in 2005, when a friend taught her how to bead on wire and finish each piece with clasps. Caelen was using his certificate of ornamental horticulture from Longwood Gardens as the estate manager of a large home in Greenville. His job helped fund the business. While working full time, he made jewelry at night and on the weekends.
Eventually, Samantha says, Caelen left his job to devote full time to Midwinter “so that we could both focus on business and family together.”
Samantha admits they had “zero training to go into business for ourselves.” But, she says, “I just have a strong entrepreneurial personality, heart, and mind. Risks don’t make me hesitate when I feel motivated and able.”
Their roles in the company are complementary and their skills self-taught. Samantha is the visionary who designs the pieces and photographs the work. Caelen makes the jewelry, utilizing recycled metals to mold the gemstone settings and bring Samantha’s designs to life.
Creating Celestial Diamonds
You won’t find any “perfect” diamonds here. The Midwinter catalog features a fresh perspective: high quality, raw gemstones with plenty of character and beautiful flaws.
“The earth has created much more beauty than you can find at your average jewelry store,” Samantha says. “I hunt down strong and stunning diamonds that convey glamour while still expressing the unconventional, the unexpected.”
The gems they work with are sometimes called by the industry galaxy or salt-and-pepper diamonds, but Midwinter calls them Celestial Diamonds, a name they have copyrighted. Celestial Diamonds are untreated, gray-toned and full of imperfect inclusions that can be seen with the naked eye, making them unusual.
“Each diamond we use looks different,” says Caelen, “and some have really cool geometric cuts and facets, which then requires unique metalwork to keep the stone secure.”
Alicia Fretz and her fiancé, Sean Hoban, of Wilmington, discovered Midwinter while on a hike. “Sean and I love to spend time outdoors together,” Fretz says, “and we were hiking in Alapocas Run State Park one day in 2016 and decided to do some geocaching to make it even more fun, [geocaching is] kind of like a treasure-hunting challenge. The geocache we found included a small canvas bag with a beautiful vintage necklace and Midwinter Co.’s business card. I looked them up online and found out that they were a local husband and wife team, creating stunning, socially responsible, high-quality jewelry. How could we not love them right away?”
Flash forward to 2019, when Fretz and Hoban were on another hike, this time in Arizona. That was when, in her words, “he took my breath away by getting down on one knee and asking me to be his wife with the most beautiful Midwinter band. Sean chose the band himself, and I am positive that there is no other ring in the world that more perfectly represents both of us. We’re so proud that such an ethical, eco-friendly, local company is a part of our story.”
The diamonds Midwinter Co. sources are less taxing on the earth because the Birds are not seeking “perfect” diamonds. When a mining company looks for a clear diamond with invisible inclusions, it extracts hundreds of tons of earth in its search for that one stone, using excessive resources. By using stones that have visible flaws, Midwinter gathers a wider variety of untreated diamonds without extensive mining, utilizing fewer resources.
“We simply chose not to conform to the mainstream idea of perfection, and believe our diamonds with their obvious inclusions are the epitome of true perfection: each is unique, real, and stunningly beautiful in its own right,” Samantha says.
No part of Midwinter’s sourcing, mining, and shipping process tolerates conflict diamonds. Conflict diamonds are sourced from war zones and their purchase finances an insurgency or war efforts on the part of an invading army or warlord. Each diamond and gemstone supplier Midwinter Co. partners with is held to the highest ethical standards, promoting and ensuring socially responsible mining and business practices.
Custom Designed – by Customers
Besides promoting eco-awareness in the jewelry industry, Midwinter’s four team members, Samantha, Caelen, Barbara Duszak and Nicole Woodruff, focus on creating a welcoming, intimidation-free environment for their clients online and in their Trolley Square studio.
Half of Midwinter orders are ready-to-ship and the other half are custom creations. Many customers take part in designing their own jewelry by providing drawings of what they are imagining. Midwinter then uses computer-aided design (CAD) software to build the piece digitally. The CAD design is printed in wax, the wax is made into a mold, and the mold is filled with melted gold. The gold solidifies and then is ready for finishing. This added level of customization creates a personal touch.
“Midwinter Co. was fantastic to work with,” says recent client David Jacobson, of Wilmington, N.C. “I had ideas for the shape and style of my fiancée Raven’s rings, both engagement and wedding band, and they were endlessly patient going back and forth with various revisions and tweaks.”
While Midwinter Co. is based in Delaware, they have clients throughout the country. With this national reach, the Birds prioritize a comprehensive online presence.
“It’s a business model type to focus on the rest of the world, inviting them digitally,” says Samantha.
They attribute their marketing success to an informative website, detailed and aesthetically pleasing photographs, and an active Instagram account.
“Our Instagram is a community,” Samantha says. “We approach it as an opportunity to connect to people, and avoid the whole advertising feel. We also use Instagram to educate people about jewelry styles, minerals and metals. People feel a part of Midwinter Co. because we are excited to be a small part of their love stories.”
Doing Well While Doing Good
In addition to creating unique jewelry using eco-friendly materials, Midwinter donates 10 percent of its profits to charity. Its business model is based on eco-friendly, ethical and giving practices.
“Our personal beliefs are the foundation to what we do,” says Samantha. “We don’t give out of obligation, but instead we believe all businesses have a responsibility to their local community and to the economy.”
The funds go to local and international charities that focus on food insecurity, lodging, education, and more. In 2019, they donated almost $70,000 to charities such as Sunday Breakfast Mission, Urban Promise Wilmington, Love 146, and World Vision.
Something they don’t support, however, is discrimination of any kind. When choosing a charity, the Birds do their research about the causes they’ll be supporting, where the money goes, and who will directly benefit. Any organization that discriminates, in any capacity, is off the list.
Clients appreciate Midwinter Co.’s philanthropic values. Says Fretz: “I think their incredible talent is obvious as soon as you look at their work, but I hope people are also aware of the values and mission that drive them – like supporting environmental protection, fair labor practices, and generosity by donating at least 10 percent of their profits to charitable organizations. I think that’s such an important thing to consider, especially when choosing an item to represent the love between you and your partner or your own self-love.”
Midwinter Co.’s foundation is based on authenticity and individuality. Their jewelry is designed as an extension of each customer’s personal story.
“Whether you choose a bright and crystal clear diamond or one that looks more like the night sky, I advocate that perfection is an opinion,” says Samantha.