-  New jewelry store in Troutdale offers handcrafted Italian bead jewelry

Downtown Troutdale has added a little bit of bling to its ring of merchants, with the recent opening of Marco Polo Designs.

A long respected name in gallery-quality jewelry, Marco Polo Designs offers stunning collections of handmade Italian glass bead accessories that rival works of art. by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Scarlet Leopard necklace from Marco Polo Designs in Troutdale. by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - A display of earrings at Marco Polo Designs in Troutdale.

“Our custom designed beads serve as the core of our high-fashion jewelry collections,” said Claude Cruz, president and lead designer for the company. “We get our joy from making our jewelry accessible to everyone. These are truly individual pieces of art.”

Those acquainted with Italian bead purveyors, such as Pandora or Troll Beads, will find Marco Polo to be a step ahead in the industry. Where the former are marketed for building a bauble to make a personal statement, Marco Polo creates collections of earrings, necklaces and bracelets that speak to individuality but in a high fashion way.

The company was founded by Jane Barthelemy, an opera prima donna well known in Venice who began designing jewelry in Italy to compliment her costumes. She returned to the United States in 1994 and set up shop in Portland. Barthelemy continued to work with world-class Italian glass artisans and has designed hundreds of beads as inspiration for numerous jewelry collections.

Claude and his wife, Penny, embarked on an extensive apprenticeship with Barthelemy, learning the science of fine-art jewelry design and creation. Three years ago, they purchased the company. They have maintained the high standard of craftsmanship set by the former owner and work closely with the same Italian glass artisans.

“These are people with 1,000 years of family experience in glass making,” Claude said. “They are the best in hand crafting glass beads and at the center of the Italian glass world.”

Twice a year, the Troutdale couple heads to Venice to custom design beads for their upcoming collections. They work with Venitian and Murano glass artisans, who make each bead by hand through a skill known as “lamp work.”

The process involves building multiple layers of glass, infusing each bead with a variety of colors, textures and 24k gold or sterling silver foil. The “raw beads” then become the “color palette” in the design process, said Penny, who added it can take three to four weeks to marry the beads into the proper placement on a necklace or bracelet.

“It takes time to find the right balance and to make sure the colors and crystals work well together,” Penny said. “Our designs are always built around a collection, so that the bracelet, necklace and earrings coordinate.”

Each collection is named, according to Claude, which is often inspired by an everyday event, a season or an art master like Picasso.

The name is meant to reflect the colors and shape of the various beads. Claude’s 2011 Mother’s Day design called “Primavera,” which means springtime in Italian, encompasses the lively pastel colors usually associated with spring and Easter.

Collections include an 18-inch and 34-inch necklace, a three-bead cable necklace, bracelet and from two to four sets of earrings. Prices range from $60 to $350 for each piece, which can be purchased individually.

“We consider our designs to be a bridge point between fashion and find jewelry,” Claude said. “Fine jewelry being diamonds and gems.” by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Jewelry maker Liya Cot assembles a necklace at Marco Polo Designs in Troutdale.

Marco Polo Designs employs six people, who are an integral part of the production process. Once a design is complete, each craftsperson has a part in hand-stringing the beads, which are accented with Swarovski crystals, Czech beads, pearls and precious metals. Each design’s elements, or “ingredients” as Claude refers to them, are then logged so that the collection becomes part of Marco Polo’s inventory and can be purchased or custom-ordered by customers.

While the Cruz’ shop in Troutdale is their first retail outlet, Marco Polo Designs is hardly breaking news to appreciative customers. The company has had a presence online and in nearly 100 galleries across the country for several years, including the Real Mother Goose in Portland.

With so much of their business directed toward gallery and online sales, Penny said they wanted a location where they could meet customers, but not compete with the ones they already had.

“We never would have done it in Portland because you never go head-to-head with your customers,” she said. “But here in Troutdale, we have an opportunity to be face-to-face with our customers. We don’t usually see that because our primary sales have always been to galleries.”

Claude and Penny recognize that jewelry is intended to make a personal statement. Marco Polo Designs’ superior craftsmanship and attention to detail are a cut above for a unique and individual high-fashion look.

“We take pride in what we do, in each step of the process and the end results speak for themselves,” Claude said. “We strive for excellence. We want to deliver beauty.”

Things to know

Who: Marco Polo Designs

Where: 149 E. Historic Columbia River Highway, Troutdale

What: custom-designed, handcrafted Italian bead jewelry

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday

More info: Call 503-328-8661 or visit

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