Days after her fairytale wedding, Holly Daniels Christensen lay on the warm sands of a beach in Positano, Italy. To her right were the brightly colored buildings built into a cliff of the vibrant, seaside community. To her left was the love of her life. Christensen wished she could bottle up this magical moment forever.
It turns out, she could, and you can, too. The Boston-based entrepreneur built her business by helping others to preserve special memories by turning them into exquisite pieces of jewelry.
Sounds impossible, right?
Her Dune Jewelry takes literal remnants of your favorite place — sand from the beach where your husband proposed, flowers from the day your daughter was born — and preserves them in bracelets, charms and necklaces to be worn close to your heart.
“We’re living in such a digital world,” says Christensen. “All of our photos live on our phone in a cloud somewhere. Dune Jewelry gives you a chance to hold on to something. Like a great, tangible reminder of your most precious moments.”
Christensen has been running her business for nine years and has taken it from solo creations at her kitchen table to a multilayered business sourcing materials from over 4,000 sentimental locations around the world.
As is the case with many entrepreneurs, Christensen’s road to success hasn’t always been easy, and, almost a decade in, challenges still arise.
Recently, she applied for a small business loan and the bank attached her home to it.
“Once I went over it with my business mentor and my accountant, they were horrified,” she says. “They had never seen a profitable, functioning business for nine years have to be cross collateralized with someone’s private home.”
She’s learned to always stand up for herself, especially as a woman in business. “I went to the bank, and I said, ‘I think this has to do with me being a female. I would like you to reassess this situation,’” she says. Three weeks later they took her home off the loan. Ironically, the loan was merely a safety net and she hasn’t touched a penny of the funds.
Christensen’s business model works like this. Shoppers select a particular style of jewelry from Dune’s website, which will ultimately hold and preserve a natural element. Customers can choose from a large bank of available samples, itemized specifically per location, or provide your own.
Aside from sand, people often provide human or animal ashes, says Christensen, snippets from wedding dresses and other unconventional materials.
“I say yes to everything. I want to evolve and see what things are sentimental to people,” she says. One shopper even submitted turf from Gillette Stadium. “The only thing that I’ve said no to in the past nine years is breast milk,” she says. “And, only because we can’t put liquids into the jewelry yet. But, I’m sure I will figure it out.”
Dune Jewelry creations aren’t just a way to turn a profit for this hands-on entrepreneur. She tests all the new jewelry designs herself, wearing them for weeks sleeping, swimming and managing her busy life, to make sure they live up to Dune Jewelry’s lifetime warranty.
She also wears several pieces for her own sentimentality: a Boho Ring with sand from that Italian honeymoon; an Island Necklace with sand from Cooks Brook Beach in Cape Cod, the first beach she took her oldest daughter to; a Bay View Cuff Bracelet with sand from Morocco to manifest the trip she’s been dreaming of taking there.
Christensen’s studio space in Hyde Park employs 30 people, many of them local artists who apply their passion and skills to each handcrafted Dune treasure. Tight budgets and other challenges in her childhood have inspired her to give back to the Massachusetts community that helped her through.
Among many charity initiatives she contributes to, Christensen’s newly launched Touch the World collection features 12 bracelets tied to different causes. Many of the charities are personal to her — for example, ocean conservancy for her childhood on Cape Cod and opioid research and rehabilitation for family members who have struggled with addiction. Every quarter, 10 percent of the sales from the collection go to benefit these causes. Christensen says this won’t be a temporary program, but a long-term charitable endeavor featuring new designs over time.
Like many inspiring female entrepreneurs, Christensen is lovely, personable and easy to talk to, but she’s also tough as nails and committed to her business.
“My goal is to be a household name by 2026,” she says. “I think it’s important what we do, and I think it’s disruptive, and it’s changing the perception of what’s precious.”
Christensen’s number one priority is bringing joy to her clients. “I always joke that we make people cry, but in a good way,” she says. “Everyone would love to receive a diamond bracelet, but what’s more precious than that? A piece of jewelry that holds the best day of your life.”