Published June 17, 2022
Editor's note: Summer Hours is a photo series focusing on UB staff members who use the longer days to pursue interesting hobbies, causes and other endeavors outside of their day jobs.
A homemade rig holds a coin in place while the drill wizzes. This precision work takes a steady hand, good lighting and lots of practice. Under the attentive craftmanship of Renad Aref, assistant director for admission recruitment in the Graduate School of Education, the coin will soon be transformed into a unique piece of jewelry.
On a rainy Saturday afternoon in May, Aref puts the finishing touches on her Cleopatra necklace, her bestseller. Since launching La Reina Charm this past February, Aref has turned two of her childhood hobbies — coin-collecting and jewelry-making — into a growing business.
“I really love the creativity that comes with it,” she says. “I love that I can kind of envision something and make it come to life.”
The business name translates to “The Queen Charm” and reflects Aref’s interest in showcasing powerful women in history, such as Cleopatra and Helvetica, the female national personification of Switzerland. She also showcases her family history with ties to Palestine and Puerto Rico.
Aref’s interest is jewelry-making comes from her maternal grandmother, Betty. They started with making friendship bracelets, and progressed to other materials, like beads and metals. Betty passed on to her granddaughter a work ethic, as well as supplies and educational tools.
“I learned a lot of really interesting techniques from her that I would have never known on my own,” Aref says.
The interest in coin-collecting was born out of her father’s international travels while Aref was a teenager and hoping for souvenirs. Her first coin arrived from Hong Kong, while her siblings’ gifts were the typical T-shirts and key chains. Over the years, her collection has grown to over 400 coins.
“I wanted a coin souvenir because it was always fascinating to me to have something from a different country,” she says. “He brought me back some currency, and so it just developed; I would collect these coins.”
Aref has taken on every aspect of building her business, from website creation, sourcing materials, social media marketing, shipping and even designing and manufacturing her own coins. Recently, she designed the Heriberta necklace to honor her grandmother, as well as her mother and aunt. The pendant features a Flor De Maga flower, representing her grandmother’s birthplace of Puerto Rico; there is a wave design for that country’s beaches, and three stars that represent the women and the beautiful starry nights, Aref says.
“My grandma has always been my inspiration and the fact that she's around to see it happen is really fulfilling,” she says.
Aref has sold more than 50 pieces of her jewelry; one of her first customers was GSE co-worker Danielle LeGare.
“I'm really proud to wear Renad’s jewelry,” says LeGare, director of content for GSE’s Marketing, Communications and Outreach office. “I get compliments all the time and it just makes me feel really happy and proud of her.”
Renad Aref is a UB alumna, earning a bachelor’s degree in economics in 2011 and a master’s degree in geographic information science in 2015. She has worked at UB for about 10 years at GSE and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. You can follow her work on Instagram.