In an upstairs loft of a building in Old Town, just a few blocks from King Street, you’ll find Praha Beads, a four-month-old boutique jewelry shop owned and operated by longtime jeweler Tracey Navratil. It is there where the Mount Vernon resident showcases items like glass beads, semi-precious gemstones and freshwater pearls that she finds while traveling across the globe, as well as all the materials needed to turn the individual pieces into one-of-a-kind jewelry.
From selling her own handmade works to teaching workshops for local residents and visitors alike, Navratil operates her “beading sanctuary,” as she calls it, completely on her own. Here, we chat with the new store owner about being part of the maker community in Alexandria, the therapeutic elements of bead hunting, her creative process and more.
You’ve been making jewelry for so long. What made you decide to open a storefront now?
I’ve had my own jewelry line that I was selling to boutiques, but I always liked the idea of buying as much as I like making. I love to travel, and I do that as much as I can. So wherever I go, I will buy beads. In Czech Republic, London … it’s fun to be able to tell people when they look at a bead that it’s from somewhere exotic. I eventually realized I wanted to combine the two loves that I have: design and the purchasing of components. Plus, my husband is in the General Assembly so he travels a lot and our daughter just went off to college. It was the right time; I could focus on my thing. I’ve had about every career you could imagine, from banking to graphic design. I’ve been able to use my background to open this—I do my own design. I do my own bookkeeping. I do it all.
Why Old Town?
The reason I chose this building is because, it’s crazy, it was built in 1830. I used to come in here when I first moved into the area when it was a tea shop. It’s old and special and you can feel that. When I had the chance to lease one of the spaces upstairs, I didn’t think i could afford it, but in the end it’s not much more rent than what I would have paid elsewhere. It’s the perfect space for what I have here, and fits the style too with an old-European-bead-store feel.
My space is very welcoming, special and warm where people can come and just look through my books if they are lacking in inspiration. I’ve always wanted to be in Old Town because I think it reflects my style, and being a block and a half from King Street is incredible. I can’t wait for spring.
Talk to me about the process of selecting beads, strings and other elements of the jewelry.
I go to different places for different things. Typically, I go to the larger gem shows to select my semi-precious gemstones. It’s important for me to try to get the best price for my customers, but also confirm the look, feel and touch. I try to get an idea of what people like and what they will buy. This is not a typical bead store though. It’s important to me to have the things that nobody else has. Even just visiting my daughter in New York, for example, I came across these awesome vintage Bali pieces in a small store, and they are so special. I know you can’t find them anywhere else.
I am also able to help people who are browsing turn single pieces into earrings or a necklace. With per-piece items, they can select a pair of European glass beads and I can make the perfect piece for local customers. Some people have no desire to learn how to make anything, so I often create it for them.
How do you describe your own line of handmade jewelry?
All of my jewelry has a similar look to it. I take the components that I purchase, the semi-precious, frosty silvers, whatever, and I combine them. I don’t do the chunky, Nancy Pelosi-type thing. Right now, moonstone is really big, so I am currently working on a very pale, green moonstone that I made a necklace out of. I take a chain and connect the sterling silver with moonstone. Between each section of the necklace, there’s a string of chain. Because I break up the beads with chain, all my pieces are lightweight.
Also, all my pieces are very romantic. You would never see it at Target. I try to combine different colors to make things more interesting. Like a citrine with a Swiss blue topaz; they each need to have a kick and interest.
Navratil also offers workshops within her space about once a week, which vary from intro 101-style classes to those specific for wedding parties. In the future, she plans on offering men-only classes, centering on leather bracelets and necklaces. Plus, she is in the process of acquiring a license from Virginia ABC that will enable her to transform the workshops into bead-and-sip classes. // 215 S. Union St., Suite 6, Alexandria
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