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Local teen makes a splash with jewelry business

Talia Whyte

At first glance, Michael Turner looks like your typical teenage boy. He plays football and soccer and likes hanging out with his friends. But two things set this 14-year-old Brockton High School freshman apart: a sharp eye for precious stones and the entrepreneurial insight to turn that talent into a profitable business.

Turner owns Celestial Gemstones, a jewelry-making enterprise and a shining example of the oft-overlooked positive steps that some local youth are taking. He got the idea to start his own business four years ago when his father took him for a winter drive to New Hampshire to visit a raw gemstone store.

“I saw all of these stones, and thought they were interesting,” he said. “It was then that I got the idea to make jewelry out of them and make some money.”

Turner’s parents were very receptive to the idea. His mother gave him books on jewelry-making and that summer enrolled him in the Ron Burton Training Village, a program that provides educational and spiritual support for teenage boys from the Boston area.

Turner says his inspiration comes from a special appreciation for the art form of necklaces and bracelets. He likes working with limestones, sapphires, rhinestones and garnets, and especially enjoys using anything red or white, specifically ruby glass and pearls. He says it takes between 20 and 40 minutes to make each piece of jewelry using emery wire and raw stones.

Soon after the summer training session ended, Turner premiered his jewelry at a fall 2004 fair for young entrepreneurs in Springfield. He received positive reactions to his work at the fair, and has maintained the momentum by selling his wares at house parties in the Boston area. He is also in charge of maintaining what he calls “a small, but growing” e-mail list of past and potential customers. This year alone, he said he has sold over 60 pieces, with the prices for his jewelry ranging from $15 to $30.

“I think he surprised himself by how successful he has become,” said Petri Turner, Michael’s mother. “He didn’t realize at first how financially beneficial this could be.”

Turner attributes his success to the sound business advice of his mentors, including his father, Cedric Turner, who serves on the board of the New England chapter of the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), an international organization that trains low-income youth on how to start and maintain their own businesses.

Since its inception in 1991, the New England chapter of NFTE has trained over 6,000 high school students through partnerships with school systems, community mentors and local organizations such as Bruce Wall Ministries and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston.

According to Laura Scarlett, volunteer and alumni services manager for NFTE’s New England chapter, many students start businesses in a wide variety of fields based on their interests, including babysitting, hairstyling and clothing design. Many graduates of the program go on to continue their businesses into adulthood, like Ray Grand, whose Ray Grand Apparel clothing line is popular at local clothing retailer Hip Zepi USA.

Scarlett sees great potential in Turner.

“He seems to be a go-getter,” she said. “He is a very bright, young man with a very exciting future.”

Turner is also getting support from family friend Adrienne R. Benton, who runs her own business, Infinite Glass Design Co. Over the past year and a half, Benton has mentored him, showing the teen how to be a successful professional.

“He has people around him to help out,” Benton said. “I try to create a supportive environment for him, but it is mostly up to him to run the business himself.”

Benton helped Turner showcase his jewelry at last month’s Roxbury Open Studios, where his work was a highlight for many attendees.

Right now, Turner is currently working on his Web site (www.celestialgemstones.com) and is taking orders for custom-made pieces as the Christmas season approaches. He’s also working on a special selection of Costa Rican-inspired jewelry to be displayed at Boca Bar in Waltham before the end of the year.

As his enterprise grows, Turner says that he is able to balance his time between his athletics and his social life. Turner’s father is organizing a trip for a group of NFTE participants to attend a college basketball tournament at the TD Banknorth Garden and a luncheon with Harvard Graduate School of Education Professor Robert Peterkin next month. However, the young entrepreneur says that maintaining good grades in school comes before anything else.

With his business taking off, Turner says he’s just trying to keep things in perspective and have fun.

“I love doing this,” he said. “This is so cool.”