Arts & Entertainment

A Rose of A Different Name

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No longer just a religious symbol, these durable, all-natural rosaries and jewelry pieces celebrate the memory of loved ones.

No longer strictly a religious symbol, the beautiful, all-natural rose beads found on rosary strands also fit on keepsake necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings. The black beads are handmade from fermented roses, using a process learned from nuns in Chicago, and practiced by a Rockford pastor for nearly 40 years.

The rosary has always been an important symbol of Catholic prayers. Derived from the Latin term for “Crown of Roses,” or “garland of roses,” these chains of prayer beads are gaining a new symbolism, thanks to the creations of mother-daughter pair Lisa and Rachel Perez.

Their new business, Rose Rosaries & Jewelry, in Rockford, produces a variety of fine jewelry, both religious and non-religious in nature. The secret lies in the beads themselves, made from an all-natural processing of fermented rose petals. Most customers submit their own flowers, which often come from a family member’s recent funeral, wedding or special occasion.

“It’s a remembrance keepsake,” says Rachel. “We’ve had people send us beautiful funeral arrangements, and we’re able to make everyone in the family a piece of jewelry.”

While the most common requests have been for rosaries and religious chains, many customers are now requesting earrings, necklaces, rings and other jewelry that incorporate the dark black beads. Sterling silver settings and 14 karat gold are designed at Zavius Jewelers, in Rockford.

The bead-making process begins with rose petals, which are set in water for a few weeks. “They absorb water and break down,” says Rachel. “After a few weeks, we blend them together, and put the mixture in a cast iron skillet to ferment. That’s what gives the bead that black coloring.”

After it’s sat for a few weeks, the fermented roses are drained and become a black mash. The mash is then hand rolled into small beads, and left to cure. Amazingly, it’s an all-natural process – just roses, water and time.

“Our process takes several weeks from petals to final roll,” says Rachel. “Other companies we’ve seen will cook them to speed up the process, but they’re not as durable or long-lasting as ours. I can stand on them and not break them at all.”

The all-natural process that makes them super-durable also makes them waterproof, so ring settings can endure dishwater.

Creating the beads is an incredibly exacting science, one that Rachel’s mom, Lisa, has perfected during 20 years of rosary production. She learned from the Rev. Robert McMurry, who learned the process from nuns in Chicago, and operated House of Rose Rosaries in Rockford for nearly 40 years. In February 2013, Rachel and Lisa picked up where McMurry left off.

Today, the pair network with funeral homes and online customers, many of whom desire a keepsake with black beads – not necessarily a Catholic rosary. Customers are encouraged to submit their own roses, which are best if kept fresh, apart from the stem, and refrigerated in a brown paper bag. In one recent case, Rachel accepted a woman’s 40-year-old dry wedding bouquet.

“The fresher the flower, the more beads you can get from it,” says Rachel, who can produce about 60 beads from a fresh dozen, and 30 from a dried dozen. “It’s fine if they’re dried. We just don’t want them to get moldy.”

These enduring beads last, preserving forever the memory of a loved one.

“I have one from my grandfather, and it’s a special way that I can remember him,” says Rachel. “It’s a shame to throw the flowers away. People put roses on cemetery markers, too, but we can preserve those in beads.”

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