Over the years, Laura Benkowski’s entrepreneurial spirit has taken her all over the world, even to the site of a closed gem mine in Arizona.
“The gem mine was shut down in 2012 and contains a turquoise known as Sleeping Beauty turquoise that is very rare and highly sought,” says Benkowski ’11, MBA ’14.
While Benkowski wasn’t able to enter the mine, that trip to Arizona with her sisters inspired her. She says she was fascinated with the rarity and beauty of the Sleeping Beauty turquoise. The gemstone was recently featured in Forbes as part of Benkowski’s Sierra Earrings from her fine jewelry business Laura Stephanie.
A Smith Double Terp and entrepreneur at heart, Benkowski saw a way to combine her passion for design with her love of art and dance, opening an exclusive jewelry business in 2019, designing collections and custom jewelry for Washington, D.C., clients.
“I want to help people connect with a moment or memory,” Benkowski says. “Especially now, we are longing for points of connection.”
Benkowski began her Smith School journey as an undergrad, and says Professor Mary Harms’ Strategic Design and Innovation in Marketing class, among others, broadened her vision, demonstrating how business and design could work in tandem.
“The Strategic Design and Innovation class taught me about the importance of design to a business. Since the class included a combination of both business majors and art and design majors, we were exposed to design software that I still use today to design jewelry.”
She would follow her bachelor’s degree with an MBA, but her education wouldn’t end there. After a few years running an event-planning business with her twin sister (also a Double Terp), Benkowski started taking classes at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). She received her certification in gemstones and started networking with professionals in the fine jewelry industry.