The production line at the Chart Metalworks Studio is a well-oiled machine: stations are set for specific tasks. Tools are meticulously organized. Chains, bezels, and map cut-outs are laid out like ingredients in a mise-en-place. The staff, overseen by co-owner/designer Charlotte Guptill, is focused, their movements swift and efficient.
Since 2008, Guptill and her husband, co- owner and operator John Guptill, have been creating map and nautical chart necklaces, cufflinks, paperweights, key rings, and other accessories. What makes these pieces so unique is that each custom piece bears the map of a special place: the city where a couple first met, the childhood home of a beloved relative, a favorite island. “It’s something that really speaks to everybody,” says Guptill. “This isn’t just a piece of jewelry. Every time you wear it, you are carrying a specific memory.”
The vision behind Chart is so precise, it is almost hard to believe it came to Guptill by accident. A communications graduate of the University of Southern Maine, Guptill had spent the last decade happily immersed in the world of real-estate finance. The work was gratifying and rewarding. “I felt like I was doing good,” she says. “I found so much excitement in educating people about buying their first homes, and I loved seeing their dreams come true.”
But Guptill, an inventive and imaginative person, needed a creative outlet. Not one to just follow along, she always preferred to pick things apart and figure out how to recreate things on her own. In that way she taught herself how to make jewelry and began making vintage-inspired pieces in her spare time. She got so good at it that she started selling jewelry to friends, who encouraged her to make a go of it as a business. She built a website, got excited about marketing her inaugural line, and put plans into place for leaving corporate life behind. She even attended a seminar in the hopes of gaining enough business knowledge to start her own. Instead, she got a dose of reality.
“I was told by the seminar instructor that although my work was beautiful, it looked very common, and he made it clear to me that it was going to be very difficult to make a living unless I come up with a more unique idea,” says Guptill. “In one fell swoop he killed my dream.”
Guptill was both devastated and terrified: she was just on the verge of handing in her notice at her day job. But the experience forced her to do some soul searching. “I realized that the jewelry I was making was pretty, but it wasn’t me. It wasn’t something I would wear,” she says. “So I began to pay attention to everything in my house and looked at all the things that defined me.”
Guptill, who was raised in Hampden and grew up sailing with her family on Penobscot Bay, always had nautical charts spread out over tables or hanging on walls. “I looked at the charts one day and a light bulb went off,” she says. “My life has always been very tied to the ocean, and it’s where I find the most inspiration. It just made sense to have that part of my identity go into the creation of Chart Metalworks.”
After doing extensive market research, she created her first prototypes using vintage nautical charts of places around the country, cutting out parts of the maps with descriptive and attention-grabbing names, like Shark Cove or Grace Harbor. Friends were even more responsive to this new line of jewelry. They asked if she could create custom pieces to showcase specific points—the beach where one got married or the place where another met her husband. “That was the moment when I got it,” she says. “It’s not just about any pretty chart. It’s about your place on that map.”
Once she had all the components in place, Guptill applied for a small business loan and started Chart Metalworks with nothing more than a printer, a computer, and a few pieces of metal. Two years later, John joined Charlotte full-time to help oversee operations, and together they have watched the business flourish. They now have a full production staff. Sales have increased 20 to 35 percent every year, with 45 percent coming from online and retail sales and 55 percent coming from wholesale accounts. Every winter and summer, they launch three to four new products at more than 20 major trade and retail shows. In addition to the sales that go towards birthday, anniversary, and wedding gifts, there are also corporate orders from companies such as Goldman Sachs, L.L.Bean, Maine Medical Center, and the Council on International Educational Exchange.
“We’ve come a long way,” says Guptill. “Launching a business is a risky thing, and it takes a lot of hard work. I’m really proud that we’ve been able to see this journey through and grow the company the way we have.”
“I had no idea what to expect when we started, and to be honest, there was a point early on when I was really bothered by the notion that I was just making jewelry, not contributing to something meaningful. But when I hear that people are able to use our jewelry as a way to heal from pain or as a way to share their stories with other people, it validates everything for me, and I feel honored to be able to do what I do. Those are the best pieces.”