Whether he's playing one of his many instruments on-stage, writing for one of his many bands, or designing the handmade jewelry he's made his life's work, Berkeley has always been doing what he loves.
Luckily for him, he figured it out early. As a young child he was infatuated with a family heirloom - a beautifully crafted watch that now rests in the Charleston Museum. He loved the complex intricacy and craftsmanship, but also the simple beauty of it. He knew then what he wanted to do, and like anyone does when they discover their passion, he never let it go.
Berkeley and his steady hands at work in the Grimball shop. Photo by Susan Murray
"We're hard-wired to love small, shiny objects," Berkeley is famous for saying.
While an undergrad at UNC, Berkeley used much of his spare time fashioning necklaces out of silver wire. And even during his post-college travels through Europe and Africa, his passion caught up with him. Instead of touring beaches like your average vacationer, Berkeley was searching for ideas and objects for his business.
This enthusiasm paid dividends eventually, as he used the primitive stones and bleached bone he found in natural settings to eventually create The Berkeley Collection.
Berkeley's passion for life pours out of him, and it's the main inspiration for his work-ethic and motivation - a motivation he's needed, as he wasn't always such a successful businessman. A fact he isn't afraid to speak of.
"There was one period of about six months when every morning I would wake up and I was sure we would never make it because we had so much more debt and no money was coming in. Up to that point I had simply been a jeweler. I had no actual idea of what it takes to run a business." But through those hardships is where Berkeley's zeal for the industry came in hand.
"There has never been a human society, past or present, primitive or modern, that has not worn jewelry. No other material object carries the emotion, the history, and the memory."
To keep things going he had to wear many different hats, constantly playing the role of craftsman, manager, salesperson, bookkeeper, personnel manager and everything else a business owner has to do to make things work.
"If we had decided - okay - let's go into x or y business we certainly wouldn't have carried on. Since we came into it from nuts and bolts, the hands on part of it carried us through."
Even though he's a business man, Berkeley is never too far away from his favorite saxophone. Photo by Stan Lewis
And carried through they were. Among many awards, Grimball Jewelers has won Small Business of the Year by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, Best Jewelry Store by Chapel Hill News, Best Jewelry Store in Orange/Chatham County in Indy Weekly and Best Jeweler at Chapelboro.com. They've expanded and grown throughout their history, moving from Carr Mill Mall, to West Franklin Street, to a new 2400 square foot location down East Franklin Street.
But don't think all the success has turned Berkeley Grimball away from who he truly is: a creative, fun loving and above all, passionate guy. Claiming he would "rather play music than anything else," he plays in four different bands, commands four different instruments, and has been writing songs for decades - still regularly playing shows in the Chapel Hill and Carrboro area.
It isn't hard to imagine someone so lively being heavy into music. He's the lead singer and songwriter for The Carrbros, clarinetist for Skeedaddle and The Haw River Rounders, and singer/songwriter/guitarist/saxophonist for Too Much Fun, a group he's been with for over twenty-five years. He even finds time to support local Chapel Hill-Carrboro arts and music.
And that's what Berkeley will always be known most for. He's been a fabulously successful business man and jeweler, but it's his passion for life, fun and his community that has made him a true success and verifiable renaissance man. But don't take Chapelboro.com's word for it, go find out for yourself! You can find Berkeley in his shop at Grimball Jewelers or playing live music with one of his many bands.
- Jan Bolick contributed to this article