April 12, 2024

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Stuart Freedman

Stuart Freedman: Engineering the Bead Business

Fire Mountain Gems and Beads co-founder Stuart Freedman died on November 27, 2022. Family say he passed peacefully in a hospital with his wife, Chris, and son, Matt, at his side. As one of the largest beading supply retailers in the world, Fire Mountain Gems and Beads touches nearly everyone who beads or makes jewelry. Stuart’s legacy lives on in our industry.

Above: Stuart Freedman sought beading and jewelry supplies around the world. Photo: Dev Nagi of Fire Mountain Gems and Beads.

In the 1970s, Stuart began cutting turquoise cabochons in his garage to relax from his day job as an aerospace engineer. He purchased his first advertising space in Lapidary Journal and hired people to help cut and fill orders. Being the businessman he was, he quickly realized the benefit of buying cabochons to resell rather than cutting and selling his own. Fire Mountain Gems was born. The line that Stuart would often share “my job is to bring in the product and Chris’ is to sell it.” They made a formidable, generous pair.

Chris Stuart Freedman
Chris and Stuart Freedman in the early days of Fire Mountain Gems and Beads. Photo: Fire Mountain Gems and Beads.

Supplying Inspiration and Education 

Moving to Cave Junction, Oregon, from Los Angeles in 1986, Stuart and Chris took over a local grocery store and eventually transitioned their direct-to-consumer business to mail order. They grew and grew their inventory, adding Quonset huts onto the property until they were out of room, along with growing staff until there was no more space left to do all the things.  

Somewhere during this time, Chris’ daughter learned how to make jewelry and, together, they wrote an instructional book of sorts to help their customers know what to do with their products. Chris still supports jewelry-making education and has built an online library to help customers learn. Chris and Stuart were also some of the greatest supporters of magazines—believing in a “you teach them, we’ll sell to them” philosophy. They were also early sponsors of the PBS series, Beads, Baubles & Jewels.

Stuart Freedman
Stuart believed in uniting the world one bead at a time. | Photo: Dev Nagi of Fire Mountain Gems and Beads

Traveling the World  

In the early 2000s, Fire Mountain moved to Grants Pass, Oregon. They expanded to over 500 employees, with a large call center and distribution center on site for its 100,000+ products from around the world. Stuart enjoyed traveling and discovering treasures. Stuart estimated that Fire Mountain Gems created work for 20,000 artisans in this country, plus, that many more worldwide. He believed those jobs helped create unity and peace.

Beadalon product manager Wyatt White says Stuart’s legacy goes beyond our industry, “There is no one who wouldn’t say Stuart built an empire. His company has provided work in Grants Pass when there wasn’t much to be had. A lot of people benefited from that.”

Chris and Stuart Freedman with Turbo the dog
Stuart was a horseman who loved his Rhodesian Ridgeback dogs and writing about them. | Photo: Fire Mountain Gems and Beads

In Memoriam

Stuart had a great laugh, ready smile, big heart, and funny sense of humor. He was born and raised in Modesto, California, and was a brilliant man with an amazing career who brought the world to beaders and jewelry makers.