Sometimes the trip to northern Brazil can take a little over a day. Sometimes, if Robert Bentley misses the flight to the small town near the gemstone factory he’s been working with for more than 15 years, it’s much longer.
“Then it’s a seven-hour drive, and you often get stuck behind a truck that’s going 15 miles an hour,” he says.
He’s been making the trip to the factory several times a year since the 1990s. This was more than a decade after he met a man in a bar who sold stones to small-scale Arts and Crafts jewelry makers. That chance meeting started him on his career path. Not that he would ever refer to it as a career path — or a job, even. “I don’t think I’ve had a job since I cooked hamburgers in the Broome Street Bar in the late 1970s,” he says.
This is part of the pull of Bentley, a stylish New Yorker whom we at AGEIST have known for years. Bentley’s the “brand behind the brand” to some of the top jewelry designers; his modesty and discretion are part of the passion he still musters for his work. But it’s what he’s learned to let go that I found very instructive.
“I used to have more fear about economic insecurity or the success of my business, and I don’t anymore,” he says. “I have more confidence that I’m going to meet my responsibilities. My definition of success these days is meeting my responsibilities.”
In particular, the livelihoods of the 14 people — and their families — working in the Lapidary in Teofilo Otoni. “A lot of my fear was self-centered…and that sort of disappeared. I derive a lot of meaning when what I do affects other people in a positive way,” he says.
He’s also thrown a couple of curveballs into his life. The Commes des Garçons-wearing New Yorker who vacations in the south of France, three years ago bought a home with his partner of 15 years…in the Adirondacks, five and a half hours away. He still makes it into the city for work, of course, “But it doesn’t bother me at all. It’s so quiet here and the air is delicious.”
Bentley, who also paints, has been focusing on living in the moment, which he thinks is the fulcrum of all creativity. “I think the more open you are to the moment, the fresher stuff is,” he says. “You have a greater sense of the reckless freedom of discovery — with your psyche and with your work.”
I liked the ring of that. That “reckless freedom of discovery” dovetailed nicely with a thirst for fun and purpose that belied his 65 years on this planet. Bentley also had another phrase for it: “You’re only young once, but you can be immature forever.”