EDINA -- Soldiers in ancient Egypt wore scarab beetles into battle, hoping the magical powers of the dung beetles would protect them.
Today, the scarab is still a popular jewelry motif, along with dragonflies, butterflies and other insects.
But Jill Johnson has taken the idea back to its roots.
Jilco Inc., Johnson's 10-year-old wholesale jewelry importing and manufacturing company, has created a line of sterling silver jewelry -- some in bug designs -- to provide natural protection from insect bites without lotions or sprays touching the skin.
The Bugs-B-Wear earrings, necklaces, pins and ankle bracelets contain a filter that absorbs a repellent mixture containing 100 percent essential oils of citronella, mint and lemongrass mixed with sesame oil.
The repellent, put into the jewelry with a curved dropper, is intended to provide hours of protection against mosquitoes, no-see-ums, stinging flies and other annoying insects.
Insects are attracted to body warmth, odor, moisture and carbon dioxide emissions in a person's breath, Johnson said. The repellent works by creating an aroma shield that interferes with a bug's ability to locate its target.
Jewelry worn near the neck or head should protect the upper half of the body, she said.
In a test, a Bugs-B-Wear dragonfly pin worn on a collar kept most bugs off the head and neck during 90 minutes of sweaty garden work at dusk -- prime bug time -- but one pest permeated the shield and left a nasty sting on the gardener's ear. In a similar test, Cutter Skinsations, a non-greasy, fresh-scented repellent with aloe and Vitamin E, was 100 percent effective when sprayed on exposed skin.
"The thing about Bugs-B-Wear that's so exciting is that it doesn't touch your skin," Johnson said.
"When you go to a barbecue, you're dressed up to go to a party. You don't want to spray yourself with insect repellent," she said. "The jewelry is attractive and you can easily take it off. You don't have to come home and shower afterward."
Because the repellent isn't on the skin, perspiration doesn't alter its effectiveness, it won't cause skin irritation and it doesn't interfere with sunscreens or moisturizers.
The idea started as a joke.
Jilco began manufacturing aroma diffuser jewelry in the mid-1990s and had great success with the perfume jewelry, Johnson said. One day when her brother-in-law needed insect repellent, he said he should have a pin to put it in.
They laughed -- and got to work.
"We took the same (perfume) jewelry concept and repackaged it," Johnson said. "The beauty of it is you can take it off. You don't smell like insect repellent."
Jilco has 11 sales representatives selling Bugs-B-Wear to golf and tennis shops, country clubs, resorts and gift shops around the country. The jewelry also is available on the company's Web site (http://www.bugsbwear.com).
"We have sold close to 20,000 packages or units of Bugs-B-Wear jewelry," Johnson said. Each piece -- there are 36 designs -- comes with a small vial of repellent good for about 50 applications and a carrying pouch. The jewelry sells for $28, and repellent refills are $5.
The jewelry designs include dragonflies, beetles, ladybugs, bumblebees, frogs, turtles and a variety of simple geometric shapes.
So far, Bugs-B-Wear has been most popular in Florida, the Carolinas, Georgia, West Virginia and other Southeastern states, Johnson said.
"I think there's more bugs and I think their season is so much longer," she said.
Marianne Seuferling, of Lawrence, Kan., ordered ladybug and dragonfly jewelry early this summer after reading about Bugs-B-Wear in Family Circle magazine. She has since ordered bee and turtle designs.
"There's a lot of humidity and a lot of heat here. We have mosquitoes and biting flies. It did keep the children from getting bitten," Seuferling said.
In early July, Seuferling's 9-year-old daughter, Marcy, wore her butterfly on a lake fishing outing. "The bugs were there for sure and she was fine. She didn't come back with a bite. My youngest is 5 and she's used it too."
Seuferling said she likes the designs and has worn the jewelry even without putting in the repellent. "They have quite an age range for their product," she said.
Sandra Evans, of Eureka, Utah, ordered the jewelry for her sister in Tennessee after reading about it.
"She's allergic to almost everything and she's an all-natural person. She raves about it, says it keeps the mosquitoes and the gnats away really well," Evans said.
"Barbara's 13-year-old daughter loves it too. She wore it at church camp and was the only one that didn't have mosquito bites all over her face and neck," Evans said.
"Our target market is any active people. We have products for children. We have products for active women. We have some great pins for men to wear on their hats," Johnson said.
Bugs-B-Wear jewelry was first introduced at a trade show in March 1999. Last October, the insect repellent jewelry was named one of the best new beauty innovations of the year by Glamour magazine.
The mainstay of Jilco's business is still importing gold chains from Italy and diamonds from Israel, Belgium and India, Johnson said.
"Bugs-B-Ware is a small part of the business, but it's a really fun part of the business," she said. "We would like it to become a bigger part."
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