Monday, November 25, 2013


Ivaan once told me that the best thing about being a jeweller is that you only ever get to see happy people.  They come in with hope and anticipation lighting up their faces, and they leave smiling from ear to ear.  He's absolutely right.  If you're a florist, you might be selling flowers to celebrate a birthday, an anniversary, or the birth of a child.  You might also be preparing flowers for someone seeking forgiveness, for someone in hospital, or even for a bereavement.   But, if you're looking for a steady stream of happiness, making beautiful jewellery is a thrill.

One day, not too long ago, a really nice young man came into Atelier Ivaan. He's a loving husband and a devoted father of two. He comes from an extremely supportive family, and with their help, he has become a highly skilled and very successful tradesman. Yet, for all his success, he remains down to earth, modest, honest and sincere.  He was very interested in what goes on at Atelier Ivaan, and you could see he really appreciated Ivaan's exquisite work.  He said he'd like to order a special piece of jewellery one day.

A few weeks later, he returned, and said he'd made up his mind.  He wanted me to make the most special ring I could manage, as a gift for his wife.  Every time he mentioned her, his face lit up.  He told me that years ago, in the early stages of their relationship, his wife had faced a serious health crisis which nearly destroyed her, and from which few people ever recover.  She fought her way back, tooth and nail, and for nearly five years she has been free of her illness.   He spoke with awe of her courage and determination to get better.

On December 15th, this young couple will celebrate the fifth anniversary of her recovery.  He wanted something absolutely jaw-dropping to present to her as a gift, in recognition of not merely her return to health, but of what an inspiration she has been to him.

My client brought his wife in to meet me a few days ago.  She hasn't seen the ring, of course, but she knows he has something up his sleeve. She is one of those people you warm to right away, and I liked her immediately. I kept wanting to turn around and introduce her to Ivaan, because I knew he would like her too.

But on December 15th, when she tries on this ring, I won't have to introduce her to Ivaan, because they will have just met.

So, I'll simply say this. From Ivaan and from me, to the two of you: may good health and happiness follow you wherever you go.  You are both a huge inspiration.


Sunday, November 10, 2013


If you've ever been to Atelier Ivaan, you've probably noticed that there is a beautiful cabinet grand piano in the store.  It's a 1905 Chickering, the same piano that Glenn Gould played on as a child.  I've had it for a long time and I play it fairly regularly, though not as regularly as Glenn did.   His playing had probably surpassed mine when he was about four.  On the other hand, I am still alive and Glenn's not, and in my case it's all about the journey, not the destination.

I recently saw some ten-year-old film footage of my nephew Angus and I doing a piano-violin duet and I was chagrined to observe that I played better then than I do now.  So perhaps my present crankiness has something to do with that.

When strangers come into Atelier Ivaan, the piano is one of the first things they notice.   Sometimes it takes them a while to get to the shiny stuff in the showcases.  So the conversation goes like this:

     THEM:  There's a grand piano in here.
     ME:  Yes, I know.
    THEM:  Why is it here?  Do you give lessons?
     ME:  No.
    THEM:  Then why is it here?  Do you play it?
     ME:   Yes.
     THEM:  Would you like to play something for me?

Now, I know that there is a perfectly well-mannered way of responding in the negative to this question, but I can never think of it at the time, because I am too busy wondering what prompted them to ask the question.   I mean, there's a telephone in here; would they care to listen to me make a phone call?   My school books are usually here too.  How'd they like to watch me do my homework?

So I'm trying to come up with a humorous but polite way of saying that the very last thing on earth I'd like to do is perform an impromptu recital for a total stranger who just wandered in off the street in the middle of working hours.  So far my best line has been, "The only thing I'm playing today is the cash register." If you happen to think of a clever comeback, please let me know. All of my neighbours will thank you.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


If you are thinking of proposing marriage to someone you love, you may want to read this post first.

Here's the story: you fall in love and decide to share your life with someone. Once you start talking about making that commitment public, a subtle pressure begins to mount.  Even if it's unspoken, the spectre of a diamond ring begins to loom.  Now, this diamond ring that's hovering is not a symbol of your mutual love and trust.  It's more of a commodity, and that commodity takes on a life of its own, which has nothing whatever to do with your relationship, your love, your commitment and your future life together.  It has everything to do with satisfying a societal pressure, and it's fuelled by advertising, friends, social media, family and a deep psychological need to "measure up" to a standard that shifts like sand.

Six years ago, our friend T received a marriage proposal from her beloved, Z. He'd chosen a white gold and diamond ring by Ivaan - a ring of modest proportions, of a style that would look excellent on T's long slim hand.  As soon as he saw it, Z knew that was the ring.  And it was.  T absolutely loved it.   Recently, T and Z dropped by with their children.  I offered to give her engagement ring a quick polish to make it look brand new again, and I was struck by how gracefully that ring had stood the test of time.  It looks beautiful with her wedding ring, and on its own it looks as fresh and current as though Z had slipped it on her finger the day before yesterday.

In those six years, I've also seen people buying engagement rings with large diamonds of inferior quality, planning to 'upgrade'  after the wedding to a better quality stone.  Sometimes they upgrade the setting as well.  I often wonder if they have plans to upgrade their spouse.

Ivaan's acerbic quip, "Girls are a diamond's best friend" definitely applies to the 'upgraders', but I don't think it applies to the people who fall in love with what Ivaan's rings are:  pieces of small sculpture with which the wearer develops a deep emotional bond.  These sculptures go on to be a symbol of the love between life partners, but first and foremost they are stand-alone works of art.

My modest proposal, therefore, is that if you are considering a ring as part of your marriage proposal, or your wedding ceremony, that you choose a ring that is truly a work of art, not a mere commodity.  Ivaan's diamond rings feature beautiful gold settings with small, excellent diamonds. They stand on their own as works of art; they cost hundreds, not thousands, and there is nothing to upgrade.  I rest my case.
14 kt white gold Eve Ring, one tasteful, beautiful diamond, size 5
(c) Atelier Ivaan
14 kt white gold Wave Ring, three
tasteful, lovely diamonds, size 6
(c) Atelier Ivaan

Wave Ring: the other side


Euro Bezel Ring with London Blue Topaz
(c) Atelier Ivaan
Lately I've been having a little love affair with blue gemstones. Possibly it's the time of year, because topaz is a birthstone, but I think it has more to do with my current interest in all things marine.

So I had a good wax of Ivaan's famous Euro Bezel ring sitting in the showcase, and I decided to cast it in sterling and set a blue stone in the centre. There are basically two colours of blue topaz.  One is called Swiss Blue, which is soft, feminine and pastel.  The other is London Blue. It's more indigo, more masculine, and I like the tension between the undulating lines of the ring and the stiff-upper-lip of the London Blue stone.

So I went with London Blue, and I think it was the right choice.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


Though the great majority of the work at Atelier Ivaan involves slavishly producing Ivaan's metal art with painstaking attention to detail, every so often, I'll be asked to make a more classic or traditional engagement ring. Sometimes it's because the ring will  include a gemstone that is being passed from one generation to another.  Always, when a stone carries great sentimental value, it's essential to ensure the jewel is well protected in its new setting, because if it becomes damaged, or falls out and is lost, no amount of money will replace it. 

This part of being a jeweller is really rewarding.  Often, I'm helping a bridegroom-to-be choose a setting for his future wife, and as I work with him to decide what is going to best suit the two of them, I learn little details about things she likes, her quirky side, the back story of the inherited gemstone, how they met, what kind of husband he hopes to be....for those few hours, I'm almost like a member of the family.  I've learned to be very, very discreet, because if I happen to pass the young couple on the street, he definitely doesn't want to have to make any awkward introductions.

Choosing a setting for an inherited stone also means paying close attention to the way the stone is cut.  Too low a setting means the pointed end of a diamond will be poking through the setting and touching the finger.  Too high, and that ring is going to spend more time in the soap dish than on Mama's finger, once their first baby comes along.

But always, when I make a classic ring to mark an engagement or marriage, I like to ensure that there is an element that distinguishes their ring from any other.  Here's a good example of a modern classic engagement ring with an inherited centre stone.  Note the prongs are actually a continuation of the band, not an attachment.  They're substantial, so the stone is well protected.   But what sets this ring apart are the six fiery gypsy-set diamonds on the shoulders of the ring.  They're not all crammed together. The "real estate" between those stones gives the ring a lot of distinction, and they enhance the centre stone, rather than competing with it.  The groom thought so, too.  And the bride?  Well, she said yes.

Saturday, November 2, 2013


PUNCHING THROUGH (C) 2012 Bart Synowiec

This evening, one of my dreams was fulfilled.

There.  I think I'll let that sentence just hang in the air for a minute.  

A few months ago, I was introduced by a mutual friend to a young fine art photographer, Bart Synowiec.  After meeting Bart, I had a look at his website, and was really struck by the images.  They were all unsettling, but never for the same reason.   The composition was striking, but each photograph evoked a powerful sense:  a feeling of vertigo, the vestigial memory of a  long-ago place, profound aloneness, incredible stillness, deep longing, sometimes that heightened awareness that you feel at the edge of the high diving board.  Even looking at the images on Bart's website ( I lost the sense that I was looking at a photograph, and I knew how that place smelled, because I was present, just at the edge of the scene.  I know Ivaan would have shared this sense: a combination of feeling present and having to remind yourself to breathe at the same time.

Bart was soon represented by the Mark Christopher Gallery, on Queen Street West.  I found myself occasionally visiting Bart's website, wondering which I'd choose if I could manage to have only one photograph.  At first, I fixed my covetous eye on a photograph entitled Curvy - I'll let you look it up on his website - and then it was Cooling Tower, and then, during a period wherein I was thinking about the Atlantic, and about ocean liners, I suddenly found myself hardly able to catch my breath while looking at Punching Through.  I was bowled over by the power of the picture, the motion, the enormity.

I made an appointment to go down to the Mark Christopher Gallery, where I met the proprietor, Mark Zadorozny, and spent some time with him and Bart. At this point, I'd never seen any of the photographs in person. They showed me a print of Curvy and it was very tempting just to put it under my arm, hand them my chequebook, and walk out the door.

In the end, I decided I could be impulsive and restrained at the same time: I'd buy Punching Through, but I wouldn't let myself see it until it was mounted and delivered several weeks hence.

Today was the day.  Every time I turn and look at it, I feel like someone turned on the oxygen.  Now, you've got some options. You can go to Bart's website or the gallery website and see it for yourself, or (and I recommend this option) you can come to Atelier Ivaan and see it on the wall.

Just remember to breathe.