Rough cuts and hand tools: jewellery gets real

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      In this age of mass production, 3-D printing, laser cutting, and virtual reality, it comes as no surprise that women are suddenly starting to crave jewellery that’s imperfect, tactile, and obviously handmade. Think stones that look as if they’ve just been dug out of a cavern wall or metal that appears to have been hand-hammered, bent, and forged in medieval times.

      Vancouver has become a bit of a hotbed for jewellery designers who are rocking raw, uncut gems and happily wield hammers, pliers, handsaws, and torches. Here are three artists who are keeping it real. This fall, you’ll want to check out their work, which should look fantastic with your chunky hand-knit sweaters and organic-denim jeans.

      Franny E Fine Jewelry

      Vancouver designer Franny Strathern likes to think her love of hand tools is genetic. “My grandfather was a carpenter of sorts, and he pretty much used his hammer and anvil each day,” says the artist. And Strathern still uses his tools each day too.

      On any given day in her studio, you might find her working a torch and rolling out sheets of metal—gold, or the bronze and pure silver that she uses in her signature cuffs. She then proceeds to handsaw or chisel those pieces to get them to the right size, using the anvil and hammer to shape them around the wrist.

      The results are stunning—subtly glistening, textured cuffs studded with little, uneven semiprecious stones and diamonds that seem to have grown out of the metal instead of being forged into it. For her new Colour of Rain collection, emeralds, citrines, freshwater pearls, opals, and rough-cut diamonds in hues from brown to champagne find their way into the mix.

      “You’re getting a true one-of-a-kind piece of work,” she says. “Every divot or hammer mark is going to be unique to the piece.”

      The Alberta native’s cuffs range from about $150 to $550, but she has lots of smaller pieces, starting as low as $25 for silver stacking rings. Look also for thinner bracelets and delicate, uneven gold rings embedded with a rough-cut diamond. Find her pieces at the North Shore Shipyards Night Market on Fridays all September; her website should be up soon at the Franny Jewelry website.

      Specimental Design

      Specimental Design’s ring, with a black opal set amid raw diamonds.

      Rich textures; old, mine-cut diamonds; and oxidized gold are just some of the features in designer Laura Treloar’s jewellery, which she sells as far away as Australia, China, and Russia.

      Treloar works in gold of all karats and hues, including rose gold, which is increasingly in demand, she says. The metals aren’t newly mined but recycled from a smelter in the U.S. They may be precious, but the tools she wields are rugged.

      “I use some power tools, but most of my hand tools have not changed in a few hundred years,” she tells the Straight. “Every one is a hand-built piece. So I’m actually taking the metal and hammering it or sawing it. Those are all first-generation marks on each piece.”

      Some of Treloar’s finest work mixes together different rough gems, her favourite being uncut diamonds—always ethically sourced. “They have so many forms and so many different colours,” the East Van, home-based artist says. “They can go from an egg-yolk yellow to a rich, deep pink. It all depends on the primordial stew that was happening deep down in the mantle when the diamonds were forming. You’re holding something a billion years old in your hand, and it has not been changed or been worked since.”

      All of Specimental’s work is one of a kind. Highlight pieces: rough and cut gemstones sprouting out of a thick band of 14-karat gold, and an oval black opal set into a field of textural gold, bulbous bumps that each hold a little raw diamond. Prices go anywhere from $500 to as high as $15,000, depending on the materials. Says Treloar, whose work can be found through Specimental’s Etsy shop: “The best compliment I get is that their ring looks like something that just formed on the cave floor.”

      Foe and Dear Jewelry

      Foe and Dear’s rough-cut aquamarine necklaces (at Cavalier Jewellers).

      Designer Katherine Huie of Foe and Dear manages to take rough-cut stones like peridot and turn them into something delicate.

      “It was a new take on making something beautiful with something so rough that isn’t necessarily beautiful in its rough form,” explains the artist, who’s based here now but created her handcrafted line in a tiny apartment in hip Williamsburg, Brooklyn, during the summer of 2009. “I use stones straight from the mine, lightly tumbled so they get a bit of shine and sparkle to them. They’re really special because they all have a unique colour and shape, where cut stones are very perfect. They have a certain personality.”

      Huie’s signatures include thinner-gauge wires for rings, so the bands are dainty even when the stones are rough, as well as a claw setting whose prongs she bends and alters so they can clamp onto the uneven stones in as pretty a way as possible on her popular pendants in ruby, garnet, aquamarine, and quartz.

      New for Huie is an exclusive collection of rough peridot gemstones set in gold or silver for Cavalier Jewellers (217–207 West Hastings Street). In one look, the stone hangs as an organic-feeling pendant from a fine gold chain; in another, it sprouts from a ring of twisted silver.

      Her own collection is also known for its chunky Herkimer diamond quartz and its circle-cut druzy, the sparkly bits found inside the crystallized part of a geode. One black-grey version hangs in handcrafted claws from a thin gold chain; another gold pair make gorgeous, subtly glittering stud earrings.

      Prices range from as low as $20 up to about $200. Find Huie’s peridot work at Cavalier or retailers including Barefoot Contessa (various locations), Örling and Wu (28 Water Street), Walrus (3408 Cambie Street), and Woo to See You (1062 Mainland Street).

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