Alicia Agarrabeitia specializes in transformation.
The New Westminster-based goldsmith has built a business on custom pieces—most of which are created by her melting down a client’s existing jewellery and using the raw materials to make something new.
It is, she says, surprisingly personal work.
“People walk in, and I’m either witnessing them reading their diary or I’m their therapist,” she muses via phone. “They open their jewellery box and they literally start going through every single piece of jewellery—when they got it and what it meant, whether it’s good or bad. I’m taking all of that and turning it into something new that reflects who they are in modern times, or just literally torching the shit out of it because they can’t stand to look at it, because it was from an ex—and that gives them a lot of closure.”
The torching thing comes up a lot for her. Agarrabeitia has quietly made a name for herself among divorcees and scorned lovers who are looking to give their wedding rings (or other formerly sentimental pieces) a new lease on life.
“It has to do with showing people that you don’t have to keep this jewellery just because it was given to you by or belonged to an ex that you were with for a very long time,” she says. “There is something else that you can do with it. And it doesn’t disrespect any good memories, but maybe it helps you carve time for new memories.”
Not only will she take a piece and melt it—she’ll actually film the entire process and send it to the client. It’s something she says has become a form of empowerment—and comforting finality.
“People will say, ‘I really want to watch you melt it,’” she says. “It’s therapeutic for them to be like, ‘That thing represented something that no longer is.’ It’s closure.”
She mentions one client who asked to see the video of her melting down his wedding band from his first marriage.
“When I melted it and poured it into the mould, it split in two,” she says. “And he was like, ‘Well, it looks like the way my marriage ended!’”
Despite her father being a master goldsmith, Agarrabeitia didn’t always want to be a jeweller. She studied publishing in post-secondary school, working in the industry for a few years before feeling like there weren’t enough opportunities to continue. It was at that point that she decided to apprentice under her dad, determined to learn the trade the traditional way.
“There are certain skill sets that are dying in the city, because machines are taking over,” she says. “I always thought, ‘If I’m gonna do this, I want to work with my dad—I want to learn the old-school way. I want to be part of the storytelling behind making jewellery, because jewellery is such a sentimental thing to people.”
Practising a dying art certainly has some absurdities.
“You sometimes feel like you’re part of London in the 1800s,” Agarrabeitia jokes. “It sounds so medieval for someone to be like, ‘I have a goldsmith.’”
But there really is no replacement for something handmade. It just feels different—there’s weight to it. Story. Humanity. Maybe it’s placebo, but who cares? If someone feels cleansed after watching their wedding ring melt down and be reborn as something new, heck—watch that shit a hundred times.
“I’ve had people tell me, ‘I didn’t realize how therapeutic that was going to be,’” Agarrabeitia says. “I’ve had people say, ‘It may sound strange, but I feel like a weight has lifted off my shoulders.’”