While I am always astonished by the genius of jewelry creation, sometimes I come across a style or a design aesthetic which leaves me impressed and curious in equal parts. This is what happened when I learnt about bespoke jeweler and owner at Aurelio Fine Metal Studio, Carlos Grobler, who is based in Ottawa. With everyone being in pandemic lockdown these days, I felt this was the right time to get in touch with Carlos and ask him for an interview.
Carlos is warm, generous and brings these personal qualities into his perception of jewelry design and jewelry manufacturing. Being dyslexic, and being raised on a farm, he has always been hands on. His medium for creativity and emotion, rather than writing with words, was to become the designing and making of jewelry. His jewelry captured my attention because it literally speaks through its beauty. On our telephone conversation, when I asked Carlos how he was keeping busy during our pandemic lockdown, he promptly sent me photographs of a 1820s French wooden carved mirror, famous as a Dauphin mirror of carved dolphins topped by a French ribbon which he was restoring by hand, carving the missing pieces washed away by time and travel!
His storied journey to the world of jewelry design and creation began on his family farm in Zimbabwe, where he grew up. As a child, he would accompany his parents to a river that ran close to their farm and the fun was to search for semi-precious gemstones like tourmalines and garnets that lay in the river’s river bed. He loved the colours of these semi-precious gemstones and the excitement of finding beauty in Nature. When he turned 17, he started making silver and semiprecious gemstone beaded necklaces and selling them at fairs to pay for his Rotary Youth Exchange trip. On coming back home, Carlos knew he wanted to be a jeweler! He finished his five year apprenticeship with a German Master Jeweller in South Africa who was exacting in the precision of his work. Carlos stayed on for another three years before moving to London where he started his own jewelry manufacturing business. However, finding London too congested and very removed from the open spaces and inspiration of Nature in South Africa, Carlos came back and opened a jewelry company in South Africa, which he ran with a partner for seventeen years. Two years ago, due to the well-known political upheaval in South Africa, Carlos immigrated to Canada where has become a Bespoke Jeweler creating exclusive one-of-a-kind pieces.
In the interview we spoke about Carlos’s design process, where he gets his creative inspiration from and his plans for the future.
Carlos you create beautiful bespoke jewelry pieces. Can you tell us something about your design process?
I have to go with the flow of my own knowledge base and marry this with what the client wants. Bespoke jewelry is a collaborative effort between the jeweler and the client. I work with the client from the inception to the actual conception to the delivery of the finished piece of jewelry to the client. I post photographs to the client of every single step in creating the piece of jewelry and welcome any feedback. In this way, the client becomes part of the creative process and the excitement of its creation. This process also means that the client can literally see how a piece of jewelry is being constructed. The client knows that her/his piece of jewelry is a reflection of that client’s individual dreams and thoughts, a reflection of their being. I have also learned to give advice about beauty and proportion, what piece will or will not suit a client’s physicality, say a ring on a particular finger, or a necklace on a particular neck. There is a lot of technicality involved in creating a handmade piece of jewelry and I have to use diplomacy to steer the client towards a pleasing piece of jewelry if I think their dream may not in fact be pleasing on their actual person. I find this methodology of including the client in each step of design not only inclusionary but also successful because the setting is agreed upon before the gemstones are set, and this includes trying the setting on the client before the gemstones are set. This allows for any alterations needed before the bespoke piece is completed and delivered to the client. A bespoke piece of jewelry is a completely personal piece of jewelry.
Please tell us something about how you envisioned and crafted your gorgeous Anemone Shell Cameo pendant?
This bespoke piece of jewelry was inspired by the cameo itself. My client had found this cameo unset in a Victorian specimen box which was for sale in an antique shop. She pestered the dealer to allow her to purchase the unset cameo as well as other unset pieces of Victorian jewelry, rather than purchase the entire box. A Victorian had collected these pieces just for the pleasure of collecting which was a habit typical of that era. So as she said, this cameo was on a one hundred and forty year journey to finding the right jeweler to set it. She held onto it for a number of years, knowing the shell to be fragile and the theme to be special, a night scape of Athena with her owl, symbolizing wisdom and dreams. She was not comfortable to have it set until she met me. She didn’t want it to be a broach because it was so special. She wanted it to be a pendant which she thought would make the most of the cameo. When I asked her what look she would like for it, elaborate or classic or modern, she said she wanted something unique, something natural. Because the cameo depicts Athena with closed eyes, Athena’s owl in the forefront, a moon and stars into which Athena gazes through closed eyes, for her it was something very dreamy
Because a shell cameo is from Nature itself, being carved from a shell from the sea, a sea setting with movement, like the cameo has washed up onto shore, was the right setting. So I suddenly had the idea of an anemone, making the cameo the centre of an anemone. Initially, I drew some rough sketches on a piece of paper to show what I envisioned as the surround for the piece. She loved the idea and gave me the freedom to create. This meant that instead of having claws to hold the cameo in place, I had the freedom to use the Akoya pearls to do the work of claws, folding them over the cameo, placing them irregularly to mimic an anemone. What is holding the cameo in place are the pins with the pearls on top which are then stretched over the edges of the cameo, just like the feelers on an anemone. At the back of the cameo are two ‘S’ shaped clips that allow for a strand of pearls to be attached. This means any number of different pearl necklaces can be attached which will change its look again and again. In her case, she had a 1950s multi-stand necklace of seed pearls that looked fantastic as it’s necklace. Whenever she wears it, people stop her to ask where she bought such a beautiful necklace. Well, it was not bought. It was created, she says with delight.
On your Instagram profile you describe yourself as a jewelry maker who uses “workmanship of a bygone era” Could you explain that?
The tools that I use haven’t changed in the last one hundred and fifty years. So my workmanship is creating jewelry just as it was created one hundreds and fifty years ago. The only piece of equipment I have that is modern is a plating machine. I am inspired by the manufacture of the Victorian age, its handmade jewelry. A lot of complicated workmanship went into those pieces of jewelry. In the Victorian period, jewelers were able to spend copious amounts of time working on a piece of jewelry and still make it cost productive. Today, it might take a machine one hour to manufacture a ring which will take me three days to make by hand. The difference is the handmade piece of jewellery is personal to the client, not mass produced for anyone and everyone
What inspires you? Is there an era that you gravitate towards or an art movement that you focus on?
Nature will always inspire me from my time on my parent’s farm and the natural beauty of South Africa. Canada gives me another view of natural beauty. Nature also inspires my desire for movement in handmade jewellery. I am also inspired by antique jewellery of exceptional handmade quality. And I pick up the emotion in a client, what the client finds inspiring. I am also inspired by hand cut gemstones wishing to add to the beauty of someone else’s hard work in cutting by hand. In terms of an Art movement that I find inspiring, I love Art Nouveau—-it’s use of Nature, it’s bending of metal, the flow and the balance the artists were able to achieve in metal. All these various inspirations bring interest to the piece I am creating and beg the question of the viewer: why have I chosen the metal, the gemstones, the shape I have chosen? And I am inspired to keep handmade jewellery alive as a legacy of the past and a legacy for the future. When I leave this world someday, I want some of my creativity to stay, giving more generations pleasure.
What has been the most memorable piece of jewelry that you have designed so far?
Every piece for me is memorable but the most memorable piece was a bracelet I had made for a couple in Germany and the sapphires had been mined and cut by hand in Tanzania. They were not perfect in the way they had been cut but I had to make them look perfect in their setting. It took me a month and a half to finish this piece but by the time it was finished it looked like a piece that had come out of the Renaissance era. Also, when I was living in London, I once came back to visit my family in Zimbabwe. One day I went to see my gran. My gran was almost a 100 years old then and had a personal service worker who looked after her. On that visit I saw the PSW wearing a ring and recognised it as a ring which I had made. I didn’t know that she was South African, and I did not recall her face, but I knew the piece and I told her that I had made that. She was incredibly surprised and told me that she had had that made by a jeweler in South Africa. So, I told her that it was me!
From Left to right: Handmade ‘Ivy’ Brooch with Diamonds, Set in 18K White Gold; ‘Sunflower’ Diamond Ring in 18K White Gold, Handmade in the Edwardian Style; Handmade ‘Orchid’ Brooch set with Diamonds in 18K Gold (a gift for Carlos’ Gran on her birthday earlier this year)
What are your plans for the future?
I want to work during the day and to teach jewelry making in the evening. Jewelry making is a gift from God, it is a talent. Something like a course in the evenings for hobbyists, starting with brass and silver and letting people create their own pieces even if they don’t want to become jewelers.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a career in handmade jewelry?
You need to love what you do and if you don’t you will not find the inspiration to create. Also never look down on a piece to create, even if it is something quite simple, because a client has come to you and the piece you create will give the client joy. You might win an international design competition but its your everyday customers are the constants in your life.
- Favourite gemstone to work with? Tourmaline
- Platinum or Gold? Gold
- Favourite piece of jewelry to wear yourself? A baguette cut diamond ring
- What was the last gift you gave somebody? A pair of cufflinks
- Given an opportunity, who among the three great jewelry designers of the past would you have loved to collaborate with, Lalique, Faberge or Tiffany? Faberge
- Since you are in Canada, what is your coffee order? A double latte (laughs)
What is the one thing that you are looking forward to doing once this pandemic and lockdown is over?
Getting back to nature. What I used to do was go for a four and a half hour walk in the parks and look at the small flower that is just opening or look at the dried leaf and how it’s bent. I translate these small observations into my handmade jewelry
Thank you so much Carlos for talking with me 😊 Wishing you all the best for the future and looking forward to seeing your website soon!
Featured Image: Double Strand Pearl Necklace with a Citrine and Diamond Clasp, Handmade in 18K Yellow Gold
You can find out more about Carlos Grobler and his exquisite hand made jewelry pieces on Instagram @carl.grobler or you can email him at email@example.com
All images used in this post are the property of Carlos Grobler and Aurelio Fine Metal Studio. Any person or organization not affiliated with Carlos Grobler and/or Aurelio Fine Metal Studio may not use, copy, alter or modify any of the images used in this post, without the advance written permission of Carlos Grobler and/or Aurelio Fine Metal Studio.