A Conversation with Master Jeweller Rafka Koblence

by Reema Farooqui
South Sea Pearl and Diamond Earrings

Handcrafting Timeless Bespoke Jewellery Masterpieces

In the heart of the Diamond District, New York City, a master jeweller practices his craft, creating incredibly complex yet irresistibly beautiful jewellery pieces for a select group of private clients. Jewellery designer and maker, Rafael (or Rafka, to his friends ) Koblence, founder of Rafka Jewelry, handcrafts iconic jewellery pieces from his 47th Street NYC workshop, delighting jewellery aficionados who will not settle for anything less than absolute perfection.

Rafka’s road to becoming a jewellery master in NYC, was a somewhat circuitous one. He started his career as an Olympic Wrestler in the National Team of Israel. However, in the mid 1970s, Rafka moved to the U.S. with one goal in mind-to handcraft exquisite and exclusive jewellery pieces for a discerning clientele. After having worked in the Diamond District in NYC as a buyer, seller and polisher of diamonds, Design by Rafka debuted in 1996. Since then Rafka has been creating unique, bespoke haute joaillerie pieces which can be described as nothing less than future heirlooms.

What sets Rafka Jewelry apart is their complete dedication to meticulously designed jewellery pieces, realised through high craftsmanship, precious metals and exceptional gems. The outstanding attention to detail in each piece coming out of Rafka Jewelry’s workshop and the smooth marriage of old-world craftsmanship and modern technology, makes every jewel simply breathtaking. Bringing his innate sense of style and design into the mix, Rafka handcrafts contemporary high jewellery pieces that have the soul and charm of a bygone era.

The thing I love most about Rafka’s jewellery pieces is that they look just as lovely from the back as they do from the front. Rafka himself points out that his jewellery pieces are not made for mass-consumption and are difficult to recreate. Each piece is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece, something to be valued, admired and coveted over generations.

In my interview with Rafka, I asked him about his jewellery inspiration, what great jewellery craftsmanship means to him and what are the things that bring a smile to his face

Embrace Bracelet with White, Intense Yellow and Intense Pink Natural Colour Diamonds, Sapphires and Brazilian Emeralds, Mounted in 18K Yellow Gold and Platinum

From an Olympic team wrestler to master jeweller and designer of fabulous works of jewelled adornments, please tell us about your extraordinary jewellery journey

Greco-Roman wrestling, like being a master jewelry designer, were both of my life’s greatest passions at different times. Growing up as an amateur athlete and working towards being a junior champion and eventually competing on an Olympic team took dedication and singular focus. Then I would later in life find myself working in the diamond district in Boston and then Manhattan where I would cultivate a new passion for designing one-of-a-kind jewelry. 

“I’m trying to do yesterday, today” is how you once described your work. How challenging has it been to translate the details and craftsmanship of the past into contemporary jewellery style?

There are lots of challenges one faces when attempting to bring to life authentic quality custom jewelry with yesterday’s aesthetics and workmanship. One such challenge is the countless hours of labor required to bring complex and detailed designs to fruition. Another challenge is the sourcing of the highest quality materials and stones to complement and annunciate the authentic workmanship. Finally, sometimes it can be hard to find clients who have an eye for the unusual beauty of old-time workmanship and high-end gems and materials. 

Pirouette Necklace with Tahitian Pearls and White Diamonds, Mounted in Platinum

For you, does a jewellery piece start with a concept or design idea or with the gemstones?

More often than not, I create my ideas and designs in my head, and then on paper, before sourcing gems or materials for the project. Sometimes I will come into the possession of a beautiful or unusual color-stone, diamond, or other gems that trigger a flow of ideas and concepts for pieces to be made from them. 

What are your favourite gemstones to work with and why?

My favorite gemstone to work with by far and away are high quality Colombian Emeralds. I adore the rich green luster and unique softness of emeralds, especially the Colombian ones which are known for their quality, rarity, and vibrance. 

Sonata Ring with a 14.53 ct. Removable Columbian Emerald

What inspires you? Is there an era that you gravitate towards or an art movement that speaks to you when you design your  jewellery pieces?

The two eras of which I draw the most inspiration are the Victorian and the Edwardian periods of jewelry making. Jewelry from the Victorian era is suffused with complexity and workmanship that exists in parity when compared to other contemporary periods. The Edwardian era has intricate detail, the introduction of Platinum, and beautiful filigree as the common denominators that set it apart.

What does great jewellery craftsmanship mean to you?

Jewelry craftsmanship means to me being willing to go that extra mile to bring the most complex and detailed designs from my mind to life. The kind of jewelry I like to create requires many hours of craftsmanship and labor to create for each individual piece and even components for pieces and collections. 

You craft jewellery with an eye to creating future heirlooms and each piece “comes with stories yet to be told.” What has been the memorable jewellery piece you have ever designed and crafted and what was the story behind it?

The most memorable piece I created was a line of slide bracelets early in my career. One of my friends asked me if I knew what a slide bracelet is, a common accessory after the Victorian era, and if I knew how to make one. I told him I did and decided to make not just one but a whole collection of slide bracelets which were themed with playing cards, musical instruments, sea world, with vibrant Enamel colors and motifs inspired by Fabergé works. 

Is there anyone, alive or no longer with us, whom you would most like to see wearing your jewellery pieces and why?

I would most like to see my jewelry on Elizabeth Taylor because I believe my pieces would be able to fully compliment her beauty and grace. 

Your personal favourite piece of jewellery to wear ?

My favorite accessory is a watch, my favorite piece to make are earrings. 

One piece of advice you would give to your younger self starting in the jewellery world, if you could go back in time?

To my younger self I would say the following, find what kind of jewelry you are passionate about and the rest will fall into place. There is a veritable ocean of creations out there, don’t be afraid to stand out and discover ways to set yourself apart from the rest. Developing the individuality of your creations is the foundational key to success.

Love Struck Necklace and Bracelet Set in 18K Yellow and White Gold, Set with White Diamonds

Three things that bring a smile to your face?

My family, Nature’s beauty ,the look on my client’s face when they lay eyes on my creations

What is a typical Sunday morning like for you?

Wake up and go to the club to lift weights and work out, then come back home with fresh bagels to make breakfast for my family

Thank you so much Rafka for taking out time in your busy day to answer my questions. Also, a big thank you to Paul Rousseas at JP Partners Plus for making this interview possible.

Featured Image: Eclipse Earrings with a Tahitian Pearl and a South Sea Pearl, Cultured Pearls and Diamonds, Mounted in Platinum

You can find our more about Rafka Jewelry on their website rafka.com and you can follow them on Instagram at @rafkajewelry

All images used in this article are the property of Rafka Jewelry . Any person or organization not affiliated with Rafka Jewelry may not use, copy, alter or modify any of the images used in this post, without the advance written permission of Rafka Jewelry.

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