Dutch born jeweller, Hans Smit, the legendary designer on St. John’s, Antigua, is yet another good reason to visit this lush Caribbean Island. Redcliffe Quay, the city centre, is where Smit’s contemporary shop, The Goldsmitty, is located.
Tall and trim, the bespectacled, casually dressed man is the epitome of success on this small island awash with jewellers.
Before moving to the Caribbean, Smit lived and worked in Spain and it was there he met a hotel manager who told him about Antigua, an island he had never heard of before. “I was young. I thought I should go and take a look, I did and never left. It’s been 42 years since I came here and it feels like the first day,” says the jeweller who studied for 5 years at the Academy of Modern Art in Holland
With the constant docking of the huge cruise ships on which he advertises, The Goldsmitty has become the destination for unique designs. Although the rent in this area is exceptionally pricey Smit feels it was the best move, since the shop is just a few minutes walk from the ship.
Smit smartly has a banner, you can’t miss, reaching from one side of the street to the other with his name boldly printed in, of course, gold colour. Although The Goldsmitty is one of the first stops for many of the thousands of cruise ship passengers, many of his clients stay at the high end hotels and return each year to purchase one of his new creations.
A gilt spiral staircase leads to hid studio and workshop where two well trained crafts people execute Smit’s one of a-kind, hand made designs.
Working in both 14 karat and 18 karat gold, he still sees white gold as being the most popular. When asked about rose coloured gold, he says, “we could make it but the demand is not there.”
Just a look into the showcases, it’s obvious that coloured stones are his métier and happily stone buying is one of the favourite aspects of his work since it allows him to travel. “I buy at the source,” he says as he leads me to one of his vitrines.
Smit proudly shows his cache and the first is blue green tourmalines from Namibia
Imperial topaz is another special stone in which The Goldsmitty specializes. He buys these in Brazil. “There’s only one mine now that produces these precious topazes,” he says as he points out the various finished rings, bracelets, pendants and earrings in the cases. A spectacular Imperial topaz is one of his prizes. It’s a rare 42 carat stone priced at $32,000
As for Tanzanite, he sees the shortage as a bit of a myth. “There are four mine blocks which have just been taken over by a huge South African conglomerate, Afgem, and they’ve modernized it. So if there is a shortage, I doubt they’d be doing this improvement,” he says quite matter of factly, again pointing to a case of seriously large tanzanites, some finished items are sitting among a few loose stones. He stops to show me a few dazzling tanzanite, one a 10 karat stone for about $10,000. “Tanzanite is very popular in the Caribbean but the deep colours are hard to find.”
There aren’t many diamond pieces and his philosophy is that although diamonds are attractive as far as he’s concerned, he much prefers the uniqueness of the coloured stones.
I spot a card stating something I’ve never seen or heard of, Bread & Cheese Bush jewelry. It’s a local flower from which Smit takes the flower buds of this Antiguan bush. “In a process similar to the lost wax method, we burn out the organic material and replace it with solid 14 karat gold.” These’ bud’ nuggets are his signature. They are seen throughout his collection incorporated on the gold with the coloured stones. His reasoning is concise. “I don’t like plain gold. It scratches easily besides I also like pieces to have an organic look and have some texture.”
Another unique piece is Paua, a native shell which he again mixes with textured gold and occasionally small diamonds.
We walk down another aisle showing a very ample supply of a colour spectrum of sapphires from blue to pink, yellow and natural purples. “The red is treated,” he says “but it’s a lovely colour.”
Aquamarines were purchased by Smit in Nigeria when they had the highest quality available. “Prices,” he states, “have escalated especially for top of the market stones.” He happens to be so fond of the stone that the only ring or piece of jewelry he is wearing is a cabochon aquamarine set with his signature bubbled gold work
As for blue topaz, he favours London Blue’s deep colour.
Smit seems to enjoy teaching. He holds up a rough Alexandrite to a lamp. What looked purplish red now is teal blue verging on green? “It’s never been heat treated,” he says with great pride.
Rare Topaz Neckpiece by Hans Smit
Emeralds from Colombian and blue zircons found in Cambodia are in his cache as are Australian opals which seem to mesmerize him. There are only two pendants of Dendrite quartz (looking as though they are fossilized) stones that he knows probably won’t sell but are amazingly interesting to him. Ammolite from Canada is a big draw.
He purchases loose rubies in Tucson jewelry fair. Especially outstanding is a neckpiece of ruby beads with textured gold spacers. This one is over $7,000. When asked if he finds the prices a detrement, he mentions that only that day, there was a message from a woman who saw a ruby piece a few weeks before for that amount and asked him to send it to her.
When it comes to comparing prices in Antigua versus other jewelry centres, he states “it really is difficult to know since mine are unique pieces. But I’ve been told by my clients if I were in New York, the prices would be much higher.”
One neck piece that is most interesting is a spectrum of colours of tourmalines. Although he shows Tahitian black pearls and it is one of his specialties since he spent four weeks on a pearl farm, his favours the silver black pearls and baroque shapes.
That’s a smattering of keshi pearls but obviously because of the too good to be true prices, they sell immediately.
Each coloured stone is set in groupings representing the birth month. Garnet for January, (Five very large Rhodolite garnets are featured in a bracelet.) amethyst for February, peridot for August, citrine for November, tanzanite for December, etc.
Obviously, if a traveler is lucky to be visiting sandy, sunny, charming Antigua and is interested in coloured stones, The Goldsmitty has something for everyone and every occasion.