Ian Douglas –The Village Goldsmith, Wellington’s famed jewelry designer

Wellington, New Zealand
Ian Douglas, the jeweller from ‘down under’

Although I didn’t have time on the day I first saw the jewelry in the window of The Village Goldsmith in Wellington, New Zealand, from my quick scan, I knew I had to make sure to meet with this most creative jeweller. Ian Douglas is a master jeweller. His extremely innovative, contemporary designs using indigenous stones and artifacts have become Douglas’trademark.

New Zealanders, or Kiwis as they are referred to, have become extremely nationalistic trying hard to distance themselves from being clumped as Australians. And like Canadians we can sympathize as we are always taken for Americans.

Local produce, herbs and roots are now widely used in their food preparation and jeweller Ian Douglas has found a way to integrate native shells and stones into his elegant designs. Douglas, a young man, somewhere in his early fifties, was awarded the Apprentice of the Year in the mid 1970s which was a segue to his future. He opened his first boutique in 1981 but with the popularity of his output, it made good sense to relocate to the centre of the city which he did in 1991.

Inside The Village Goldsmith, the glass and wood modern designed boutique has several differently shaped vitrines, some with Ian Douglas’ designs, others filled with imported jewelry from Europe. However, every time I spotted a creation with originality and interest, it always turned out to be one of Douglas’ .

The Village Goldsmith is considered, the place to go for top end jewelry. “Without doubt, well heeled future brides come here for their rings,” said Jennifer Looman, well known woman about town, who runs the successful, Wild About Wellington Tours.

Douglas sees the changing options for brides. “They aren’t buying the traditional solitaire diamond and then adding the wedding ring. Now the trend is to buy a single more significant ring that signifies the relationship and has a very obvious design statement,” says the casually dressed Douglas. He cite that round cut diamonds within a design, are still the biggest seller and accounts for 80% of his bridal market.

His own favorite stone are diamonds and specifically, the classic emerald cut. “I think they’re superb partners for me to develop challenging designs. I can fabricate very intricate and exciting settings around this stone,” he tells me from behind one of the sleek client tables.

Wellington, New Zealand

While he was giving final instructions to one of the 5 on-site craftsmen, trained to do everything from beginning to end in a glassed-in atelier just steps up from the shop, I had a chance to peek into the work area. He proudly states that the highly trained and capable staff is due to their “British heritage”. One of the advantages of having the workshop is “many clients who come with treasured items to be repaired or re-designed, can see how we do things. It also gives clients assurance that their piece stays in the shop.” The Village Goldsmith doesn’t send any of their wares elsewhere. A major bonus in this country is that labour costs are lower than North American and there aren’t any duties or taxes, so that his jewelry is less expensive than similar Canadian or American pieces.

Douglas’ gem stone buying trips are mainly to Australia where there is an important gem company who specializes in precious and semi precious stones. “It’s cheaper than taking time going around the world,” he says. Also, Australia happens to be the mother lode for South Sea pearls. “There is free trade between Australia and New Zealand. We get our orders quickly and easily.” He notes the black pearl centre in Tahiti, is also relatively close. As for diamonds, 80% are purchased from Antwerp while 15% come from Russia. He has just recently started to buy Canadian diamonds. “Fire of the North”, I love them,” he states. “The Canadian diamonds are of credible high standards and have international certificates”.

As I wander around, one of the first designs to catch my attention are conical shaped lapis lazuli drop earrings, encircled with wire-like 18 k gold going from top to bottom. Another interesting combination stumped me. It was much darker than the conventional mother of pearl. The green and blue paua shell (a local shell fish) when shined and polished, the final product is a seductive mixture of water-like deep colouration of blue and green. Douglas has taken the paua, added a 3.79 carat aquamarine and made this into a pendant which is attached to a 18 k yellow gold silk cable.

Wellington, New Zealand

Another neckpiece has a more familiar material. Here he has used 14 k yellow gold black coloured mother of pearl, inserted a pear shape, high quality golden zircon and hung this pendent from a leather cord.

I was particularly taken with his use of an uncut piece of local granite to which he has added a heavy 18 k thick gold bar that can be worn as a brooch, turned every which way or stand as a small sculpture.

The one work of art that is the highlight of this collection is Douglas’ use of local green stone which is much like the colour and texture of Canada’s soap stone. He has shaved down to almost a translucent appearance, odd shaped, differently sized triangles of rough, unpolished local nephrite jade, interspersed with a modern hinge system of 18 k gold links. On these links, he has added ‘gold urchin-like’ spikes into which he has set various sized diamonds. What is so amazing is that this unique piece seems to sit perfectly on any neck size.

And if I thought pendants and neckpieces are his fashion statement and his forte, they are equaled by his rings.

He has designed a cognac diamond ring separated by two 18 k, hammered rose coloured gold bands. The use of rose gold appears throughout Douglas’ collection and is so complimentary to skin tones.

A Princess cut diamond ring was inspired and based on ancient Mayan temples. Set on

22 k rose gold and platinum, instead of claws, the diamond is held by four columns with no underlying bezel to support it . Technically, this suspension setting is very difficult.

Another dazzler is 4 claw, 6 carat cushion-cut, pink tourmaline which sits high above the wide 18 k yellow and rose gold band.

After viewing The Village Goldsmith in Wellington with only a population of 160,000, it may be a small town but certainly with big city designs and designer Ian Douglas just happens to be located ‘down under’.