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Shine bright like a diamond

Living

Ciara Galvin talks to Mayo goldsmith Nigel O’Reilly about joys of jewellery making

CHOOSE a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life, according to Confucius. If what he says is true, then Claremorris man Nigel O’Reilly hasn’t worked in years.
The goldsmith followed his dream in 2006 by applying for a goldsmith course and has since crafted his passion and set up his own studio and bespoke jewellery-making business in his home county. Nigel’s interest was piqued in the art of goldsmithing back when he was doing his Leaving Cert.
“In school I did LCVP and one of the case studies was on a goldsmith and I thought it was really interesting. I forgot about it and trained to be a precision engineer/toolmaker,” explains the 34 year old. “While I was supposed to be working one day I spun up a ring on the lathe, and it got me thinking.”
Bitten by the age-old craft, Nigel looked into enrolling in a goldsmith course with the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland in Kilkenny in 2006. He set about working on a portfolio and was accepted into the two-year intensive course in 2007.
Working alongside celebrated goldsmith Rudolph Heltzel in Kilkenny, O’Reilly took a leap of faith and accepted an offer to be a diamond setter in Stockholm just two weeks after he and wife, Tracy, were married in 2009. More training followed in different cities, in notable jewellery houses in London and Antwerp.
But Nigel felt a draw to return to the west of Ireland, and he established a studio in his home county, where he now works on exquisite pieces of fine jewellery for both Irish and international clients.

Something original
Speaking in his quiet studio, Nigel explains that jewellery is ‘such a personal thing’, and that because of this he makes it his business to get to know his clients.
“The style of ring could depend on what they do every day—hands-on work, will they be wearing it every day? It’s individually made so you have to know what’s going on with the person. I really want them to have a good experience, they’re going to be looking down at it every day.”
The goldsmith is candid when getting down to brass tacks about the cost of a custom ring versus buying elsewhere.
“You never can compete on price with mass-produced rings. Rings are mass produced in India and China with no personality. We provide something original.”
And he warns, ‘There is no such thing as a cheap diamond’.
“I’ve had people show me rings got in Dubai and other places, and it could be a good diamond but a terrible ring, or the other way around.”
When asked by friends how much an engagement ring costs, the Claremorris man gives the clever analogy, ‘You have a Ford Fiesta and a Porsche, they’re both cars at the end of the day but there’s a big difference’.

Popping the question
As to be expected, when it came to popping the question to his now wife, Tracy, Nigel put a lot of thought into it, and proposed with a diamond. Nothing else.
“It was just my first year in Kilkenny, and my knowledge was limited at the time. I went to my teacher and asked could she put me in contact with a diamond dealer. I proposed with just the diamond, and we worked on the design together, she’s an artist herself,” he explains.
Nigel admits that he gets many men calling to him ahead of popping the question. “A lot of lads come looking and don’t know what to get.”
Women of Mayo, take a breath of relief, Nigel tells those unsure of what to get to perhaps propose with a ‘promise ring’, or, as he did, just the diamond. “And later they can both be involved in the process,” he suggests.
So what’s the best bit about Nigel’s job?
“It’s when [the ring] is just finished and all polished. It was a lump of metal, and at some stages you could be like ‘where is this going?’. Satisfaction, job satisfaction, that’s the most important thing, and seeing a customer happy.”
The passionate craftsman says the studio can be a very emotional place from time to time, when clients see the finished masterpiece, some of which bear extreme sentimental value.
“I do remakes too, and at one stage a mother had passed away and her daughter wanted to get the style of her late mother’s engagement ring redone. People get emotional seeing it finished.
“Another one involved a mother’s engagement ring and a father’s wedding band being combined for an engagement ring.”
Though a lot of Nigel’s business would be in designing engagement and wedding bands, he also does a lot of commissions for dress rings.
Having been shortlisted for Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur award, it’s clear that Nigel’s career is following the style of his bespoke jewellery pieces—solid and bright, with a good, beautifully crafted foundation.

For more information on Nigel O’Reilly, visit his website www.nigeloreilly.com, or contact him at 087 2331841 or info@nigeloreilly.com.

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