Put a ring on it
Mayo goldsmith Nigel O’Reilly’s jewellery can compete with some of the world’s most luxurious houses, writes Deirdre McQuillan
Precision tool making and jewellery may not have a lot in common, but a Mayo goldsmith has transformed those skills in remarkable ways to produce fine jewellery that can compete with some of the world’s most luxurious houses.
“You should look down at your hand and the ring should make you feel happier every time,” says Nigel O Reilly, whose Castlebar workshop with its sophisticated technology he reckons to be the most advanced in the country.
Situated in a modern building off the town’s main street, the stylish reception area on the second floor designed by his wife Tracy, a visual artist, displays his collections alongside the workshop studio. “I have invested everything in this place because I want people to have a different experience of jewellery,” he says.
The white gloves come out as he handles a showpiece ring that has caught my eye called Seed Takes Flight and explains its unusual tapered winged setting. Centrepiece is a huge golden south sea pearl with 931 individually set diamonds, sapphires, rubies and tsavorite garnets in 18ct rose gold. ( You quickly learn about stones).
Another signature ring called Labyrinth with a linear architectural shape has a large tourmaline with hidden diamonds under the stone.
A love of fashion and particularly Alexander McQueen inspired Dante’s Zircon - a rare orange beryl surrounded by the bold colours of sapphire and yellow diamonds. The setting of each piece is as dramatic underneath as above with finely detailed and meticulously crafted honeycombed or gold fretwork patterning sometimes including a hidden motif.
“Stones are pieces of art in themselves and it is my job to make them into something else. Diamond setting is very hard work, but every aspect of the setting is special and there is always a little surprise at the back for the customer”, says O Reilly who inherited several boxes of rare jewels from one of the finest gem cutters in Europe, the late German master jeweller Erwin Springbrunn who used to source gems for Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.
In one box alone are expertly cut sapphires, topaz, morganite ( a variety of beryl), amethyst, rhodolite, garnets and green diamonds. He explains that zircon is a stone that re- flects more light than diamonds.
“I always start with the stone and inspiration comes from a lot of places. I am surrounded by nature here in Mayo but I also love London and city life and am inspired by people who push the boundaries of what you can do. People said I was mad doing fine jewellery in the heart of Mayo, but you would not have the freedom anywhere else.” Already he has showcased his work in New York and his collections are now on display in Ashford Castle’s new boutique in the hotel.
From Claremorris, one of three sons of a farmer and a teacher, O Reilly who is dyslexic, studied precision engineering and toolmaking in Galway for four years, but was always interested in jewellery. “The course was all to do with hand skills and precision work, but there was no creativity though it did teach me discipline.”
He started to make small pieces and looked into becom-
■ Above: La Dame Bleue - Swiss blue topaz surrounded by light blue diamonds, rubies and pink sapphire and The Ogham wedding band in 18ct white gold. The text is in black rhodium. The text reads Love, Loyalty, Friendship. Below: Vela morganite & diamond dress ring in 18ct white gold