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

The Irish Times Magazine - - FASHION -

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

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