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The Return of Romance

John Q. is in trouble. Valentine’s Day is tomorrow, and he wanted to get his wife something expressive and unique—a symbol of his passion and love.

Shona Rae, art jewellery designer and co-founder of Influx Gallery, says John’s choices have gotten easier because classic romance, perhaps lost for a decade or two, is back in style. “Hearts are very in now,” says Rae. “Ten years ago, nobody was making heart designs. But now everyone is using them.” Also popular, are nature themes: flowers, feathers, trees, leaves, as well as more ornamental approaches to design, featuring frills, curves and twirls.

Rae attributes the return of classic romantic styles to a very specific event: the September 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington D.C. “I’ve noticed since 9/11 that hearts have become huge in design and visual communication. People were shaken by the event and the hate behind it. We’ve rediscovered a need to communicate about love. So it’s not coming from a light, fluffy place,” Rae says.

This suits the 15-year art jewellery veteran, who four years ago partnered up with fellow jewellers Devon Clark and Kari Woo, and furniture designer Herb Sawatzky, to open Influx in the Art Central complex downtown. The gallery specializes in handcrafted pieces that it calls “wearable art.” According to the gallery’s mandate, all pieces are made by artists working in their own studios—meaning the pieces are either one-of-a-kind or limited production. Representing 39 jewellery artists from across Canada (including the owners themselves), the gallery carries a range of contemporary styles: from post-modern to ornate; dramatic to sweet; experimental to highly functional.

This variety of artistic designs allows customers to find that one perfect piece—something unique and stylistically suited to the recipient.

This year the gallery features heart-inspired jewellery lines, including the “Sacred Hearts” series by West Coast artist Erin Dolman. Dolman’s heart pendants and broaches are inspired by pop-art, rockabilly themes, and often feature mixed-media assemblages hearkening to nature. Also featured is Toronto-née-Edinburgh artist Veronica Stewart, whose “Heart Songs” collection of pendants utilize precious-metal-clay pieces stamped with words of love—pieces that Stewart describes as a testament of “spirits joined together.”Romance and a return to feminine styles are also in the air at Birks. “We work the heart theme without being too coy,” notes divisional vice president of public relations Anny Kazanjian, who adds that the store always makes a “gentle wink” to the Valentine’s tradition.

This year, that wink is pink: pink gold and pink diamonds. “It’s an emerging trend,” notes Kazanjian, highlighting a newly designed pink-gold ring with a fancy-intense pink pavé diamond available for Valentine’s. The ring features Birks’ trademark Amorique diamond—a star-shaped cut and designed to increase brilliance and sparkle.

While Influx is the little-gallery-that-could, at the other end of the spectrum, Birks is an icon of longevity and Canadiana when it comes to the jewellery business. Founded in 1879 by Montreal jeweller and entrepreneur Henry Birks (who opened up a 15-foot wide store on St. James Street), the company saw rapid expansion through the 1900s, peaking at 250 stores. Nowadays, there are 37 Canadian Birks stores, but with a recent merger with U.S. company Mayors Jewelers, the company has extended its reach south. With design studios and production facilities in Canada and the U.S., and ownership in Italy, the company is now an international phenomenon.

Kazanjian says Birks carries international designers like ESTY and Toni Cavelti who create unique collections, handmade in ateliers—special jewellery workshops—in Montreal. As well, Kazanjian points out that an advantage to going with a company like Birks is the company’s large selection of products—meaning that even if you want to buck today’s trends and choose something sleek and modern, you’ll find something to show you care. After all, it’s more about the heart inside than out, and romance itself is never out of style.—Andrew Mah

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