Holding a 2.8 carat diamond in the palm of your hand – equivalent to palming thousands of euro – is an unnerving experience. Drop it at your cost. We are standing in the studio of the Irish jeweller, Dún Laoghaire-born Michael O’Dwyer, now plying a successful trade in Stockholm and working closely with Ann Chapman of Stonechat jewellers in Dublin. Both trained together and have remained friends and professional associates ever since. Diamonds – round, oval, pear or baguette all feature in their new collections.
At the workshop benches in his leafy studio in Stockholm sit specialists in goldsmithing, stone setting and enamel work – their tools similar to those used for extraction and filing in dentistry and surrounded by welding torches, microscopes and polishing machines. Making a platinum ring and setting precious stones are very highly skilled processes. “Always look under a ring before you buy,” cautions O’Dwyer, showing the tiny details that only professional craftsmanship can achieve, salutary advice for those considering an engagement ring. “We use a lot of technology,” he says.
Both he and Chapman are former students of Jenny Huston’s goldsmithing course in Kilkenny, where only a dozen students were selected every two years for its specialist training. O’Dwyer studied art history in UCD before discovering his calling while Chapman earned a degree in European Studies at TCD but realising it was not for her, moved to Paris reigniting a love of making which led to a course in NCAD. Her real experience, however, came from a year spent with Steensons, the leading Northern Ireland craft jewellers based in Glenarm where she learned how to use “every tool you can imagine”.
Both talk of the precision and training of the eye that the craft demands. O’Dwyer moved to Antwerp honing his knowledge with a master stone setter, later moving to Sweden in 2013. Chapman ran and managed Designyard in Dublin before setting up on her own in the Westbury Centre. “We have watched each other grow,” they smile.
O’Dwyer who designs on a CAD system explains that Swedish customers are very demanding and will only buy from a jeweller that they trust. His speciality is stone setting. Chapman has made a name for modernising old pieces, for wedding jewellery and for her stones which O’Dwyer sources from three trusted dealers.
He shows us a selection from a display box – morganite, a popular soft pink, tourmaline in a range of colours and various beryls. “None of our rings are hollowed out on the inside. We would never scrimp on these details. If you are going to buy a ring, turn it upside down and look at the inside” he counsels.
Stamped with the MEOD insignia, his collection includes rings with outstanding stones, handsome wedding bands, cocktail rings and delicate pendants while all of Chapman’s pieces go to the Assay Office in Dublin for hallmarking. Like O’Dwyer, her jewellers work at their benches in the Westbury Centre, their craftsmanship in full public view. Having started her business in 2012 with eight rings, stones have become her forte and remaking diamonds into more modern settings a speciality. Stonechat also includes jewellery from other designers but “O’Dwyer would be a huge portion of that. People come to us for very nice stones. I love dealing with customers,” she says.