The well-heeled clientele of Toronto-born jeweler Myles Mindham have the luxury of shopping the world, but when it comes to dreaming up special pieces to last a lifetime, these connoisseurs come back home to collaborate with him. With no formal design training, the 57 year-old designer has been catering to celebrities and socialites alike for 25 years with his sometimes whimsical, always elegant mini-masterpieces. Originally located on the 7th floor of Toronto’s Park Hyatt Hotel, Mindham’s business has blossomed beautifully since 1991, and now boasts an impressive Yorkville address. His Fine Jewellery ‘maison’ on Hazelton Avenue is an oasis of exquisite panache, complete with a large tony salon upstairs and a bustling studio workshop in the basement. To mark his company’s 25th anniversary, Mindham has created a mesmerizing 35-piece limited edition collection entitled ‘Magical Woodlands’, designed to dazzle and charm even the most discerning collector. I visited Myles Mindham at his elegant emporium to talk about the childhood fantasies that fuelled his imagination, why his clients feel safe with him, and the role a piece of fine jewelry can play in our lives.
JEANNE: When did you first start falling in love with the art of design or even just jewelry itself?
MYLES: As a child, I was highly dyslexic so for me, visual arts were a huge relief because all I had to do was draw—and I could always draw. Also I had an amazing grandmother who was very much involved in the arts. She was a pianist and a painter. She worked for Paisley Shop here in Yorkville, which sold antiques, and she would always teach me about marquetry or fine silver, so there was always an essence of detail in whatever I did. Also, one of my earliest memories was being five years old and one of my grandmother’s friends invited her friend to a party at Christmas time, and this woman arrived in a 1964 Cadillac stretch limousine, which for a five-year old boy was the most magical thing. And this woman was wearing a beautiful bib diamond necklace and probably a three-carat diamond solitaire. I watched that necklace glimmer and the ring sparkle and I walked up to her and stared at her and she said, ‘Oh aren’t you sweet little boy!’ And I remember saying, ‘Is that real?’ And of course my parents were horrified!
J: And now, 25 years after being in the business of fine jewelry design, you’re celebrating with a collection that pays homage to your childhood…
M: I always had such a fascination with light and sparkle. I’m like a magpie, a crow: Anything that sparkles draws me. That’s why I love fashion and design and anything that sparkles or reflects. So I decided for the 25th anniversary we would focus on fantasy, miniaturization, and the refraction of light. And all my motifs are based on a childhood story. My own childhood was challenged by my mother’s health and before my mother got ill, one of the most amazing, comforting pieces of my life was reading at night time. So for my 25th anniversary, I thought I’d indulge myself a bit and reflect on how I got here. And how I got here was using design, imagination, creativity and hard work because you have to be able to afford to be able to do these things. I just wanted to bring in all the elements of those childhood books of fantasy.
J: There’s a flying bunny in this collection that is astounding to me because there’s such a childlike innocence to it, yet we’re talking about very serious jewelry here.
M: And the wings are plique-à-jour. They’re liquid glass in platinum and diamond.
J: I find it interesting that as a creative artist, you’re able to walk that line between keeping in touch with your inner child and yet executing something that is so monumental and is a serious, important piece that’s worth tens of thousands of dollars. How do you manage to straddle both those sensibilities?
M: To be honest, it’s a bit of a risk. We’ve created three feature pieces: a strikingly detailed amulet, the bunny, and the star bracelet. And it’s a bit of a risk because who’s going to wear a $32,000 bunny? But I’ve met people in my career who are so inspiring and magical to me. And I’ve been able to create these heirlooms for them. My clients can shop anywhere in the world, but they choose to shop here.
J: Why do you suppose it is that they choose to come back home to Canada to work with you when they want to collaborate on something?
M: It harkens back to relationship. They feel safe with me. They feel comfortable, they know I’m striving to do beautiful things and that I can do them. We have an amazing workshop here that’s really unparalleled in this country. The tradesmen I have are 40-year veterans, and 20-year veterans of creating these things. We push them all the time. The truth is we have to be a little bit better. The point of relationship is that people love to look at the world and shop locally. At least my clients do, because with jewelry, you have to have someone that’s going to back you up. I’ve seen unfortunate stories where things that came back weren’t as good as they should have been. But people have a sense of security—they have a trust in me, and they know that we’re making beautiful things.
J: We’re living in an age of excess, and an age of escalating imagery where so much is available to us, and there’s so much to feast our eyes on. There’s also so much that is being replicated and knocked off. What role does a piece of fine jewelry play today?
M: History. Emotion. I’m blessed to be able to create things that people will carry their whole lives. I have clients who I tell, ‘Please wear it!’ And sometimes when they get to a certain age, they say, ‘When am I going to wear that?’ And I say, ‘Well if you don’t wear it, your children or grandchildren won’t see you wearing it, and it won’t become special’. But these pieces become heirlooms. They carry memories. I have a great belief in the energy of crystals. They carry an energy. There are families that left Russia with one stone that kept their family alive, sewn into the hem of their dresses, and then kept tucked into floorboards. There’s history there. There’s emotion. There are all kinds of powerful energies that are carried in jewelry. But mostly for me, it’s history, emotion, legacy.
J: Many people believe in the mysticism of jewelry. Psychics often say there’s something metaphysical about these precious pieces. Is that the wavelength you’re on?
M: I’m totally on that wavelength! Sometimes I’ll sun soak a gem before I start to design: I’ll take it and leave it sitting in the sun, and then I’ll come up with something in terms of design, because I really believe that there’s a universal energy that goes into a gem. Now the person who owns the gem is the paramount thing for me. They will select a piece because that stone spoke to them. I have a client who can afford any gem in the world, but she sees a 33 carat green peridot and she’s, ‘I’ve got to have this stone!’ Why? Because that stone speaks to that person. In life there are so many dark things that happen, and I think that jewelry is one of the really bright spots. There’s so much darkness and fear and uncertainness, that there are certain beautiful things that speak to our souls.
J: What you do is obviously beyond fashion, however there are elements of fashion—a kind of fashion awareness and sensibility in what you do. Do you ever think about trends when you design? Or do you just react to the current zeitgeist?
M: My trends happen in much broader terms. For instance, for a decade, platinum and white gold ruled the design field. Then when yellow gold eclipsed platinum about 7 years ago as the ultimate metal, the whole world began to move over to yellow gold. It takes a long time to move your inventory into yellow gold, but now there’s a huge resurgence in things like black diamonds in yellow gold. So my trends happen at much slower intervals. I travel to international trade shows in Hong Kong, Basel Switzerland, New York and Tucson…. Certainly Basel, Switzerland is a big indicator because that’s where the lead jewelry houses in the world are showing their collections and their gems and you get an idea that rhodium black metal is coming onto the scene, or white diamonds set in black metal, or you suddenly see these trends of laser drill black diamonds that you can string with South Sea pearls…. I love the fact that these ancient little tiny black diamonds can be drilled with lasers, and that’s the most modern technology. So suddenly, they’re a new product. I watch product development in the industry and I also watch what people are wearing. It’s easy for me to adjust things. The difference between me and fashion is that when you’ve made a sweater you need to sell once a season is over, you’ve got to sell it at 70% off. But if I’ve done something short, I can take it apart and make it long…. Right now, everything’s long and chic, so we can re-string chokers, transform them, and make them modern. It’s important to be modern. One of the new trends I just saw in Paris is that there’s the big show statement pieces, but what’s really happening is that things are becoming very, very petite and very delicate now.
J: Creating a business in this country is not an easy thing to do but creating a strong brand with high visibility, and keeping the whole thing growing 25 years later is a particularly difficult feat. What would you say has catapulted you to this particular place and time now, where your brand really does mean something to so many people?
M: Diligent hard work, integrity, honesty and the fact that I grew very slowly. There are a lot of people who want everything instantly. But I started my business with 362 square feet of space where I met my clients, and I treated them with a lot of respect and dignity. And I took every repair job, every restringing job. And people remember loyalty. They remember experiences. Service, integrity and honesty are all important. All you have is your reputation in this business. And the other thing is a happy customer tells two people. An unhappy tells ten. Every customer has to leave happy. People expect if you’re spending, you want to be looked after. We have 19 people on staff here. We look after our clients. We’re manufacturing, we’re marketing, we’re retailing, and we’re growing the company. The funny thing is I keep thinking I’m just getting started.