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Leslie Chapman, of Dawson City-based Fortymile Gold Workshop, uses locally mined gold for her custom jewellery pieces.Supplied

When the crown jewels are passed from one royal to another, they don’t always maintain their original form. These spectacular pieces of jewellery are sometimes modified to make them au courant or better suited to an individual’s sense of style. Since marrying Prince William in 2011, the Duchess of Cambridge, for instance, has worn many of her late mother-in-law’s jewels, occasionally having them remodelled into new designs, like the sapphire and diamond earrings she updated into a drop style.

Fortunately, and contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a royal-sized budget to get your own one-of-a-kind piece of jewellery, whether it’s remaking something you already own, or designing something new. Creating your own unique jewellery piece has never been more accessible.

Commissioning a one-of-a-kind piece means that jewellers work within a client’s budget. At Atelier Dacko in Toronto, that budget could range from $1,000 to six figures. “It’s a one-on-one experience. Essentially, we try to make sure that the client feels very comfortable with us while also bringing our technical expertise,” says co-founder Patrick Dacko, a micro-setter who runs the studio with goldsmith Anna Khmelyova.

Their process is highly collaborative, step by step, beginning with an initial consultation before moving through sketches, digital renderings, 3D-printed models and even photos and videos of the pieces being made by hand.

For Dacko, educating his clients about jewellery throughout this process is a top priority. “We really want to make sure that when they finish making the piece, it’s special to them and it’s not like they just had a transaction with me,” he says.

“Because everything is handmade, you can often see tool marks. I call it ‘perfectly imperfect’”

Leslie Chapman, founder of Fortymile Gold Workshop

In many cases, it’s an engagement that sparks the desire for a one-of-a-kind piece. Dacko says that a simple ring produced for someone’s individual finger, stone and measurements is a great example of what sets custom-made jewellery apart from ready-to-ship counterparts.

“That ring has been tailor-made to you and your specifications versus buying [one of] 400 of the same ring that’s been sized and forced to fit your finger,” he says, explaining that rings are often made in a larger size in order to fit multiple sized stones before being adjusted.

Specializing in all types of jewellery, part of the work at Atelier Dacko involves reimagining existing pieces, fashioning gemstones into something new while maintaining their sentimental value.

“Clients have an array of pieces that they don’t wear anymore. We take something that’s very sentimental into something more modern,” Dacko says.

It’s an appreciation for these precious materials that spurred Leslie Chapman, the founder of Fortymile Gold Workshop in Dawson City, Yukon, to get into jewellery making – specifically as a reaction to the unpleasant feeling she got from seeing gold dust from her family’s Yukon mine transformed into anonymous bars.

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At Toronto’s Atelier Dacko, the team designs custom pieces and works with existing pieces of jewellery to give them new lives. Pictured here, stacker bands in rose gold, yellow gold and white gold.Supplied

“It always bothered me a bit because the gold is special, we worked hard to get it,” she says. Chapman bought a few books on goldsmithing and started experimenting, eventually opening a studio.

Working by hand, Chapman uses 20-karat natural raw gold in all of her pieces, a high-purity alloy that has a deep, rich lustre she says is reminiscent of ancient jewellery. And because she controls the chain-of-custody of the gold from the mine to the finished jewellery, “we know where this gold came from,” she says. “It’s 100 kilometers from where it’s mined to where I make it.”

Today, much of what Chapman focuses on is one-of-a-kind, customized pieces for clients from around the world who contact her with their commissions.

“That idea of having something unique appeals to a lot of people. And because everything is handmade, you can often see tool marks. I call it ‘perfectly imperfect.’”

Most of these pieces are either personalized variations of something she’s already designed, fine-tuned to certain size specifications or gemstones, or a completely unique, one-off piece. “It makes it so much more personal, it’s their necklace. It’s exactly what they want and there’s never going to be another one that’s the same,” she says.

Case in point: a recent commission from a man who asked Chapman to create a pendant shaped like a Sasquatch with ruby eyes. “It was a surprise gift for his girlfriend,” Chapman says.

Although the result is a spectacular piece of jewellery, the collaboration between a client and a jeweller and the relationship built is a truly intangible luxury. “This makes it special,” says Dacko.

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