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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Canada's 'diamond diplomat' sparkles with success

By Linda White
Special to the Toronto Sun

For renowned jewelry designer Shelly Purdy, jewelry has always been the perfect accessory for life. As a little girl, a diamond ring made her feel like a princess. As a mother and successful designer, it's a celebration of her accomplishments.
Shelly Purdy poses in her showroom in Toronto. The jewelry designer was inspired by her successes to design this stack of Achievement Rings in diamonds and yellow gold.

"I'm attached to the jewelry I do," says the owner of Shelly Purdy Studio, located in the heart of Toronto's entertainment district. "I'm usually inspired by something emotional, not just a pretty design."

That inspiration led to the creation of her stackable, interchangeable achievement rings. Purdy wears three: one for each of her children and another for her business.

"I got my inspiration from women. A lot came to my shows and wanted to buy a diamond ring, but thought they had to get married first," she says. "I wanted to inspire them to use their power and feel they deserve to celebrate their accomplishments."

The Whitby native had been studying business and political science at university, but didn't feel passionate about what she was doing. She decided to follow her heart and put herself through George Brown College's jewelry arts program with money made from waitressing.

'Three best years'

"I loved it. It ranked up there as the three best years of my life," Purdy says of her education. She sponsors an annual award presented to a George Brown student whose work demonstrates excellence in design.

After graduating in 1987, Purdy apprenticed with 18 Karat in the Village by the Grange. "It was a real privilege to work there," she says. "I learned how to goldsmith from Dino Gianetti, a master who apprenticed in Italy.

"It was probably the most important thing I did in my whole career. I had learned techniques at college, but hadn't honed my skills. I learned how to carve wax, which is a critical part of my work."

She moved on to Harbourfront's open studios and then to Bijoux Design in Yorkville, where she worked with German-trained designers.

"I worked on some very complicated, high-end pieces," Purdy says. "It forced me to go beyond where I would go myself."

Purdy opened her own studio designing custom jewelry. As her business grew by word of mouth, she put money into creating jewelry to display in her showcases.
  • Jewelry design courses teach such techniques as sawing, filing, soldering, casting and forging. Students learn decorative metal techniques such as inlay, filigree and chasing, as well as how to work with silver, gold and platinum.
  • Jewelry designers can establish their own businesses as studio jewellers, designing and making a line of jewelry. Others work as goldsmiths or designers, in repair, gemsetting, sales and management. Career opportunities exist in fine jewelry or in fashion jewelry in retail, wholesale or manufacturing.
  • Good eyesight, a high degree of manual dexterity, mechanical inclination, patience, initiative and artistic sense are among the qualities needed to achieve success.
    -- Information from George Brown College (

  • "I had a portfolio for photographs and drawings of work I had done, which was incredibly important to helping me sell my work," says Purdy. "That has evolved with me over the course of my career."

    Her first line, an animal collection in three-dimensional sterling silver, was picked up by jewelry giant Birks. She then went on to create a Celtic Runes collection of engagement and wedding rings.

    Purdy was not the first in her family tree to find success in the arts. Harry Claxton, her late uncle, crafted jewelry for Hollywood stars in the 1930s and 1940s. Famed fashion designer Bob Mackie and Tracy Bregman-Rect of the Young and the Restless are cousins.

    Many awards

    Purdy's love of jewelry and goal of creating a distinct look paid off. She has twice earned the Best Jewelry Award from Toronto's Outdoor Art Exhibition and a De Boers Diamonds Today Award. She's a regular participant at the One of a Kind Show in Toronto.

    One of the first Canadian jewellers invited to tour the Ekati diamond mine in the Northwest Territories, Purdy has become a Canadian diamond diplomat. "The discovery was so exciting. It initiated the biggest staking rush in all of North America," she says.

    "Ethically and environmentally, Canadian diamonds are really clean ... I like to keep my designs Canadian. I believe that kind of connection distinguishes where an artist is from, what surrounds them and influences them."

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