In this month’s article, we decided to do an artisan feature on Ruhan van Der Walt, Ickinger’s head jeweller. Ickinger is a family-owned Jewellery store that has been operating since 1968. Throughout the years the artisan heritage has been passed down from one generation to the next. We decided to ask Ruhan a couple of questions regarding the art of Jewellery design and manufacturing.
Ruhan spent his school holidays helping around his parent’s shop, learning all there is to know about crafting bespoke Jewellery. After graduating high school Ruhan left to study the inner workings of Jewellery design and manufacturing at one of the best institutions centred around the art of creating bespoke Jewellery. After completing his degree, he moved back to his home town of Tzaneen to take over the reins from his father who had been the head jeweller previously to Ruhan.
Read on further to see what it is like to be the head of design and manufacturing at Ickinger.
The source of my inspiration stems from many places. It fluctuates like the season’s change. Sometimes it’s a spark out of nowhere, it can be shapes or even an emotion. I derive most of my inspiration from something that happens in the world or a message I want to capture in form and symbolize through my work. In my experience as a jeweller, all it takes is for one to observe and the inspiration will follow naturally.
I would say the thing I love most about what I do is having the opportunity to touch someone’s heart with the work that I do and the specific pieces that I create. I love evoking an emotional response within someone through making something with my hands for them. Something my father taught me when I was younger is that no matter the piece of Jewellery you are making it represents love from one person to another. Love is not quantifiable, that’s why no matter the piece, big or small it means absolutely everything to that person. I also believe that Jewellery forms a closer part of who you are than the clothes you are wearing. It is probably the most personal thing you can own. So the opportunity to work with people and to understand their perspectives and to have an influence in their custom made Jewellery process is what I love most.
To create quality bespoke jewellery takes persistence. It is a lot harder to make jewellery than it seems. In the beginning, you practise and re-make jewellery pieces over and over again. When it comes to the final stages of the development process and you make a mistake, you would have to re-start from scratch. It all comes down to perseverance, diligence and pure determination and in-depth knowledge of the materials being used in the manufacturing process.
In the words of Neville V. Scarfe: “Play is the highest form of research”. That is how I start the creation process. I play around with materials and I’m constantly curious about how they work and what I can do with them. It is almost like a rough diamond. It takes care and research and an understanding of the element to get it to the point where it shines and refracts the light in such a way, where it takes your breath away.
In order for me to create jewellery that evokes an emotional response, I need to understand the client’s perspective. This is done by simply chatting with the customers and asking relevant questions. At the end of the day, emotions are a personal thing and the client’s perspective is all unique. By understanding what the client wants in terms of the emotional response, I can apply it to the jewellery piece that I am busy creating. As a jeweller, I sometimes evoke a completely different emotion than what the client expected and that in itself is the beauty of art.
In the general jewellery sector, we can see a huge shift towards colourful jewellery. Gemstones have become quite popular over recent years and people love adding some colour to their Jewellery. Rose gold jewellery and minimalistic pieces are also on the rise in the South African Market. At Ickinger we stay up to date with the current market trends however, we manufacture custom made jewellery so at the end of the day I make jewellery pieces that our customers want and not the other way around.
In the modern Jewellery process, I am able to show customers renders of the finished product even before the manufacturing process has begun. We make use of all the latest technology to ensure that when a customer agrees to the project he or she knows exactly what to expect from the finished product.
The biggest challenge I face in my work as a head jeweller at Ickinger is mass-produced jewellery. When a client comes in and they want to extend on the piece it is very difficult to do so when it’s not perfect. Mass-produced pieces don’t have the same quality as custom made ones and at Ickinger we strive for perfection, not mass-produced jewellery items.
I come from a long line of craftsmen. It just comes naturally to me. Before I could walk I was busy playing around in the workshop and started making jewellery as soon as I was able to pick up a tool. When I was younger my father gave me a square block of wax, he told me to take the wax and make a ring. I asked him how and he replied “take everything off that does not look like a ring” and thus began my apprenticeship with my father. From there he took me under his wing and taught me almost everything I know about jewellery today. I have always been in love with the art of creation. That is what I love about making jewellery, you get to create a piece of jewellery that only existed in your mind until you decided to create it.
I love the challenge of creating jewellery that is as close to perfection as possible. When you fail you’re obviously disappointed because you know that you will be re-working the jewellery again and again until it reaches the stage of perfection. The challenge of creating custom made jewellery makes me feel alive and vibrant. It is problem-solving at its core and the challenge of creating something that was once an idea and refining it to perfection is what I love seeing. The journey which can be hard ultimately justifies the overwhelming emotions I see when I create something that speaks to the wearer of the jewellery piece. For instance, when I create a wedding ring for someone, I am part of their journey. The rings that get exchanged symbolizes their love for one another and I am grateful to be a part of something so special.
Creating bespoke jewellery takes years and years to master. Like Ruhan mentioned above, it takes patience, determination and the sheer will to achieve perfection in order to produce quality jewellery that evokes an emotional response. As head of design and manufacturing at Ickinger, Ruhan spends most of his days making sure that you as the customer only receive the very best of the best.
If you have got a special day coming up and you would like to celebrate it by creating your own unique custom made jewellery piece, get in touch with him today and see how he can turn your vision into a reality. You can get in touch online or visit the retail store based in Tzaneen, Limpopo to discover the beauty behind custom made jewellery.