Meet the Maker: Anne-Marie Warburton of Gallery Gemma
This jeweller crafts her designs to match the individual – even when meeting them in person was on hold.
What do you do for work? Do you have a favourite number? What’s your most memorable holiday? These are questions Anne-Marie Warburton may ask you as your jewellery commission takes shape in her hands.
“Sometimes I’ll think, ‘Why did I even ask that question?’ but sometimes it’s just intuition in those first meetings,” Anne-Marie says as we talk by video call. “For me, designing jewellery is about bringing out who the wearer wants to be.”
For Anne-Marie, a metalsmith who also studied jewellery management, cultured pearls, gems and gemology, this connection with her clients has fuelled a successful 14 years at Gallery Gemma in the Alton Mill Arts Centre. In her shop-cum-studio there, she designs custom orders and sells her own ready-to-wear jewellery alongside those of fellow jewellers she admires. (Prices range from $20 to $20,000.) Anne-Marie has been meeting with clients during the pandemic by video call and appointment at the gallery.
And her creative juices haven’t stopped flowing. She is reaching out to clients through social media, and to others on the front lines of the pandemic through acts of kindness – she created a series of cultured pearl earrings which she gave away to clients who used them as gifts to the healthcare workers, grocery clerks, food service workers or police officers in their lives.
The mill hadn’t yet been given the go-ahead to return to their usual hours when we spoke, but Anne-Marie says the owners calculated having 30 guests in at a time would allow for proper social distancing. That number “would be a dream” in the expansive complex, she laughs.
Still, the first step in her process isn’t taking a seat at her workbench or drawing table anyway. If she is creating a piece for a client, the first step is those probing conversations. And if it’s a piece for her own line, it’s a conversation with herself about everything from travel to architecture. For now, memories of travel will have to do, including a seminal one from her honeymoon. “I saw a piece of jewellery that was an umbrella and it had a little pear-shaped blue stone. I never even got to hold it, it was just in a window. The blue gem was a little raindrop coming off the umbrella,” she recalls of the piece that continues to inspire her.
A formal, segmented window of a mosque led to one of her favourite collections, her 2015 Garden Party line. It features window-like pendants and bold earring settings that, like their inspiration, are sturdy yet pleasing to the eye: “When you’re creating a piece of jewellery, you want to combine beauty with function.”
When she’s ready to put coloured pencils to paper for, say, a ring, Anne-Marie sketches her design roughly to scale, and then uses computer-animated design to translate the sketch into a 3D drawing. From there, a 3D printer pours layer after layer of wax. Because she can’t show me the process in her studio, she imitates the sound of bringing the design to life. “Shk, shk, shk,” she says. “It’s not a perfect thing, but it’s nice to get a feel for the ring before I make it.”
Hand carving the wax is also an option – in fact, it was the only option before 3D printing. But there’s a level of detail the digital rendering and printing offers – for example, on an engagement ring with tiny diamond accents across the band. With hand carving, this can be painstaking work. Though, Anne-Marie says, some styles warrant it. “There is an organic-ness to hand carving you can’t get from the printer.”
She hand fabricates some pieces. For others, her metal casting is done in Toronto using the lost wax casting method in which a mold is made from her wax model. The wax is melted away and molten metal – gold, silver or titanium – is poured into the mold to take the shape of the original wax.
She sets many stones herself and uses a Toronto diamond setter for some of the tiny ones. “He sits all day under a microscope doing a perfect job. That’s what I want for my customers,” she says. Why? Because these are pieces for some of the happiest times in a person’s life, such as weddings, and some of the saddest, such as repurposing family jewellery inherited from a deceased loved one.
“Jewellery has the wearer’s soul in it. This is the great joy,” Anne-Marie says. “It’s not about the biggest diamond or flashiest sapphire, it’s the connection to the person.”