Next up in our Meet the Maker series is an interview with Erin Hakin, a Canadian Jewelry Designer whose rings feel substantial yet sublime, steeped in history yet immune to time. Keep reading to learn how her grandmother's statement ring from the 50s started her design dreams, what it's like starting out as an independant designer, and what inspires those rings that sell out in record time!
When did you start loving jewelry?
It started as a little kid – I spent a lot of time going through my mom’s and my grandmother’s jewelry boxes. My mom had a lot of 80s costume jewelry that I thought was so glitzy and amazing. For Halloween one year, my mom dressed me as Madonna and piled on the costume jewelry - I loved every minute of it.
My grandma has a lot of special pieces and statement jewelry that inspire many of the rings I make now.
How did you become a jewelry designer?
I’ve always wanted to be a designer. When I started working with children, I got into beading and was buying up all the beads everywhere. I was in University for the Arts but was spending all my time making beaded necklaces and jewelry.
At this point, I was considering the jewelry program but couldn’t afford it alongside all my other student loans. So, I got a job in finance (where I met my husband) and started saving.
When I got pregnant, I had to quit my finance job (which I admittedly hated anyway), and I started taking silversmithing classes at night. I knew right away this was it for me – it was time to pursue what I truly wanted. I signed up for the three-year Jewelry Arts program at George Brown College in Toronto and I was on my way.
I started my career at Made You Look studio in Toronto. It’s a collective of independent artists working under the same roof and I came up with all the amazing jewelers there. Gem Breakfast designers like Jilian Maddin, Aimee Kennedy, Deb Lavery, Emily Gill, and Meg Lizabetall came from Made You Look. It was the best environment – everyone was so supportive and I learned so much. They give out an entrepreneurship award every year which I worked tirelessly to win - and I did!
My studio spot was beside a Master Jeweler from Pforvheim, Germany. He taught me so much about jewelry making – I’m so grateful for his wisdom and expertise in those early days.
Fast forward to today - now I live in Vancouver and share a studio with Andrea Rokosz.
What’s it like getting started in jewelry as an independent artist?
It can be really difficult to get started, it’s expensive to buy gold and gemstones. When I started at Made You Look, I was doing a lot of commissioned custom pieces which helped me save for my first collection. I worked so hard, night and day creating countless pieces.
When my grandad died, he left me an inheritance that funded my first collection. When you’re starting out, every penny you make goes back into buying materials to make more pieces. So, I went without an income for a while because I wanted to get my ideas out there, and eventually I sold enough rings to make a profit. It was all worth it, I love what I do.
What inspires your designs?
I'm usually inspired by a stunning center stone – from there I can visualize a design. Plus, I always have design ideas running through my head – it’s a constant whirl of plans and inspirations.
The Art Nouveau artist, Alphonse Mucha is a source of inspiration – I imagine some of the women in his paintings wearing my pieces.
Also, my grandmother's black Alaskan diamond (malachite) ring is so impactful to me and my designs.
Lastly, I'm always inspired by people that want something a little different for their engagement. When I was getting engaged, I told my boyfriend I didn't want anything traditional (white gold, white diamond, etc.) At that time, finding something alternative yet beautoful was really hard! I ended up going with an Edwardian ring from an estate sale.
Erin's Grandmother's Black Alaskan Diamond Ring
What jewelry do you wear every day?
I wear two pairs of earrings every day that I made – one's a moon and the other's a shooting star. I wear my husband’s chain and pendant – I got him a new one so I scooped his old one!
On my left hand, I wear my engagement ring (a rose cut diamond), a pinky ring, two bands, and I always wear a ring on my pointer finger.
On my right hand, I wear two chunkier rings and a gold bracelet. Right before my mom died, I made her a bracelet that says ‘fuck cancer’ and now I wear it. I also wear my grandma’s black Alaskan ring – she finally gifted it to me!
What's your favorite GB ring you’ve ever made? What was the inspiration behind it?
Sea Mist - that green stone is stunning and I love this setting. I love the green, the beautiful claws, the diamond accents, the wider band, the hand-engraving. It’s me in a ring.
The inspiration - I just wanted to make something beautiful that would do that magical stone justice.
What's your design and creation process like from start to finish?
- I find the perfect center stone that speaks to me. I start with an idea and then let it percolate until I come up with a design.
- After I choose the centre stone, I decide between either hand carving or CAD design.
- If I choose CAD, I send a sketch to my CAD designer – he knows me so well at this point so my sketches don't need to be super thorough.
- If I choose to hand carve, I generally work out my problems in the wax instead of sketching. Sometimes, for one ring, I'll create many waxes to eventually arrive at the finished result. I pick hand carving when I'm working on less delicate and refined pieces - the rings that I want to have that hand-carved look.
- We cast the ring in 18kt gold.
- Then I polish it and it goes off for setting.
- The final step is hand-engraving. If I could, I would hand-engrave every piece -I just think it's so beautiful and timeless and a wonderful way to personalize my work. Hand-engraving is extremely time consuming however, so only a handful of rings can be engraved each year. I work closely with a master hand-engraver to create mostly Art Nouveau inspired patterns. Over the years we've created what have become some of my signature designs. We have named these designs and photograped them which has streamlined things a bit, but due to the nature of every piece being slightly different, there's always new design challenges to overcome.
How would you describe your design aesthetic?
I have two design aesthetics: for Gem Breakfast my pieces are vintage-inspired, more delicate, and usually claw set. On the flip side, I love to make huge chunky pieces that have an ancient, handmade feel to them.
Everything I do is inspired by the past and art history. I love the history and artistry in jewelry making.
Bezel or claw setting?
I love a bezel setting the most – I like the safety aspect of it, and how it makes the stone and setting look more substantial. Bezel settings have been done for hundreds of years which I love. It’s clean and beautiful.
More is more, true or false?
True. I love big, I love chunky, I love statement 18 kt, I love rose cut diamonds with their subtle, dewdrop sparkle. I love it all!
You are the queen of radiant cut rings. What’s the story behind that?
I’m more attracted to organic, soft shapes, I like rounded edges. One day, looking through a stone dealer’s collection, I was really drawn to a pink radiant cut stone. Then I went on a rampage of buying a lot of radiants.
I seem to go through phases with stones – right now I’m gravitating towards emerald cuts.
See all Erin Hakin designs for Gem Breakfast here!