The next Maker in our Meet the Maker series is Meg Lizabet - an incredibly talented and prolific Canadian Jewelry Designer whose rings sell out in record time. You'd know her by her juicy, jewel-toned sapphire stunners, marquise rings like you've never seen, and that unreal Moyo Pop-Up ring with the most ornate booty.
Keep reading to learn more about Meg's design process, why she always carries clay in her bag, and her recent trip to Africa to visit gemstone mines.
How did you start loving jewelry?
My mother was this super fabulous, fashionable woman. She loved her silk robes and vintage perfume bottles and always had her hair done. I swear I never knew the woman without a full face of makeup and the most beautiful jewelry and outfit to match. So, my fascination began with trying on all her jewelry and dancing around in her clothes.
I was also very intrigued by science and making things with my hands – my dad was a construction worker and my grandfather was a master carpenter – we had a lot of artists, makers, and sculptors in the family.
One day, my mom bought me this crystal growing kit – you mix salts, grow it in the backyard, and you’re left with these quartz crystal clusters. My mom gave me her pear-shaped diamond ring (that was missing the diamond) and suggested I make one of my crystals to fit in the setting. The salt crystals were incredibly brittle so I used my mom’s nail files and my dad’s carpentry tools to fashion this pear-shaped stone. Those are some of my earliest memories of jewelry making.
How did you decide to become a jewelry designer?
It was totally random. I’d always been artistic but never thought of that as a career path (and my family was not onboard with me going to school for art). So, I went to U of T on scholarship for literature and writing but I didn’t enjoy it. I had this one art class as an elective that I devoted all my time to while I was flunking everything else. At that point, I dropped out of U of T and went to OCAD, an art school. I started in Fine Art and realized I didn’t enjoy painting on command, then switched to Design, thinking it was more pragmatic and practical. I learned furniture making, carpentry, welding, CAD, and spent most of my time in the metal studios. I thought I was going to be an Interior Designer.
Then one day I chose a jewelry making course as an elective and became absolutely obsessed – you couldn’t kick me out of the studio, I was there all the time. It was the perfect combination of the skills I grew up with and skills I was using in the larger metalsmithing studios but magnified down to this tiny little tedious art form. For an ADD person, it was like an explosion in my brain – I was hyper-focused on it and I’ve never lost that focus or interest.
Before I graduated from OCAD, people were already requesting custom orders and I started making money before I finished school. I did it on the side for a while until I decided to get more serious and focused all my attention on jewelry.
Describe your aesthetic
Playful and whimsical but elegant and refined.
Let’s talk about Azul, the most fantasical ring that ever existed (it's somehow still available, friends)
I designed it to feel like an ocean wave. I used all Montana sapphires in graduating sizes so the eye would follow the curve like water. It’s a really distinctive ring that’s waiting for a special person.
What are you inspired by to create your designs?
I'm always inspired by unique, high-quality stones. I love color so much and I want to get more colored gemstones on people’s hands! Every gem is so different and I design the ring around it's unique features – whether it’s a special cut, a unique color, or interesting inclusions.
There’s also an architectural element to my designs that you can often only see from the side. It might be a shape from a favorite building or the archway in a window or church, or sometimes I’ll spot at a pattern at a subway station and take a photo of it knowing I can utilize in some way.
For my more organic pieces, nature is the inspiration, and as always, the gemstones are very important – I use a lot of earth tones and ocean hues. The bubbles in my rings symbolize the seafoam that dries on the shore when a wave falls away.
I also travel with clay in my bag (which is super weird, my husband always teases me about it) because if I see a texture I love on a rock or a building, I just press the clay directly into it and it lifts off the pattern. I have this little Tupperware of dried up clay impressions that I sometimes use in my jewelry.
What’s your favorite ring you’ve made for Gem Breakfast?
My pop-up ring, Azulejos would definitely be my favorite ring now. At first glance, it’s a simple sapphire solitaire ring, but when you turn it over, there’s this special, symbolic hidden detail – almost like a curiosity, a little treasure that’s just for you.
My favorite ring ever was Lisbon (sold), a fancy grey diamond ring that signifies the birth of my business. It was the ring that started it all – I’ve made many variation of that ring throughout my career. It’s my signature design that people started to recognize me for. It’s the ring I’m most grateful for.
What’s your design process like for a GB ring?
- I start with sourcing the right gem - that could be led by what’s missing in my stock or I might see a gemstone that just speaks to me.
- The stone dictates the design. I go immediately to my sketchbook and start with ideation sketches which are a rough way of brainstorming on paper.
- After 10, 20, or sometimes 50 sketches, I choose one that jumps out at me and I sketch a few different variations in a more legible and refined drawing.
- Depending on the design, I’ll carve it by hand in wax or use CAD as a tool.
- Then I take a mold of the wax or the 3D printed prototype. The mold allows me to either remake it or add wax to the ring.
- The ring goes for casting.
- I finish and polish it.
- Myself or my setter sets the stones. Sometimes my stones are ‘cast in place’ so I set them in the wax and then I set them in gold. That’s one of the distinguishing factors in my rings.
Tell us about your recent trip to Africa with Gem Legacy
It was an incredible experience. When I was still studying gemology, I met many long-time Gemologists who often spoke about all their worldwide adventures. It made me want to go directly to the source and learn about gemstones from the miners. I became obsessed with the idea of travelling more and going to visit mines. Then, the school I graduated from sent me an email about this trip they were organizing with Gem Legacy, a non-profit that supports artisanal mining communities. I said yes without knowing the cost or any details – I only knew we were visiting mines in Africa and that was enough for me.
Once I was there, it was a wild ride. Every day we drove out into the middle of nowhere and descended into these treacherous mines – I faced multiple fears on that trip! In one mine, you could feel vibrations and you hear dynamite going off in the distance. My legs were trembling and I was absolutely terrified. Meanwhile, the miner taking us out just smiled at me like “don’t worry, I do this every day”.
It was a great experience but also very hard-hitting. Here I was terrified and shaking in my bones beside a smiling man who puts his life at risk every day to get us these gemstones. Some of the miners had very little safety equipment and a few didn’t even have shoes. I felt like a dork going in there with my head lamp, hiking boots, and full safety equipment and these miners were going in there with essentially nothing.
It made me question what we’re doing here and how we’re doing it. We have a long way to go in changing this industry and putting more money in the pockets of miners. We as jewelers and designers need to make better decisions in the suppliers we buy from and demand more transparency. Miners are still not being paid appropriately in so many places around the world, and people are ok with that because the gems are cheaper. We have to protest with our wallets.
We live in this age of social media and transparency and it’s no longer excusable for human injustices to be happening all over the world.
What pieces do you wear every day?
I wear my engagement ring, my wedding bands, and a few of my dainty bubble stackers. On my wrists, I have a couple of permanent bracelets welded on in Portuguese gold, a bracelet from my grandmother, and a little seashell charm that’s also permanently welded on.
What's your favorite ring ever?
My wedding ring and engagement ring. My husband proposed with a silver pinky ring that he got one of my friends to make. We chose the center stone together and I designed my ring around it. It has become a staple in my collection that I’ve made several different variations of it for other people.
I always knew I wanted a pear and I thought I would just do a solitaire but then I went crazy with it. The wedding band underneath is meant to symbolize a wave of bubbles set with diamonds. The two peaks on the engagement ring are meant to feel like a wave coming to its curl.
The green sapphire I chose was really inexpensive (they were not popular at the time) and my husband had a huge issue with buying such an inexpensive stone and not a diamond. But I was sure about my choice – it reminded me of the ocean and I love it so much.
What does jewelry mean to you?
Jewelry is an extremely sentimental thing to me – I have jewelry that was passed down to me by my mom and grandmother, rings I made for myself, and my wedding rings that symbolize my marriage. Eventually I’m going to pass these things down and someone is going to remember Grandma Meg with her crazy gold rings! They become part of your identity and part of the legend you leave behind.
Jewelry has always done that throughout history – Kings and Queens are always photographed with all their jewels, mummies are buried with their most precious treasures. For whatever reason (maybe it’s because they come from the earth), humans have an attachment to adornments. They are these little pieces of us that we leave behind that will become artifacts one day.
I have this romantic idea of strangers roaming the earth with little pieces of me, artifacts that I made that they’ll pass down to their family.