ALTRUISTIC BY NATURE
Shelly Purdy goes beyond the glam to inspire confidence and charitable giving.
By Bonnie Siegler
During her first year at George Brown College, Toronto native Shelly Purdy designed a sterling silver ring with a pearl in a 3-dimensional style. In 1991, this unmistakable design morphed into her first collection of sterling silver animal rings featuring a cow, a lamb, a cat, a rabbit and a bull terrier.
Now the mother of two teenagers, Purdy laughs at the thought of her confidence when she first visualized a children’s collection. “I managed to convince Birks in Toronto to carry them, so my first line got in there….not too bad,” she says.
Into art from the start
Having always shown an artistic flair, Purdy first envisioned a career in art, though she also wanted to be able to control her income and finances. “I wanted to have an artistic career that I could build a business around,” she says.
And business for Purdy is booming, with her use of diamonds and precious stones set in gold, platinum and sterling silver.
“I like working in sapphires because they are such a hard stone, right behind diamonds,” she says.
Purdy has won the De Beers Diamonds Today Award, and last year, she received national press coverage for her Royals Collection inspired by William and Kate’s Royal Wedding. The line features symbols from the British monarchy, using Canadian diamonds in crown settings.
“Maximum Brilliance Canadian diamonds were my sponsor last year, and I worked with them to create this whole Royals Collection,” Purdy says. “They’ve been my Canadian diamond supplier for a number of years.”
It was a trip in 2001 to the Ekati Diamond Mine in the Northwest Territories that changed the course of her career. Since then, the Canadian diamond has become her signature. “The ethical mining they do in Canada is very regulated, and they work within the communities,” Purdy says. “As far as quality is concerned, all diamonds are graded depending on their grade when they come out of the ground.”
And how about this little bit of serendipity for a jeweller who wants to bring environmental awareness to her consumers and the world: “I was reading a book about the person who found the mine when the diamond mine people actually phoned me and wanted to show me their stones,” Purdy recalls.
Besides her Royals Collection, Purdy is noted for her own personal favourite designs: “Achievement rings.”
“I designed and developed these rings for all the women who used to come to see my jewellery at shows and look at my signature wedding bands and engagement rings and say, ‘When I find a man, I’m coming back here to get a ring,’” she says. “So I got to thinking that these women were accomplished and deserved a ring on their own terms. Jewellery is very emotional and symbolizes a lot of things for us, so the idea of having an achievement ring to stand as a trophy was my inspiration for these. You can stack these rings as precious trophies to celebrate your own accomplishments. I love that collection.”
Hearts for hearts
Another favourite of Purdy’s is her triple heart pendant for which she collaborated with Kingston General Hospital’s cardiac unit. “It’s to help raise funds for them,” she says. “The first heart is one that needs help; the second one has hands to symbolize the hands of a surgeon; the third heart has a brilliant stone in it. I designed it in tandem with a cardiac unit nurse.” Is this her way of paying it forward for her own success? “Yes, but it’s also fun. I think if you’re doing something as meaningful as jewellery, it’s not just about buying and selling – it’s about getting inspiration, working with people and hearing their stories. It’s getting involved and then designing.”
Usually beginning with a sketch except when commissioned to make the Lord of the Rings ring for a premiere production in 2005 “that was done with a 3-D rendering,” Purdy puts into motion numerous daily ideas – some workable, some not. “It’s just a matter of looking at those ideas and seeing what’s realistic, what’s going to work. At the beginning of each year, I like to come up with new goals and quietly tackle them,” she explains.
Beyond the glitz
One of Purdy’s goals is to find a strategic partner who can work with her to help the environment by donating a portion of the proceeds. “I have a strong emotional sensitivity to helping the planet – not just Canada,” she explains. “It’s the oceans, animals, big game in Africa, Arctic happenings. After you get past the initial “let’s make jewellery,” you start to realize that there are other issues in the world. If you can pull them into your focus as you work, it makes everything more interesting. You need that fuel to go forward. I can’t just deck everybody out in glitzy diamonds and feel like I’ve done my job. It’s a lot more.”
That could be what sets Shelly Purdy apart from other jewellery designers. However, the person on her wish list of clients is on many a wish list. “Oprah,” she says with a laugh. “She would be an awesome person to design a piece of jewellery for, and it would be an achievement ring. She has so many achievements, though, it would probably be one big ring.”