I have always been obsessed with rare, beautiful objects that tell a story. Things that people value and that withstand time, that are passed on to be cherished and adored. It’s at the heart of what I love about jewellery: composing a final, unique piece of art for someone to love forever.
For a long time, I couldn’t find a vocation that suited me perfectly. Out of school I styled fashion editorials in my hometown then moved to Montreal and learned basic carpentry. Later, I went to New York to work for an art dealer and a gallery in Brooklyn and then to England to work for another gallery which dealt in antique picture frames. Every step of the way my appreciation for what makes objects endure deepened. I thought I could one day collect rare objects to resell — things like posy rings, for instance, inside of which people inscribed secret messages to their beloved, particularly in the 15th to 17th centuries — but I wasn’t sure where I would find the capital.
Eventually, I came to Fernie "for a season," and like most people, I ended up staying. I ski raced as a kid and I remembered driving into Fernie with my closest friend and her family, looking for fresh powder, and now I had just had a daughter and wanted her to have some of these same memories. Early on I met Bill Bell, a retired teacher and metalworker, and spent some time with him exploring his methods. I was amazed by his process — from panning his own gold, to building his own tools, to crafting and finishing every item. He taught me how to work with metal and gave me the confidence to invest in myself.
So, last year, with my daughter entering kindergarten, I sold my house and invested the money into equipment and materials. 2020 is a very exciting year for me. I’ve acquired some very rare portrait diamonds — a cut so clear the diamond appears like a sheet of glass, and so rare I was on a waitlist for nearly a year to buy them — with which I’ll be making a modern take on Georgian-era lover’s eye jewellery. In the 19th century, people declaring their love to one another, or carrying secret relationships, would gift each other jewellery set with miniature paintings of their loved one’s eye beneath the stone — precious to them, but unidentifiable to anyone else — to wear on rings, necklaces and brooches, a way to keep the person they held dear intimately close. The Prince of Wales started the tradition because he loved a Catholic he was forbidden from marrying. Only about a thousand original lover’s eyepieces survive today. It’s the kind of project that is a dream for me: honouring a historic tradition, sourcing miniature artists, and in this case collaborating with the gracious help of a local potter, Helena De Jong.
I make most of my pieces through a process called “lost wax casting,” one of the oldest traditional methods of creating jewellery — objects made in this way have been found in archaeological digs, dating as far back as 3700 BC. I like to combine artisanal methods like this one with both antique stones and stones cut in more modern shapes, for a very particular look. There’s excitement and risk to the crafting of every piece because it’s an act of creation: every new item is one of a kind. My guiding principle is to make the kind of objects I would be drawn to if I saw them: works that are clearly handmade, not necessarily flawless, but which evoke particular feelings and express an individual personality. I want my pieces to be subtle and durable enough to wear daily but meaningful enough to pass down to your grandkids. It’s also important to me to work responsibly: 100 percent of my products are and always will be ethically sourced and sustainable.
As the year starts I have a handful of items on sale at the Artworks in Edmonton, which is one of the city’s institutions — for them to carry my work is a dream come true. And I’ll be hosting a pop-up in Fernie later this year, to start sharing my work directly with the community that has made it possible for it to exist. A portion of every sale is donated back into our community or a foundation that helps save our planet.
Visit keltypelechytik.com to learn more about Kelty and her jewellery.