When one enters Niki Kavakonis’ pristine and serene studio in Toronto’s Bloor West Village, the eyes are immediately greeted by minimalistic, neutral décor and an array of delicately crafted structural pieces. Kavakonis, who was born in Toronto to a Greek father and Finnish mother, stumbled into her passion for jewellery design while pursuing graduate studies.
Today, the talented Canadian jewellery designer is known for her line of jewellery for the Art Gallery of Ontario. With usage of Canadian mined diamonds and international influences which evoke Indian and Thai cultures, Kavakonis finds her inspiration both at home and around the world. Known for her love of sterling silver and architectural inspired design, her jewellery is also easily recognized by its solid, sleek and practical look.
Real Style spoke to Kavakonis about her jewellery journey, preferred gemstones, creative icons and more. From incorporating architectural elements into her work to using 3-D technology as a creative tool, here’s what Kavakonis had to share with us.
Real Style: What inspired you to become a jewellery designer?
Niki: It is not actually what I planned to do. I have an academic background, and I actually thought I was going to be a professor at a university. My boyfriend (who is now my husband) suggested that I try jewellery. I used to wear a lot of interesting silver rings, and when I would travel, people would often comment on what I was wearing.
Real Style: Tell us more about combining your love of architecture with your passion for jewellery design.
Niki: My father actually worked in the architectural field, and we travelled a lot. He was always pointing out the architecture. When I was small, his ambition was to start an architecture firm with a friend of his and I would become the junior architect. I didn’t actually become an architect, but I did study a lot of architecture and Renaissance architecture was my favourite area when I was in grad school. That’s why there is a lot of architecture in my designs.
Real Style: Are there any leading trends in metals which you think will be big in 2017?
Niki: I work with sterling silver and 18 karat gold; I just did a design in 18 karat yellow gold which is new for me. I see a lot of my designs as timeless, as opposed to trendy.
Real Style: What are your favourite stones to work with and why?
Niki: I like diamonds, but I do like the diamonds that people don’t typically see. When I work with a stone or meteorite, I try to pick the stone so it’s integrated into the design. For example, with the Sunrise Ruby, the Star Ruby is more important because it evokes the poem. When I use the stone, it’s because of maybe some of the qualities of the stone and how it can evoke the design.
Real Style: You’ve also collaborated with the Art Gallery of Ontario on a sterling silver collection. How was this creative experience?
Niki: The AGO was a neat experience because I got to see a lot of the preview drawings, the architectural drawings, before any of the structures were built. It was a real privilege, so we went back and forth and discussed a lot with both the AGO and St. Anne’s Church. I had the privilege of picking out a lot of what I wanted to express in jewellery pieces.
Real Style: Who are some designers or artists who have personally inspired your work?
Niki: I have a jeweller who I very much admire. It’s a Finnish gentleman named Björn Weckström. In the 1977 Star Wars, there’s an awards ceremony where Princess Leia is bestowing upon Han [Solo] and Luke Skywalker for their valour in the wars. She’s wearing a silver necklace and bracelet, and they are designed by Weckström. I have patterned myself and been inspired by him.
There’s another gentleman who has passed away, named Kazuo Nakamura. I lived about three doors from him as I was growing up, and he was a member of this 1950s Canadian abstract painting group, called the Painters Eleven. I learned a lot from him, there’s science in a couple of the designs that I do. He taught me about the relationship between art and science.
Real Style: How can fashion lovers embrace the current trend of cocktail rings and collar necklaces?
Niki: With all of the designs, I think about the wearability. There’s a theme and an idea that I integrate into the design, but it has to be wearable. I always think there is a person out there that is going to want to wear it, and how they can wear it. There isn’t anything [in my collection] that is so over-the-top that it would be uncomfortable or inconvenient. I take into consideration if it’s going to get caught in a person’s hair or clothing, and how and when can it be worn.
Real Style: Tell us more about your latest designs for the year ahead.
Niki: The Golden Pinched Star is a brand new design, and it has a meaning. It’s Thai inspired and it does mean success or financial success. It’s just a brand new design, and there are a couple of designs that I always have on the back burner. Sometimes, it takes a while to get something fully formed the way I want it, so I can present it, especially when I’m using a form of technology. With my Sunrise Ruby earrings and 3-D printing, I had actually started planning those earrings in 2009, but 3-D printing wasn’t fully formed in Toronto yet. I have another bracelet that’s coming, and it’s going to have laser cutting in it.
Photos: Niki Kavakonis