A Precious Tradition
In a city renowned for its rich gold history, a Ballarat goldsmith is keeping the traditional trade alive, catering to a new generation of clients who are seeking something individual and special.
It was a family friend, already in the goldsmith trade, who suggested Nicholas Valpied might like to try his hand at making jewellery.
“It was not something I’d ever considered, but it seemed as good an idea as any and an adventure to live in the city, so I decided to give it a go. I completed two weeks work experience with a jeweller in Melbourne, who then offered me an apprenticeship. That’s how it all began.”
As Nic worked through his apprenticeship, he learned the art of handcrafting gold and precious metals and refined his skills in achieving balance and continuity in the pieces he created.
He also gained insight into the various elements of the jewellery industry, and as time went on, it became clear to Nic how he would eventually choose to run his own business.
“My first employer spent a lot of time picking precious stones and designing bespoke pieces with clients. My passion for choosing stones came from working with him. I decided to study Gemmology and Diamology (the study of diamonds) and went on to become a qualified valuer.
“After that I worked at a couple of different places where clients would come in to sit down with the jeweller and discuss what they would like made. Seeing the approach of collaborating directly with the client made me realise that this was how I would like to operate one day.”
The practice of creating jewellery has changed over time to either make the product faster or simply make more. The result is that very few pieces are custom made, or one of a kind.
However, Nic holds true to his trade of goldsmithing using the traditional methods he was taught during his apprenticeship, and hand crafts each individual piece of jewellery to the client’s specifications.
“Jewellery making has gone through a few transitions.
“A lot of jewellery is cast. A master pattern maker creates a design and then makes a mould, and you can cast that piece as many times as you like. It’s a very effective way to make multiple, identical items, so casting works in that sense.
“More recently, jewellers have started using CAD (computer aided drafting) software to draw the piece and then 3D print it.
“It’s a blurry line as to whether that’s custom. The CAD method can be presented as a custom piece because it was drawn for the customer, however once the drawing is created, it is still cast.
“Here, you know that yours is the only piece of its kind because it’s made from start to finish by hand. No two pieces are ever the same.
“It’s true manufacturing - making a piece of jewellery from a bar of metal. Genuinely hand-crafted and designed for the client.”
Nic’s custom jewellery business, NDV Design, has been operating in Ballarat for over 20 years, and has a sound reputation for creating the perfect piece for any client; everything from engagement, wedding, and anniversary pieces, to reconfiguring family heirlooms.
Together with his wife Jodi, Nic has a refreshingly practical approach to jewellery design and manufacture to make the process a comfortable and enjoyable experience for clients. It all starts with a conversation.
“We learn about what the client is after, and they learn a bit about the trade, the stones, and the metals. We find that learning a bit about the trade helps to reassure clients, because they understand what they’re buying, and they realise we know what we’re doing.
“I like to think that through our approach, we teach people to trust themselves in making choices. We don’t ever tell people what to have or how much to spend. My job is to listen and then use my knowledge and skills to bring that piece to life.”
Nic and Jodi have worked with countless people who are planning to pop the big question and feel a sense of pride in seeing them relax into making the big decisions as the process evolves – decisions such as choosing diamonds.
When it comes to selecting precious stones, Nic’s advice is simple.
“Trust your eye. If you see a stone you like, because of its sparkle, shape or colour, then that is the right one for you. Your eye is attracted to it for a reason, and if it looks great now, it will look great in the finished piece.”
While Nic enjoys the process of making jewellery in the traditional way, for both him and Jodi, the real joy comes from working directly with the client.
“Both Jodi and I still get a buzz when people contact us because it usually means they are celebrating one of life’s milestones.
“When we meet with people we hear their story, and it’s an honour to be a part of that. Receiving photos from the bride-to-be or the newlyweds is heart-warming, and it’s nice to feel good about what you do.”
NDV Design is located in central Ballarat. Appointments with Nic can be made by phone and contact details are available online. To view Nic’s latest creations, including the creative process, follow him on Instagram and Facebook.