Nigel O’Reilly: An Irish Treasure
Nigel O’Reilly’s jewelry is inspired by the West of Ireland, and its hidden, almost camouflaged, beauty is only seen by the discerning eye. With the mind of an engineer, creating fine jewelry is project-like. Each piece must be well-functioning while making the wearer feel more powerful and independent. His self-reliant and sustainable lifestyle influences some of these miniature works of art. Read along to learn more about how Nigel is setting a new standard in the Irish jewelry-making scene.
You mention that the West of Ireland serves as an inspiration. How would you describe its aesthetic, and how do you feel that has influenced your style directly?
There is a certain rawness and power to the landscape in the West of Ireland. I never wanted to try and recreate it literally on a visual level, for example, a flower that just looks like a flower. I want to recreate the feeling the landscape evokes when you’re living in it, being part of the country. When I get to walk through the mountains or along the coastline I feel the weight of history in the soil, and how hard it must have been to survive here years ago. I use that energy to drive me on, to make better work, and never take for granted how lucky I am to be here and having a job I love.
Was there a difficult or unique experience that helped shape you as an entrepreneur? How has this been reflected in the day-to-day running of your business?
My dyslexia had a major influence on me during my school years. The anger and frustration I felt, knowing the answers to questions, but not being able to write them down, pushed me to seek out subjects where I could use my hands and be creative. It also put me off going to college, which made me look into apprenticeships, first as an engineer and then as a goldsmith. Like everything in life, at first, it put me at a disadvantage, but now I’m really grateful for my dyslexia because it’s driven me on to never want to feel like I felt when I was in school.
During your transition from engineering to jewelry design, what are the things that translated from one field to another that currently influence your jewelry?
The crossover from engineering to jewelry was quite easy really. Fine jewelry, to me, is engineering on an artistic level. I see all of my pieces as an engineering project. Jewelry shouldn’t be just displayed in a glass case; the pieces have to work, they have to be worn. Cuffs, earrings, pendants, they’re all hinges, clasps, and moving parts. To me, these are engineering skills that I’ve been lucky enough to use in my jewelry. My current influence is fashion designers like Iris Van Harpen, who use cutting edge technology to change the way clothes are made and appreciated.
As an artist, what and how do you want to be known for? What one word would you use to describe yourself? Your jewelry?
I would like to be known as someone who has respect for the skill and craft of jewelry, but who wants to push the boundary of what people perceive as fine jewelry. My one word would be ‘Driven.’
What do you want people to feel when they are wearing Nigel O’Reilly jewelry?
Powerful and independent. 90% of my customers are women and 80% of those buy my pieces for themselves. What we wear is the image we want to project of ourselves, and having one of my pieces shows you’re an independent thinker and not just going to go with the crowd.
Do you have preferred jewelry making techniques for using during the creative process? If so, what are they and why?
I wouldn’t say I have any one preferred technique. I will use any technique I can to get the best possible finish. You can pigeon hole yourself if you limit your techniques. I’m constantly looking for new ways of doing things. If you stop getting excited about these things, you stop being creative.
The stunning Labyrinth Signature ring has diamonds hidden under the stone, that are only visible through the stone when held under certain lighting. Can you share your thoughts on the design and inspiration behind this ring with our readers?
Labyrinth, for me, is dedicated to the West Coast of Ireland. When I saw the tourmaline, which was cut by my mentor Erwin Springbrunn, the shade of green with a light yellow running through it reminded me of the mountains in Louisburgh. It would be easy to look at Ireland and the west coast especially and say it’s just green and rocky, but if you take the time to really look you get to see so much more. That’s why I put diamonds under the stone, so they’re only visible at certain angles and if you take the time to look.
Do you have a favorite piece or collection? If yes, what is it and why is it your favorite?
The last piece I make is always my favorite for at least five or ten minutes until I move on to the next idea! But I keep going back to Molecular Cloud. The center moonstone was a wedding gift from Erwin, so it has a huge emotional attachment, as well as being one of the most challenging pieces I’ve ever made from a technical perspective. The idea was to have the moonstone in the center, with the amethyst cabochons gravitating towards it on a sea of different colored stones. I needed to have the moonstones and the amethysts look like they were floating, so I had to figure out how to hold the stone safely without having visible claws. I set the moonstone from the back, which means the pressure is coming from behind the stone, not pushing it down. With the amethysts, I used lots of tiny claws set with pink sapphires and diamonds, so they’re not visible unless you have a microscope. Thankfully it worked out, and I got the look I wanted.
When someone commissions something with you, what is your process for working one-on-one with the client?
It can vary from person to person, but it usually starts with them visiting my studio in Castlebar, Mayo. Luckily, we were already used to conducting international long-distance consultations when lockdown hit, so we were used to having consultations via Zoom or Skype. After the first meeting, I will get the feel for what the customer is looking for. I will do some designs and make a wax model of the design, so they get to put the piece on their hand, or neck, to really get a feel for the overall proportions. Once they give me the go-ahead, it usually takes 4-5 weeks before they can collect their piece.
Jewelry making aside, are there any other personal goals you would like to accomplish in the near future?
Our plan when my wife, Tracy, and I moved back to Ireland from Stockholm was to be as self-reliant and sustainable as possible. It always seems like such an uphill battle, but I get so much from the land, I feel I have to give back as much as I can. We grow our own vegetables, have three beehives, and are getting solar panels installed in our home. They’re only small steps, but if everyone took a few small steps we could do great things.
If you could style anyone with your jewelry, who would you choose and why?
Saoirse Ronan was always my first choice, and thankfully we have worked together. I would love to work with Ruth Negga and Catherin Balfe. Not only are they incredibly talented, but I love how they continue to modernize Ireland’s image on an international platform.
Visit Nigel O’Reilly’s website at https://www.nigeloreilly.com/, to learn more about his journey and have access to his stunning pieces.