“I have a passion for shapes and materials. I am a jeweller, a sculptor, a blacksmith and a furniture designer. I want to be able to make and produce everything that interests me, with my own two hands.”
Nico Taeymans is the legend in the Belgian jewelry scene, and at the same time a very modest and humble person. He has been designing and producing jewelry for over thirty years, and has been authorized to use the sign “Handmade in Belgium”. It’s a sign that distinguishes the best craftsmen in this country. All jewels carrying Nico’s brand are hand made – Nico is very proud of it because, as he remarks, the craftsmanship is back in the game and will remain one of the most important trends in the coming years. Nico’s work embraces many materials: silver, copper, wood, tin, gold, as well as gemstones. Currently his jewelry is available at his two shops in Antwerp and Brugge, through the network of carefully selected distributors, in the DIVA Antwerp Home of Diamonds museum and through his online shop.
I am meeting Nico in his beautiful shop, right in the centre of Antwerp, the City of Diamonds. The interior fits Nico’s style perfectly and is full of sophisticated details, for example the shop counter includes medieval window frames. There is a wide selection of ready-made projects available, but it’s only one piece of Nico’s offering and capabilities. He dedicates a lot of time to custom orders. He is not only hard-working, but also very outspoken – he simply loves to talk!
– Please do stop me, if I start talking too much – comes the warning at the very beginning of our conversation. We go through various topics and I only notice after almost two hours how time flies. Our conversation is partially an interview, and partially a free-flowing story about the designer’s challenges, about Antwerp and, above all, about diamonds. Dear Magpies, I am inviting you to a jewelry-related trip to Belgium.
On work and customers
One of the reasons for our meeting was my wish to make something out of old pieces of jewelry, that have been laying in my jewelry box for quite a while. This jewelry carries a big emotional weight and brings many memories. I really wanted to wear something based on it. It was important for me to work with a designer who understands my requirements and who’s able to create a sort of a talisman. Nico fits that image just perfectly.
– I wish to create beautiful projects for everyone: men, women, old and young. I would like my jewelry to become a part of my customer, like a second skin. It is essential that it fits the personality of the owner and that it takes part in her or his daily life. As a designer, I admire listening to and creating stories. Storytelling is a very important part of my work – he claims.
According to Nico, the key point in his design is just that – stories that accompany his customers. They bring to his workshop jewelry or gemstones that have a lot of personal meaning. Often, these are the things with associated memories, sentiments, sometimes jewelry that has been owned through generations. Nico has an exceptional talent to look deeply into the particular person, “read” them and create a perfect project based on that.
After having listened to my story, Nico – as if reading my mind – suggested that the new project should be based on the very material from the original jewelry pieces.
I ask Nico, what stories and challenges his customers bring along. He smiles widely – every person is a story.
– Some months ago, a young man visited me. During his Iceland trip he found what he thought was a piece of lava. It turned out to be an obsidian. He happened to be planning to propose to his girlfriend and asked me to create a unique ring with this very gemstone. Mission accomplished, the girl said “yes”!
Nico loves challenges, and his daily work happens to be full of them.
– One day, a customer came by with a gorgeous emerald. He wanted a ring that would meet a very specific requirement: the stone had to touch the skin. The emerald was cut so that its lower part had a sharp end. I thought about it for quite a while since that would mean frequent bruises and possibly skin infections and I just could not agree to that. In the end I proposed to cut the stone to get rid of the sharp end, but that meant losing about 0.1 carat in weight. Fortunately, the customer agreed – he recalls.
My personal custom ring is also a challenge. We decided to set a rare stone – blue opal from the Andes. Nico shows me his personal collection of blue opals and tells some stories on how he became their owner. He admits that my ring will be his first project with this stone, and blue opals are not the easiest to work with. He is, however, up for the challenge.
On creation and creativity
Nico fully delves into the creative process. He gets his inspirations from his surroundings, nature, works of art, and, most importantly, the people he meets.
– My whole process starts from a drawing. I sketch practically every day, I create designs in watercolour, and based on that I make models. Each piece made by me needs to breathe. Design to me is a dialogue with the surrounding world – explains Nico.
For years, Nico’s signature projects have been engagement and wedding rings. They are often custom-made for specific customers and they carry pieces of these customers’ love stories. His projects celebrate love and the couple’s unique story.
– What matters for the customer these days is the sense of uniqueness and a story. People look for experiences, they want stories related to their purchasing decisions, and I try to give them that. Among others through personalised projects, for example wedding rings with lifelines of the partners within the Second Skin project. The priority remains the same at all times – jewelry needs to emphasize the beauty and personality of the owner. Jewelry is to be nothing more but a frame for the particular person – says Nico.
In the past, within his first company, Nico used to release many collections. In the beginning these were fashion and silver collections. After some time, he started also with beautiful engagement rings and characteristic wedding rings. The company would release collections for Christmas, Valentine’s Day and seasonal ones, and that meant Nico was busy working almost 24/7.
Nowadays, he dedicates the majority of time to individual orders. This still means 10+ hours of work per day, but the pace and the pressure are incomparable to those from 10-20 years ago. This doesn’t mean Nico gave up working on collections. Ravissant is a very nice example. One of his most recent projects, Ravissant is a capsule collection that Nico created in cooperation with the Antwerp World Diamond Centre. Ravissant is promoting diamonds as gemstones that have been linked to Antwerp for centuries. Nico approached the subject in his own original way. We usually associate diamonds with luxury and high price and perceive them as out of reach, especially for younger people. Nico decided to create a collection that consists of, apart from polished diamonds, also raw diamonds and kimberlite – a diamond-bearing rock.
– In everything that I create, I try to include the nature and its unique, organic forms. Working with kimberlite, in combination with raw and polished diamonds is a dream challenge for me. Each piece in the collection is unique, simply because there is no such thing as two identical raw diamonds nor two same pieces of kimberlite. These are exceptional projects for exceptional people – emphasises Nico.
Ravissant is indeed a very affordable option. The prices start from 45 euros, and, as Nico admits, the collection has been quite popular, especially that it is available among others in the newest museum, DIVA Antwerp Home of Diamonds.
On diamonds and Antwerp
For already 500 years, Antwerp has been one of the centers of the diamond business. Enough said, 84% of all raw diamonds and 50% of polished diamonds are passed through Antwerp’s diamond exchange, shops and other companies. The city officials promote Antwerp as the diamond centre of the world: among others, last year saw the celebrations of “The Diamond Year”, and just two months ago the newest museum was opened: DIVA Antwerp Home of Diamonds. It was simply impossible to miss the promo campaigns accompanying both events.
At the same time, as Nico remarks, an average citizen of this city doesn’t have much knowledge about diamonds. Antwerp is of course a gravity point for businessmen engaged in the diamond trade: it offers a full range of services, from diamond exchange, to a certification center, to a diamond police. However, there is still much to be done from the retail perspective. One of the reasons for this is that for many years the officials have been focusing on pampering the business side, neglecting a bit the end customer. As a result, as we already know, diamonds are perceived as exclusive stones reserved for special occasions. Also, for several years Antwerp was missing a diamond-related museum and an education center for the general audience. DIVA hopes to fill this gap and, with its rich collection and education material, it will certainly help in promoting knowledge about and positive image of diamonds.
Nico, just as Lord Altrincham who wanted to reorganize the British Monarchy (we are both big fans of “The Crown”), has a couple of his own ideas on how to change the image of diamonds. The Ravissant collection is only one of these ideas – aiming at noticing the younger, not that rich audience and injecting diamonds into the lifestyle trend. He would like to take these stones out of the context of engagement and wedding and to show that they can be worn on a daily basis. I hope he succeeds!
My personal ring is ready to be picked up. It is simply gorgeous and I am already in love with it. I am unwittingly smiling, knowing it will be my companion for long years. This is how the magic of Nico’s projects works in practice – they make his customers smile.
We love opals! And are absolutely head over heels about this combination. This custom ring is set with a hand cut green/blue opal and a diamond (of the client) in a 18kt yellow gold ring. Do you think we made a nice new home for the diamond? 😉💎 . #handmadeinbelgium #madeinantwerp #hib #handmade #diamond #nicotaeymans #jewelersofinstagram #opal #opallove #custommade #18kt #gold #goldring #ring #ikkoopbelgisch #bespokejewelry #summer