Does the Midas touch really exist? Turning anything within reach into gold is myth, but returning tarnished heirlooms to their former glory is nothing less than mastery.
It’s a series of skills only world-class jewellers can deliver. To preserve a legacy, something cherished beyond price, Stephanie Appotive and her staff at Howard Fine Jewellers & Custom Designers understand what it can mean to a family.
“We understand the importance of these pieces,” she says, adding that they invite customers to meet the jeweller who will be working on their piece. “They want to know who will be responsible, and it helps to know that the piece is not being shipped away.”
Howard, a staple of Sparks Street, has had a team of master goldsmiths, diamond setters, and repair technicians in the store for almost 50 years. Eight classically-trained experts (shown below) from Russia, Germany, Ukraine, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and Syria — all who have the golden touch — work on the second floor, above the busy shop.
Some of these experts — such as Jens Geipel, who emigrated from Germany in 2011, and Raffi Kadehjian, a Syrian refugee who arrived last February — owned businesses before coming to Howard. Kadehjian had operated his own jewellery factory in Aleppo for ten years, before he fled to Lebanon in April 2015 in the face of civil war. He took up his jewellery work again in September when he joined Howard’s team of masters.
A Howard shopper meets these masters when they get a tour of a workshop that resembles a laboratory. Their top-of-the-line technical equipment includes a laser welder, state-of-the-art casting machines, polishing equipment, and computers to create 3D designs. Expensive machinery is one thing, but the hands behind the work are what matter most.
“Howard is vertically integrated,” says Appotive, “so there’s very little that we have to send out. ‘No’ is not really in our vocabulary. We are truly here to solve our clients’ problems, no matter how little or big.”
The pros are also artists in gold and platinum, creating custom designs with skills that are rarely developed anymore in apprenticeships in Canada. Behind the scenes at Howard, the masters make their own alloys from scratch, mixing all their metal to cast custom white, yellow, and rose gold. It’s not alchemy — there is no philosopher’s stone in the workshop — but a fine bit of chemistry.
Whether one needs a custom brooch or a ring repaired, the masters will use their expertise to craft a unique vision out of the world’s most precious materials.
Stephanie took over from her father Howard Appotive, a trained gemmologist, in early 2015. The family business began after Howard had worked as an appraiser for the Bay at the Rideau Centre and a junior sales person at Birks on Sparks. In 1967, the gemmologist became a wholesaler, offering repair and custom works for Ottawa jewellers. It was not long before he had a devoted following of customers who trusted his work.
“No one lights up the store like him,” says Stephanie, who is also a trained gemmologist and appraiser. “He still comes in regularly. I think he is still happiest when he is here.”
Stephanie now manages the brick-and-mortar Howard Fine Jewellers that first opened 49 years ago. Although always a family affair, she manages her team of masters, the appraisal lab (where quality is controlled and gems ordered), as well as two certified Rolex watch repairers.
It’s a big job, but it’s a collaborative organization that really works together, especially at this time of year when demands and expectations can be high. Appotive is confident that her enterprise will continue to deliver.
“This time of year we get a lot of custom design, engagement rings, elaborate diamond necklaces,” she says. “A lot of people just love gifting beautiful things at Christmas, and we help with that.
“I turn into a little elf, helping all the Santas!”