VILLAGE GOLDSMITH'S GOLDEN YEARS

THIS POST ORIGINALLY FEATURED IN THE DOMINION POST

'If you're a single guy, the best thing you could ever do is wear a brooch. You'll get women talking to you in an instant.' It seems a dubious dating tip, but jeweller Ian Douglas swears it works - if only as a conversation starter.

And perhaps he's worth trusting - after all,the 55-year-old is the man behind The Village Goldsmith, and the winner of the Gemological Institute of America's award for men's jewellery design two years in a row.

"You've got to have something that's fun and interesting. It could be something from an op shop that you've just pinned on to your lapel."

From the golden days of 80s indulgence, to the post-recession era, Douglas has been making Wellingtonians' fingers, necks and lapels sparkle for three decades.

He began his business as a bright-eyed, fearless 23-year-old. His workroom-cum-shop was squeezed into a tiny shoebox that now houses a florist.

Douglas started the business the same year he and his wife got married and bought a house.

"I was pretty young. But still happily married - in fact, my wife is one of the mainstays and the reason why we are successful.

"Kelburn in those days was the most fabulous place. They were the golden days of people throwing money everywhere."

Back in the day, Douglas spent most of his time making expensive creations for Kelburn's high society to be worn at charity balls and trendy parties. But when the 1987 stock market crash happened, "the tap got turned off", and Douglas' business refocused as marriage and engagement ring specialists - because whatever the economic climate, people still fall in love.

He moved to the shop in Victoria St in 1997 and has been there ever since.

In a world of accessories outlets and cheap manufacturing, Douglas keeps it personal with a small workplace of 11 staff - and three export staff down the road. The jewellery-making is not only in house, but merely metres away from where customers browse precious jewels.

"Jewellery has this real mystery about it," Douglas explains. "What we try to do is demystify it a bit. And we thought, what better way than to actually show people what goes on."

And his inspiration for the creative, unique items his business makes, day after day? "People," he says, without hesitation. No wonder he's inspired, because the people come from all walks of life, sometimes with wild requests. A few commission glitzy pieces for piercings in unmentionable places - "we leave the fitting up to them".

Others require jewellery to house the ashes of a loved one who has passed away. And then there's the guy who commissioned a large silver centrepiece to show off his illegally imported giant clam shell.

Regardless of the client, there's the same process. They'll meet and chat over coffee, and while talking, Douglas will often sketch up a few ideas. Douglas' team then turn them into tiny wax replicas on their 3D printer.

One of Douglas' own brooches - and conversation starters - is a picture frame made of mahogany from the old ANZ bank, with a pebble from Dusky Sound mounted in the frame.

But while brooches are nice, Douglas' favourite piece is clear: his simple gold wedding band.

Douglas and his wife Christine have worked on the business together for years: while he swans about drinking coffee with clients and sketching up designs, his wife of 32 years is on the business end.

Now that their sons, aged 20, 22, and 24, have left home, they've had a chance to expand the business and Christine has moved to the export office down the road. But for years they worked side by side. "We get on fantastically. We're really lucky."