There is, perhaps, no better gift to give or receive during the holidays than jewelry—except, perhaps, a custom-designed piece. Atelier Dacko, run by a jeweller and setter duo based in Toronto, does all custom work, with a brand ethos centred firmly around quality, craftsmanship and production of fine jewelry with an emphasis on affordability. Often, the misconception with custom jewelry is that it’s double the price of what you can get from ready-to-ship retailers, but, as owner Patrick Dacko tells us, he’ll truly work with any budget to create something unique for his clients. We chatted with Patrick to learn more. —Noa Nichol
Hello Patrick! Please tell us a bit about yourself and Atelier Dacko to start.
Atelier Dacko is a custom fine-jewelry studio located in downtown Toronto but we service clients around the world. We’re a two-person operation specializing in custom work and we produce unique and specially crafted pieces like rings, pendants, earrings, Cuban or tennis chains. We also do a lot of redesign work. Often clients will come to us with pieces or family heirlooms that they want reimagined or refreshed and we work with them, hand-in-hand, to upcycle their pieces into something new and unique to them. I myself started my career doing a lot of B2B work, specializing in microscopic diamond settings. My partner in life and in work, Anna, got her start by working for high-end manufacturing studios. We decided a few years ago that we really wanted to work for ourselves, to hone in on our passions and creativity our way and ultimately that led us here. Using our skills to collaborate and create with clients locally and internationally.
When and why did you launch/open Atelier Dacko?
I started Atelier Dacko seven years ago not knowing at the time what it would become or evolve into. What I did know was that I loved seeing a client’s vision, a beautiful piece of jewelry come to life. For a long time I was focusing on business-to-business work, was constantly going overseas for extensive one-on-one training and I really found my passion in sourcing stones and the process of creating custom pieces. I realized very quickly that custom work was the niche I wanted my own business to focus on.
What niche in the jewelry space were/are you aiming to fill?
Collaboration is our biggest differentiator. In most cases, a client is so far removed from the makers of their piece that communication is limited and the experience itself isn’t personal. We work with our clients; we create with our clients, we give them insight into the design and sourcing process, so they’re as involved or not involved as they want to be. Our clients have an accessibility to us that allows them to be comfortable and informed every step of the way. I think it’s also important to address budget and investment. I think often the misconception with custom jewelry is that it’s double the price of what you can get from ready-to-ship retailers but custom jewelry can and is accessible. We work in a very wide range of budgets, anywhere from $1,000 all the way into six figures. Regardless of the budget, the experience will be the same; we truly prioritize building multigenerational relationships, and helping our clientele create tangible pieces that represent important memories and milestones.
What would you say your brand ethos is?
We value each and every opportunity our clients and future clients give us. Collaboration, respect and education is at the core of our business, our values. Working one-on-one with each client, respecting each individual’s budget and educating them about the process so that they know and can see firsthand the time and care we will put into their pieces is key to how we do business.
What sets you apart from other jewelers, and how do you work to satisfy each and every one of your clients?
When we collaborate with our clientele, the process starts and ends with us. Anna and I are the actual people that will consult with you, design with you and we’re ultimately the two people who will sit down to make the piece that was discussed. Our expertise and technical background help guide and inform our clients to create a better-structured piece that will last them a lifetime. We are very specific and meticulous in our work and can afford to be because we choose our work; we’re not in the business of mass production, and each piece is unique. Our work is done under microscopes, we have a higher degree of accuracy and more information when working on jewelry. We use high-tech laser welding machinery to build and assemble complex items that need to be made in multiple pieces. We can do repair work on items that could possibly be damaged or destroyed if they come into contact with the intense heat a torch can output. Our work and our process is intricate and we are always on the lookout to invest in new equipment, new technologies that will give us and our clients the best results. At the end of the day, jewelry is an investment and we take that very seriously. A few times clients have come to us with stories of experiences where they felt like it was a game of broken telephone. They worked with a sales associate who relayed information to the owner/manager, who then relayed it to an outsourced workshop only to have the client frustrated that they didn’t feel heard and their vision misunderstood. We’ll work with clients in any way that makes them feel at ease and a part of the process.
Currently, all of your work is custom; are there any misconceptions around custom jewelry (for example, affordability) that you could clear up for us?
I think the most common misconception is that making a custom piece is more expensive than just buying from a store or online retailer and in some aspects it’s true but what consumers need to keep in mind is our Atelier isn’t making 300 of the same design, we’re not pumping out pieces as fast and as cheaply as possible, that’s not what we do. A lot of retailers have companies overseas making their pieces, which limits their ability to quality control the product. Once the production is over and lands at the retailer what shows up is what they have to sell and sometimes it’s product that’s made too thin, or the stones aren’t correctly cast in place to save time or they cut corners to finish the pieces faster. These are some of the steps taken to reduce cost in mass production and something consumers should keep in mind. Unless a client knows what to look for when purchasing a piece, the only clue is its price. At Atelier Dacko, we produce each piece ourselves in downtown Toronto. We create custom pieces based on your budget and comfort in mind. So the final product is not something you settled for out of a showcase.
What are the benefits of creating (and, for the client, ordering and gifting or owning) custom jewelry pieces?
The individuality of a unique, one-of-a-kind piece of jewelry is definitely the biggest allure and benefit of creating a custom piece. There’s also so much sentimentality tied to creating something custom. Say you’re gifting a custom piece for someone you love, throughout the design process you’re thinking of them, every design element, every material/stone choice has them in mind and ultimately the end result is a beautiful representation of who they are and something they can keep with them, wear and cherish every day. A custom piece brings a sense of pride, whether it was made by you or for you—there was time, effort and thought put into that piece and that’s really special.
How does one go about working with you to create a custom jewelry piece? What are the steps involved? How can we, as your clients, prepare to work with you on a custom piece?
Everything kickstarts at the consultation call—during that consultation we like to get know our client a little and get an understanding of their needs. Research and education is key—we can help with the education but we always recommend the client does some research to help kickstart the design process by showing us a few photos or design elements that they would like in their item. Once we have that foundational inspiration, we start the design process together, we discuss materialization and stone selection based on budget and design. Once that’s been decided we’ll narrow down the design before we proceed to creating a 3D computer rendering. Once the 3-D model is approved we start making the piece. We’ll work with a client in any way they prefer during this process so whether it’s in person, by email or over the phone—there’s a constant line of communication and the client is always aware/involved in each step.
We understand that you are also able to repurpose an old sentimental piece. Can you give us some insight into how you do that?
Redesign work is a big part of our business. We love taking heirloom pieces and giving them new life. Every redesign job involves a consultation with the client where we inspect the stones and metal work under a microscope and discuss what can be done – based on needs it could be as simple as refreshing the existing piece or redesigning it into something completely new. Let’s say for example, a client just wants to reuse just the stones of an existing piece, we measure all the stones and provide a few hand sketches based on the direction the client wants to go. Or if the metal of an older piece is too worn away or unusable we refine those metal pieces down to pull out the pure gold, this way we can reuse the metal without impurities causing cracking in the future—after design approval we get to work and a few weeks later we present the new item, while keeping its original sentimentality. There are so many fun and creative ways to go about redesign work, it’s always one of our favourite things to do with clients.
Mindful/sustainable sourcing is a hot topic in the jewelry space at the moment; what is your stance on this issue and how do you keep Mother Nature in mind in your work?
Mindful sourcing is definitely an important factor for our business. We bring in GIA or AGS certified diamonds for our engagement rings and these stones follow the Kimberley Process allowing them to be traced back to where they were mined from. We can also provide lab grown diamond options with IGI or GIA reports and other alternatives and every gemstone we work with is ethically sourced from reputable partners that we have built relationships with over the years. This is also why we love why redesign projects because of the circularity potential.
What have some of your favourite pieces to work on been, and why? What sort of feedback do you receive from clients?
We love when our clients give us the opportunity to play with color. Like our sapphire gradient pieces we have created, it provides us with an opportunity to inspire clients with the possibilities out there and allows us to show off our sourcing skills. We also really love to experiment with different setting techniques that our clients may have never seen before like our three sided setting and clawless halo techniques which have been perfected from years of training and experimenting. I think the best piece of feedback from a client isn’t really feedback but it’s when they come back wanting to collaborate on more pieces or they refer their friends and family. That says it all. To us that means they trust us with their vision, they’re happy with the quality of our work and the design process so much that they want to do it again.
With the holiday season coming up, what are some of your top jewelry suggestions?
We’re big fans of a solitaire floating pendant. Whether it’s a classic diamond or a gemstone, it brings a pop to an outfit and it’s timeless. Stud earrings and stacker bands are fantastic because they’re pieces that can be dressed up or worn casually everyday. We also love the idea of gifting the experience of creating a custom piece together. Set a budget but bring your loved one into the consultation to either create a new custom piece or redesign an existing one. Everyone has a small spark of an idea they would like to see come to life, why not give it a chance. Create meaningful memories while going through the process together.