Asked about his pastimes, Brad Leith speaks of hobbies in quotation marks. It’s inevitable, really, for someone who logs about 75,000 kilometres of air miles annually.
“My ‘hobbies’ are associated with my day job,” says Brad, the designer at Duncan’s Impeccable Jewellery. “The process of our unique creations requires me to travel substantially and allows me to see locations most ‘tourists’ would never venture to.”
Whereas many people preserve souvenirs from distant and exotic locales on shelves or walls in their homes, Bard’s treasures are displayed at Impeccable Jewellery’s downtown Duncan showroom. Step into the quaint Craig Street boutique to behold 70-million-year-old fossils or shards of volcanic rock that spewed through space following an eruption on the moon. In one display case are the remnants of a meteorite that collided into Eastern Europe nearly 15 million years ago. The emerald green rock was discovered in Bohemia (modern day Czech Republic) during the mid 18th century and has since become a valued stone among jewellery makers because of its distinctive translucence.
Brad’s specimens are artfully arranged into eye-catching pendants, breathtaking necklaces and beautifully subtle earnings.
Nearby is a find Brad discovered during a tour of European auction houses. Roman glass was commonly used for ceremonial and decorative purposes across much of Europe in ancient times. When Brad happened upon a lot that included intact pieces and an assortment of broken artifacts, he couldn’t resist placing a bid. He won, and the result is an historic treasure repurposed as stylishly modern accessories that conjure the earliest days of civilization.
“My concept is that there aren’t many items that can’t be made into incredible and impeccable jewellery, and I find these items wherever I travel,” he says.
Some discoveries emerge from extensive research, others are the product of chance. With time to spare between trade shows in Hong Kong and Bangkok, Brad once headed for Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, one of the world’s largest religious monuments. While travelling to his destination through northeastern Thailand, he found himself with a long wait for his next bus in a dusty and congested border town. He headed to a nearby beach, where he met an awe-inspiring sight.
“I was literally the only person on that beach,” he recalls. “I walked its entire length, and the shells that I was pulling off the beach were magnificent. I’ve never seen shells in such abundance that were so magnificently beautiful.”
Each of the shells contained a distinct collection of naturally formed crystals unlike anything he’d seen before.
After Brad crossed into Cambodia and toured the sprawling temple complex at Angkor Wat, he found even more glorious artifacts to behold. It’s in places such as this, he says, amid timeless ruins and inspiring early architecture, that creativity emerges.
“When I see these monuments of civilization, they give me the inspiration to fuel our design approach,” he says. “As a designer, you change as you have that emotional feeling.”
Brad hasn’t always been an avid treasure hunter and globetrotting gem finder, but the Southern Ontario native has been travelling for much of his professional life. Prior to pursuing his creative tendencies, he worked as a jewellery wholesaler. He’d travel across the country, from Vancouver Island to Newfoundland and back, twice a year, selling products to 300 stores.
Much of his time was spent supplying jewellers with a consistent and predictable product. While the quality was certainly consistent, Brad found little excitement in the homogeneity of the products he supplied. Electing to taking the giant leap into jewellery design about 20 years ago, he hasn’t looked back.
With a fondness for Impressionism, Brad is drawn to subtle variations in colour. In a sense, every stone he selects will speak to him through its distinctive hue. His task is to work with the stone’s innate expression as he strives to create a masterpiece unlike any he has made before.
“I’ve always tried to make the stone the star,” he says. “I think that when you make the designer the star, you often get something that no one would wear. To me, what we design is wearable art. For us, to see the faces of people when we finish or recondition a product is what it’s all about. It’s always a thrill for me.”
|Brad Leith shows off rings in his shop Impeccable Jewellery. Don Denton photography|
The shop in downtown Duncan has become the crowning achievement in a journey to make pieces that marry unique stones, inspired design and a craftsman’s eye for quality.
“We design every piece, we pick every stone, import it and sell it. Lots of people do one of these or maybe even two, but very few do the whole process,” he says. “We do just about everything, and we do things that are different. We distinguish it from mass-produced product and get the opportunity to achieve some really interesting results.”
Brad’s design work is complemented by custom projects for clients in addition to restoration and repair services undertaken at the downtown location, where Impeccable Jewellery has grown to become a familiar landmark in a vibrant downtown core that values friendliness and service.
Brad says he’s thrilled to be part of downtown Duncan’s remarkable resurgence as a prime shopping destination. In a competitive marketplace, where small-town downtowns are in a constant battle with generic big box stores, Leith says, a personal touch and attention to detail is what has helped Duncan’s downtown thrive.
“You have to get off the highway to get here, and I think that’s why this downtown has preserved a little of the old feeling,” he says. “This is the best downtown business association that I’ve ever been involved with. They work very hard at making the downtown successful. I think it’s a testament to them and a testament to the merchants that are down here. We all have the same mentality — we emphasize service over anything else.”