Home News Nigel O’Reilly: Crafting Stories Through Gemstones in the World of High Jewellery

Nigel O’Reilly: Crafting Stories Through Gemstones in the World of High Jewellery

by Madonna

The realm of Haute Joaillerie, often described as high jewellery, seamlessly weaves together meticulously designed jewelry and the innate brilliance of gemstones. Much like the world of haute couture, the term “high jewellery” may evoke images of opulent showrooms guarded by expensive gemstones and sophisticated security systems. However, in the midst of this extravagance, Irish high-jeweller Nigel O’Reilly stands out for his remarkable approachability, a quality perhaps shaped by his unconventional ascent in the industry.

Originating from rural Ireland, O’Reilly’s designs radiate genuine charm as they grace prestigious venues from the vibrant streets of New York City to the glamorous Rodeo Drive in LA. This November, O’Reilly unveiled a new collection inspired by the burnt-sunset palette of Aberfeldy Whisky, where citrine crystals emulate sunshine atop bespoke rings. Providing an in-depth glimpse into his creative process, O’Reilly shares reflections on his countryside roots, workshop recollections, and insights into the burgeoning high-jewellery market.


Before venturing into the realms of gold and silver, O’Reilly embarked on an engineering career, a choice influenced by severe dyslexia that steered him away from traditional post-secondary education. “College wasn’t something I really wanted to do,” he concedes. Instead, he dived into the workforce, crafting molds for vascular surgery and honing his technical skills. According to O’Reilly, earrings and cufflinks, creations reminiscent of the medical devices he once engineered, share a commonality — both demand functionality. “That’s the point of engineering: you have to make something function first, and then make it look beautiful. When I started doing jewellery, I was able to see how these things come together.”


Yet, it wasn’t only a passion for labor that prompted O’Reilly’s shift. A chance nightclub encounter, a romance that blossomed into his future wife, introduced him to the world of creativity. O’Reilly’s newfound hobby, encouraged by his then-girlfriend, became a pathway to artistic expression. “I started making rings at work to try and impress her,” he reveals. “She was like wow, these are really interesting — have you ever considered doing jewellery? And I hadn’t. I had no idea; it’s not something that runs in my family or anything like that. My mom’s a teacher, my dad’s a farmer.”


Fortunately, a familial background proved unnecessary for success in jewellery. O’Reilly’s journey thrived on determination and dedication. An eager student, he enrolled in a jewellery-making class through Design & Crafts Council Ireland, quickly distinguishing himself. “I was one of the best in the room as opposed to the worst in the room. That was just a great boost for my confidence; the way I see things is very different from the way other people see things,” he elaborates.

The transition into creative work provided solace for the young O’Reilly. Struggling with severe dyslexia made traditional education an uphill battle, but O’Reilly discovered an alternative path. “When I see a piece, I can actually break it apart into different components and different shapes. And for me, I find that just really liberating, you know? It’s what I’m good at.”

While O’Reilly is humble about his abilities, he attributes much of his success to the mentors who guided him. Despite entering high-jewellery as an alternative to conventional education, his training followed traditional jewellers’ standards. “I was trained by two master German goldsmiths who were very traditional — one guy still had a typewriter, and that was only 14 years ago. He was against changing in any way. He was an amazing goldsmith and an amazing designer,” he acknowledges.

In O’Reilly’s philosophy, one must understand the rules before daring to break them. The Aberfeldy collection, a testament to his well-honed craft, exhibits the unmistakable touch of a skilled goldsmith, seamlessly blending metal and gemstone. What sets O’Reilly apart is his willingness to take risks. “I use laser welders, I use 3D printers — I love mixing traditions. It’s all based on the goldsmith tradition, but [I mix] it with modern technology. All our work is done under a microscope,” he reveals, drawing from his precision-oriented engineering background.

Technical intricacies aside, O’Reilly distills the jewellery-making process for non-experts. “It always starts with the sketch first — I bring my notebook everywhere. My best designs have been done on Transatlantic flights or train journeys,” he explains. “You can find your gemstone, and then you work out from there. And you sketch, and sketch, and sketch.”

The accessibility of a sketchbook enhances O’Reilly’s creativity, allowing him to amplify concepts before transitioning to metals. “When you’re sketching, you can push the boundaries of what you’re looking for, break down the components, and see how they come together on paper first before you transition into working in metal,” he adds.

In the Aberfeldy collection, Aberfeldy Whisky served as O’Reilly’s muse. Both the drink and the Scottish Highlands landscape hold personal significance; O’Reilly honeymooned in the rugged Highlands with his wife. The technical aspects, he notes, were a delightful exploration of craftsmanship: “the landscape is rugged, and I love that harsh edge. I knew we had to get a gemstone that matched the color of the whisky — if you have whisky in the glass, I just love the way the light reflects through it.”

As an artist and entrepreneur, O’Reilly focuses on creating cultural scarcity — making his studio the exclusive source for his creations. Despite the time-consuming nature of this approach, he deems it worthwhile. The Aberfeldy collection epitomizes this philosophy, showcasing O’Reilly’s meticulous craftsmanship and artistic finesse. Through a harmonious blend of organic gemstones and well-honed design practices, O’Reilly’s work embodies natural beauty and artisan excellence at its pinnacle.


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