Long hair scraped back, scrappy, slightly grubby t-shirt draped over his slender frame, the jewellery designer Tomasz Donocik is a little embarrassed. “I’m sorry, I should have dressed up better,” he says, very reluctantly agreeing to have his photograph taken wearing his work clothes. In fact, he looks exactly what he is: a young, creative designer in an East End London atelier, absorbed in his craft, multi-tasking as he pushes his business out into the world.
But you can see his point: the struggling-artist look is difficult to reconcile with the intricate perfection of the jewellery made by this Polish-born, Vienna-raised designer, on the verge of the big time. Rings, cuffs and collars for men and women, featuring huge gems and sinuous shapes, are as polished, flamboyant and exquisite as anything to be found on Bond Street or the Place Vendôme — although the addition of found objects and humble materials, such as leather, wood and even mammoth horn, is what makes the pieces so distinctively his own.
“I always call myself a designer that specialises in jewellery,” says Donocik. “That’s why I love mixing up materials. Some of my pieces are silk scarves, some are chopsticks, random stuff, found objects, precious and not so precious.”
The workshop itself, which he shares with another jeweller, is in an old brick-built work yard in east London’s Shoreditch, and while the workbench carries the tools of his trade, his office area is clearly where the creative magic happens. A Victorian bureau is covered in beautifully rendered hand-drawn designs, the walls full of sketches on brown paper, animal skulls, framed displays of insects and even a bat.
It is a dark aesthetic, even macabre at times, and one that attracted the attention of that other rock-and-roll jeweller Stephen Webster, who invited Donocik to work with him after his graduation from the Royal College of Art.
From Webster, Donocik learned the art of accessibility: his immensely complex creations, such as his signature Chesterfield cuff (leather stretched over gold to look like a Chesterfield sofa) and a pair of leather and 18-carat gold braces, are what got him noticed, but at his newly opened Harrods spot, he finds that it is his simple leather wrist-wraps embellished with silver, gold or diamonds that are recognised now. “But I’m starting to get bored with accessible,” he says.
Luckily, he has a stream of clients who seek him out for his expansive imagination and exceptional skill, commissioning him to design all sorts of one-off creations. An engagement ring for a woman who used to bullfight? No problem: the resulting piece involves two interlocking bulls’ heads, with giant horns that stretch across the hand. A wedding ring for a hunting-mad client? He’s in the middle of carving a tiny crocodile that will become a ring with a mouth that opens to reveal a precious stone, as well as crocodile cuff-links in 18-carat gold with emerald eyes. “I love to push the boundaries of what you would consider traditional,” he says.
Donocik’s current project is a collection of rings based on the four elements, of which two unique rings have been made: a sinuous snake in brown diamonds, tourmaline and rose gold, representing Medusa’s head; and a rose-gold phoenix, the body of which is a giant spessartite garnet, with wings in white and yellow diamond. Next up, representing water, is a palladium dragonfly with wings that span the hand and a body that stretches up the finger, and a central section that pops out and can be worn alone. It is centred around, and inspired by, a large, limpid blue aquamarine. “It’s all dictated by the stone,” says Donocik. “Really it’s the stone that speaks to me.”