Nelson jeweller lord of the ringmakers

REBECCA STEVENSON
Last updated 05:00 28/07/2013
jeweller
Alden Williams/Fairfax NZ

REVERSE THRUST: Benjamin Clark has gone from internet to shopfront.

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There is, in fact, more than one ring to rule them all.

More like 40 rings, says Nelson master jeweller Benjamin Clark.

"I don't know if I should say this - I did all of the rings on The Hobbit."

All of the rings?

"There were about 40 for the first three [Lord of the Rings] movies, then I probably made about 15 for the second movies," Clark said.

Eight years after starting as a 16-year-old apprentice with the maker of "the most famous ring in the world", Jens Hansen Gold and Silversmith, Clark last year launched an online store, benjaminblack.co.nz.

His link with Hansen and the ring is a special claim to jeweller fame but Clark's first rings were made at the age of seven in his dad's workshop, for his four sisters.

"I never really thought that it was going to be my career path," he said.

"I've been lucky to work with a really great jeweller and designer [at Jens Hansen] and working on those pieces I really fell in love with the making and design of jewellery."

His first sale for Benjamin Black came fairly easily.

An American couple contacted him via Facebook wanting a nail-shaped ring which sat over the nail and wrapped around the finger.

Clark went into the workshop, made it, sent the photos and "they loved it".

Business started. First sale done. But it was tough going, the goldsmith said. Starting a jewellery business takes a lot of capital. You need to buy precious metals and stones - and getting a loan from the bank to buy that sort of treasure is not easy.

Clark relied on his girlfriend's salary while the business was starting, but after a few months of trying, secured a bank loan and ordered the materials he needed - admittedly with more semi-precious stones than precious.

On the strength of online sales, he opened his bricks and mortar retail store in his home base of Nelson this month, reversing the usual trend from shop front to online. He has about 20 pieces of jewellery on display.

"Jewellery is tactile; people want to see it and touch it and try it on," Clark said.

He's brought his dad, one of the country's few remaining watchmakers, into the business and plans to add another jeweller "when the time is right".

Now New Zealand's Next Top Model judge Colin Mathura-Jeffrey sports one of Black's specially-crafted tie pins and the mayor of Nelson tasked Clark with creating a custom "key to the city" in June for the visiting Harlem Globetrotters basketball team.

Clark said he was finding his own style but favoured custom pieces where he could create something more meaningful.

"I want my jewellery to last more than one lifetime," he said.

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- BusinessDay.co.nz

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