Forty-eight years of 'doing fiddly stuff'

HANNAH MCKEE
Last updated 05:00 10/12/2013
Michael McCarthy
KENT BLECHYNDEN/Fairfax NZ
END OF AN ERA: Wellington jeweller Michael McCarthy is calling it a day after 48 years.

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The pre-Christmas rush is a busy time for many of us, but it's especially so this year for jewellery maker Michael McCarthy.

He is busy working on his last few items before he retires at Christmas, after working as a jewellery manufacturer and repairer for 48 years.

His workshop at Bassett and Whiteacre in Dixon St is a magpie's dream - a grotto of tools, jewels, gold and a Lost Boys-style fortress made entirely out of matchsticks.

"I have always been doing things like this. I was never that great academically but I was just always doing fiddly stuff," he says.

When he was 17 his mother suggested he try his hand at making jewellery, so he went to the workshop, then in Manners St, for an interview.

"The guy who interviewed me said, ‘Have you got your school cert?', I said ‘Yeah', then he looked at me and all of a sudden slapped his hands on his legs and said, ‘Right then, better come out back and we'll introduce you to the guys'."

It has been a trade that he says is completely different every day.

"Well, you may look at this and think, ‘Gosh, how could someone do the same thing every day for so long?' but the thing is, I haven't. Jewellery is probably one of the biggest subjects you could ever get hold of."

The Lower Hutt resident is a self-confessed "habitual fiddler", and his craft does not stop at jewellery. "I made all the furniture in the house, the beds, some of my shoes, cutlery, pretty much anything. It's not really that I'm that frugal, I just love making things."

The profession has certainly changed over the years, he says. "Up until about 20 years ago I had been using the same techniques of making jewellery that the ancient Greeks and Romans did, but that's changed with virtual imaging."

He considers himself a bit of a romantic, which may not be surprising considering the amount of engaged couples and newlyweds he deals with, who often include him in the wedding photo album.

"It's actually a great trade for girls and guys, because you're dealing with people who are happy - you're not an undertaker, you're not a dentist, you're not a traffic officer, you're not brassing people off. It's around love and giving."

He seems to have made it all, from big Harley-Davidson rings stacked with diamonds and rubies for bikers, to a 12-millimetre-high gold Pinocchio charm with seven moving parts.

McCarthy says he has spent half of his last working days hugging people over the counter, but there is no way he will stop tinkering altogether. "I'll always have these tools, they are part of me."

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- The Dominion Post

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