Here’s a riddle: What do you get when you meld 21st Century technology with 18th Century creativity?
You get Victoria’s Puzzle Lab, of course. Located at 1322 Government St., the Puzzle Lab manufactures and sells heirloom-quality wooden jigsaw puzzles featuring the creations of nearly 50 Canadian artists.
Owned and operated by business and life partners Tinka Robev and Andrew Azzopardi, the Puzzle Lab prints a copy of a selected painting on its state-of-the-art UV printer and then adheres it to a 1/4” sheet of Spanish Poplar plywood, sourced from trees grown sustainably on plantations.
The second step, using a proprietary algorithm designed by Azzopardi (the firm’s self-described Mad Scientist), is to slice the art into complex pieces using a laser cutter. The results are puzzles ranging from 100 to 500 pieces, with challenge levels listed as “Easy Peasy” to “Not Fun” for its more complicated creations.
“Andrew and I have basically been in business together since we met, moving to Victoria in 2014,” Robev explained. “But for the first six or seven years we operated a design business, doing installation art like stage designs, trade show booths and things like that. We were building physical design objects in addition to the more usual graphic design jobs like branding, package design and website design.”
But the global pandemic, and the changes in interpersonal interactions it created saw much of the pair’s workload suddenly evaporate, reducing much of their efforts to website design only – which didn’t provide Azzopardi with the hand’s on creative satisfaction he enjoyed.
“Andrew was getting antsy at the lack of physical projects, but one day saw an advertisement for some Russian-made wooden jigsaw puzzles. He said ‘wait a minute, we have a laser cutter, we can probably make this better’ – so we gave ourselves six weeks to prototype, figure out branding and to put a product out there. That’s where the Puzzle Lab came from,” she said.
Initially launched as an online business in November 2020, the Puzzle Lab didn’t open its storefront location until April 2022. Using a series of algorithms that mimics the growth patterns of coral reefs provides the puzzles with a natural, almost organic feeling, enhanced by the smooth laser-cut finish of the wooden pieces.
While the first formal jigsaw puzzles are believed to have been marketed in England during the 1760s, they bear little resemblance to the beautiful, complex Puzzle Lab creations.
“Andrew is single-handedly responsible for driving all of our customers crazy with his delicious and diabolical cut patterns,” Robev joked.
Essentially selling everything it produces, for the future the Puzzle Lab hopes to expand its productivity by adding additional laser cutters, introducing more designs, and even the possibility of adding other venues.
“Growth isn’t everything for us. I want us to be known as a wholesome local business, putting artists on a pedestal and producing a product that could be part of your family for generations – good people doing good business,” she said.
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