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Buzz circles around Victoria jeweler

Idar Bergseth enjoys making a personal connection with his customers
Jeweller Idar Bergseth

Sitting at his workbench in his eponymous Fort Street jewelry store, dazzling gemstones and partially done gold rings in front of him, Idar Bergseth speaks in subdued tones about his award-winning work.

Ask him about the colourful collection of large rocks and polished stones laid out on shelves behind and above him, however, and his eyes light up.

He refers to a particular gnarly example – a chunk of meteorite he found in a cave in Mexico.

"I actually made a ring from some of that rock," he says. "From agate to rare gems, to me they're both beautiful."

While creating more traditional forms of jewelry has been part of his roughly 50 years in the business, it's the different and unusual that he is more known for (********************see sidebar).

"The store's style is Arabesque, very floral, botanical, organic. My favourite things are very structural, very geometric and stylized."

At 68, he shows few signs of slowing down and has developed a clear raison d'être as an artist and businessperson.

"All jewelry is a talisman and what people ask for is something that represents them," he says. "I feel kind of privileged to make something for someone that they love. The value doesn't necessarily matter, it's how the person feels about it."

While the beauty and creativity of finished works and those in process at Idar is unmistakable, something else catches one's attention.

Images of bees can be found everywhere here, from the sidewalk and awning in front of the store at 946 Fort St. to the company logo – even the goldsmiths' coffee mugs are emblazoned with the black and orange insects. It all speaks to Bergseth's love and respect for the honey producers.

He lives part-time above the store when not on South Pender Island with his wife and business partner, Nikki, and for roughly 20 years he kept a hive on the rooftop. While those bees eventually died off a couple of years back, he maintains hives on Pender.

"I'm just an amateur beekeeper, but people sometimes ask me for advice," he says.

He questions the blaming of bee loss by neighbours on colony collapse disorder, said to be threatening North American bee populations. "I ask them if they've been feeding their bees through the winter. When they say 'no,' I tell them they're dying of starvation."

Bergseth's daughter, Lara, certified gemologist, store manager and designer of the Idar bee logo, started at age 6 cleaning up her father's workshop on Saturdays and has been full-time since 1991. While her dad's affection for bees shows a gentle side of the man, she says he can still be the "temperamental artist" at times.

"He is forthright, which is great in the jewelry trade," she says. "But on the flip side, if he doesn't like an idea, he'll tell a person, and some people don't want to hear that."

The tendency to pass off to coworkers, requests he doesn't believe he can do well is part of his personality, Lara says.

It comes back to creating pieces the customer will love and constantly rediscovering himself.

"I've been building a lifetime crafting and working on it," he says of his style and skills. "I still have so much to learn and sometimes I feel I don't deserve (the attention)."


Achievement award honours creativity

Victoria goldsmith Idar Bergseth has spent most of his life fascinated by rocks and stones of all shapes and sizes. The last 50 years or so of that time has been spent perfecting the craft of jewelry art.

His career creating wearable works of art for customers was spotlighted recently when he was named one of three winners of the B.C. Achievement Foundation's 2013 Carter Wosk Creative Achievement Award for Applied Art and Design. The award honours B.C. artists whose work is judged to be "innovative, original and creative while having a practical function."

Bergseth, a modest man who apprenticed under noted Vancouver goldsmith Karl Heinz Stittgen, has won various trade awards for his work and been commissioned to create pieces for organizations that include the Royal Ontario Museum. Bergseth admits his career and life have been filled with "ups and downs," but says they have all been "very beneficial."

"This award puts the icing on the cake."

The awards will be presented later this fall in a formal ceremony in Vancouver.