National post: James Morton A playful eye

Fallowing is the article posted in the national post:

Author: Susanne Hiller 
Publication: Saturday Post:  Saturday, September 20, 2003

James Morton A playful eye

James Morton is renowned for his highly personalized custom jewellery. Three months ago, he closed his popular shop in Yorkville, Toronto's high-end boutique district. “Customers know where to find me, I don't need to be in Yorkville any more,” he said. Morton spoke with National Post writer Susanne Hiller about his work at his new home studio, Metamorphosis The Jewellery Workshop in Toronto's east end.

It started out as a hobby. I was always interested in art and painting and a friend of mine showed me how to carve wax. It started from there. Friends of friends would commission jewellery from me.

I specialize in custom work and every day is different because every piece is totally different and I work with all sorts of materials. For me, the most fun is developing new styles and techniques that are my own. I just play. I once spent over 5 years experimenting and perfecting a technique that looks very much like art nouveau, and then I found out I didn't develop it myself after all. It was an ancient Japanese technique and used on the Great Buddha.

A custom piece takes me about three weeks but some pieces are more labour-intensive than others. I usually work on about 10 pieces at the same time. Customers might bring in a picture, a drawing or a photograph, or they will have an idea or a concept in their heads and we will talk it through. Anything's possible. I like a challenge.

A big part of my business is custom wedding and engagement rings. Couples really want to put meaning into their wedding set. One gentleman brought in a small piece of knotted climbing rope and said he was going to tie the knot. He had this idea of a knot ring set with a diamond in the center. And so I developed a rubber mould directly off the rope and set the diamond in the center. The ring had all the internal detail of the rope. When he gave it to his fiancée she was in the Himalayas and writing a book on climbing. It was the ultimate ring for a climber.

I get some unusual requests. This little old lady came in with a bag of rocks and pulled out photocopies of pictures of an oar. She had me make a six-inch paddle in silver and the bottom had to be exactly this way, and the top had to be a certain way. She asked that the paddle lean against the rocks as a paperweight. She had been a camp counselor in her 20s and one day she met this gentleman who accused her of stealing his paddle. And so now, after 50 years of being married, she was finally admitting to it and returning the paddle on their anniversary.

A writer came in recently. He had gone on a polar bear hunt and he and the photographer were both given polar bear teeth as a gift. He wanted to get them made into pendants. It's interesting to hear what people are looking for. I've even made an engraved silver asthma-inhaler holder to replace the plastic container.

Some things aren't as easy as they might seem. I once made a film producer a silver popcorn pendant to wear on a chain. I thought it would be easy to make a mould of an actual piece of popcorn. But the next time you have a bag of popcorn, try finding a piece of popcorn that actually looks like popcorn. It's impossible. You can't do it. There will be one little piece that looks like the top section or the side but you can't find a single perfect piece. So I ended up carving it out of wax. Then there's Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones. He used to drop by quite often because he collected silver.

One woman came in with a little rock she wanted set. It wasn't a big deal to do but it was a gift for her grandmother. The rock was a piece of an island they owned in Georgian Bay that they were selling. They wanted to make a piece of jewellery that the grandmother could enjoy. Another day, a curator for the Royal Ontario Museum came in. Someone broke the door of the ROM and she used a piece of the glass to make a piece. We always joked that it was her museum piece. It was all fractured, it looked very interesting. This is very personal work and I get to know the customers quite well.

A gentleman came in six months ago and he said he wanted ”the ocean” on an engagement ring. We ended up doing waves that were slapping up against the rock, the diamond. I spent a lot of time downloading pictures of waves and deciding what it is that actually makes a wave look like a wave.

One of my favourite pieces was inspired by The Little Shop of Horrors. This man - this was back in the '70s - wanted a bracelet with a clam-shell with teeth that opened up and inside was a glass eye with little garnets set as drops of blood. It was the most bizarre piece. I mean, you looked at it and there was this eye staring out at you.

The thing I love most about this job is seeing the person's mouth drop open, the big smile. I don't create pieces that are necessarily fashionable. Mostly pieces with meaning, something they'll cherish and maybe even hand down from one generation to the next. It's a horrible thought to think of pieces getting lost or abused. You'd like to think it will be around forever.

Metamorphosis The Jewellery Workshop 416-944-0134 is open by appointment only.

Copyright 2003 National Post


Posted on September 20, 2003 .