Rapaport Magazine

Retail Profile - A Shining Knight

Designer Zoltan David uses innovative techniques in jewelry fabrication to create dramatic, one-of-a kind, award-winning jewelry.

By Nancy Pier Sindt
RAPAPORT... Zoltan David was born in Budapest, Hungary. At age six, in the aftermath of the Hungarian revolution, he immigrated to Canada. His father, Zoltan Sr., was an engineer and a World War II hero who had been knighted by his grateful country; his mother was an interior designer. Even at an early age, David says he knew he wanted to work in a creative field where he could work with his hands.

At age 16, David took his first course in jewelry design and quickly proceeded to a three-prong apprenticeship in goldsmithing, jewelry design and diamond-setting in Vancouver, Canada. For eight years, he continued his studies with world-class and highly demanding masters. His formal apprenticeship ended abruptly in 1979, however, when he won an award in the De Beers Diamonds Today competition for his design of a diamond eternity band. He says after that recognition, his teachers were no longer willing to share their knowledge with him, so he decided it was time to strike out on his own.

Moving Along
In 1980, he opened Zoltan David Fine Jewelry Design in Vancouver. It was in the early days of the business that he met his future wife Patti, a Texas native and a graduate gemologist herself. The couple made the decision to move to the U.S. and set up shop in a small showroom in Laguna Beach, California. While on vacation in Texas, they fell in love with the Austin area, and relocated there in 1994. It is in Austin, under the company name of Zoltan David, Precious Metal Art, that David designs the unique jewelry that has won 15 prestigious design awards and attracted an international following and worldwide recognition.
In 1994, the same year that the couple arrived in Texas, David became the only designer to receive the dual honor of New Designer of the Year at JA and New Design Talent of the American Jewelry Design Council. Subsequent accolades include numerous American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) Spectrum awards, American Gem Society (AGS) awards and international citations. In 2005, David was named Contemporary Design Group’s Designer of the Year. A perhaps lesser-known but equally impressive honor is the fact that the designer is a knight — Sir Zoltan David — a title he inherited from his father in 1988.

The Texas Base
David describes his first Austin showroom, located in the Austin Arboretum, as a “sexy little shop,” open by appointment only. He dubbed the design work space “Dancing Metals Studio.” After a decade, when the business began to outgrow the space, the couple decided to scout for a new location, eventually choosing real estate in the upscale Hill Country Galleria in the Austin suburb of Bee Cave.

Constructing the new gallery took more than two years. That’s because all of the furniture, doors, windows and woodwork were designed by David; Patti chose the materials and oversaw the contractors and interior designers. “It’s an exotic kind of place,” David notes. The freestanding gallery opened in the spring of 2008. It incorporates 1,800 square feet, half of which are devoted to the jewelry showroom and the other half to the work space, also named Dancing Metals Studio, and offices.

David estimates he spends about 40 hours a week making jewelry and another 20 to 25 hours designing it. In a sense, every piece is a one-of-a-kind design because each is fabricated and finished by hand. The designer estimates that half of his sales are custom designs where clients “sit in the store and work directly with the designer” to create the piece they want.

His signature look is a technique of “cold-forged shaped inlay,” a marriage of platinum and high-karat gold, which David developed and then patented in 2003. Zoltan David jewelry employs the technique to produce intricate combinations of metals, such as a platinum ring with delicate patterns of inlaid gold. Everything is made entirely by hand by David and his staff of three German-certified master goldsmiths. “There is never a manufactured part in my jewelry; we hand-make the heads, the bands, the settings and clasps,” he says.

Fondness for Diamonds
Although his first and primary love is metals, David is particularly fond of diamonds, both white and natural colors. Most of the white diamonds in his jewelry are rounds and princess cuts, ranging in size from 1 to 3 carats. He says that the ideal cut is his guiding light and colors are usually G to H, sometimes I; clarity, SI, VS1 and VS2, but always “triple zeros.”

Natural colored diamonds also play a substantial role in David’s designs. He says he loves cognac colors and has designed several rings using specially cut baguettes. One of his most popular in-gallery events was the exhibit and sale of jewelry set with natural colored diamonds.

Beyond Precious Metals
In recent years, David has added other collections to his award-winning platinum, gold and diamond jewelry. The new gallery showcases pieces from his just-introduced sterling silver collection, plus small flatware and knives. He has also completed a collection of leather accessories. One of his first design jobs was leather clothing so, in a sense, this work is a return to his earlier roots. The next big project on the horizon is one he clearly relishes: the design of a custom-made motorcycle with three-dimensional, precious-metal details. As the first custom model in the Ducati Streetfighter motorcycle line, his design has been dubbed “The Black Knight” and will sell for $85,000 to $90,000 when it debuts in January 2010. Of his varied design projects and interests, David says, “I don’t like to get pigeon-holed.”

Like many true designers, he laments the fact that there is such an overabundance of commercial jewelry on the market today. “There is just a small segment of individuals who want to work in a more original direction,” David says. However, he sees the industry evolving and senses a sea change in the attitude of consumers and, in some cases, retailers. He believes the era is over of “jewelry as a homogenous commodity; a soulless price-point.” Today’s more discerning consumers want jewelry that “speaks to them.”

“Innovation will save the day,” says David. “People will buy jewelry that’s more personal. That’s a welcome advantage for a jewelry artist. We are entering a new chapter of jewelry as an art form.”

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - August 2009. To subscribe click here.

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