You might have to fight your way through a forest of flowers if you visit on a Sunday, but once inside Ben Day’s boutique on Columbia Road, east London, you’ll find jewels to rival the riot of colour on the street outside. Designer/goldsmith Day specialises in recherché coloured gems – African tourmalines in deep purple or lagoon blue, neon-pink spinels, berry-toned Malaya garnets, fiery Ethiopian opals – all of which he sets into modernist, often geometric pieces. Day makes each of these by hand in a workshop that’s on view at the back of the boutique – the prime reason, he says, for his recent move from Notting Hill. The workshop is separated from the store by an antique mahogany and glass screen that contrasts with the modern neon-turquoise lacquer showcases.
The cuts of the stones Day uses are integral to his aesthetic. He feverishly hunts down unusual shapes and volumes and will single out small kite-shaped stones like a neon-blue tourmaline or demantoid garnet for engagement rings (price on request) edged in white or coloured diamonds. A new series of kaleidoscopic dress rings includes a large oval cabochon (£9,800) of green-blue Queensland chrysoprase, a buff-top morganite (£12,000) set into a deep gold mount streaked with white diamonds and a octagonal amethyst (£12,600) held on each side by drop-shaped rubellites. “I’m looking for atypical gem silhouettes cut by small independent artisans,” he says, “which makes each piece one-of-a-kind. They start off that way, thanks to these unique stones.”
Rings are the cornerstone of his work but Day also designs earrings, including mismatched Tahitian pearl drops (from £3,200) in sultry bronze, grey and green, or a showstopping multigem necklace. He can’t wait to show me his latest creation (£25,000) – a huge kite-shaped Afghan tourmaline that changes from blue to green and sits framed in his signature yellow gold. His settings are minimal yet powerful, and are given warmth by the richness of the burnished yellow and rose gold. There’s ingenuity in his simplicity: claws become a design feature, holding a massive stone in a decorative embrace; bands of repeated openwork ovals or hexagons echo a gem’s shape.
Day’s clients include film director Simon Aboud (This Beautiful Fantastic) and the managing director of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group, Max Alexander, who likes the way Day combines traditional forms with exotic flamboyance. “He’s the River Cafe of jewellers,” Alexander tells me. “Everywhere else is disappointing by comparison.” Day says many clients have been with him since he had his first studio in Spitalfields 14 years ago. “It becomes a personal relationship and trust is built up on both sides,” he says. “When I know who the pieces are for, I can make the designs more informed.” Lex Fenwick, former Bloomberg chief executive, says “Ben never mimics other designs or follows fashion. It’s great to see him making the pieces himself.”
Some clients ask Day to look for specific stones and he clearly relishes his role as gem-hunter, bringing treasures from across the world back to his workshop to enrich the colour and community of Columbia Road.