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In the 47 years James Bradshaw has been in business in Halifax, he’s worked out of four or five locations, but he likes this one best.
“I used to walk by this corner every day, stand across the street (and say) ‘Wow, look at that great little corner. That would be a great store,” he says of the corner of Birmingham and Queen streets, where he’s been for 23 years.
In fact, Bradshaw likes the spot so much he bought the building. You have to like the place you work when you’re an independent goldsmith because you’re going to spend a lot of time alone. There’s not that much foot traffic, but luckily Bradshaw’s customers spend a lot of money.
“The nature of the beast is expensive,” he said. “I don’t have anything in the store, really, under a thousand dollars. This gold bracelet is $3,400, solid gold, they’re running that kind of money now with the price of gold.”
When Bradshaw opened his business, gold sold for $120 an ounce. Today it’s over $2,000, and he has sold creations of his for $100,000 or more.
“Some people have a lot of abundance.”
Bradshaw, who turns 71 in November, will retire in February and as the news gets out, customers are “coming out of the woodwork.”
“‘Oh my God, I need this done, I need this fixed, I want to change this.’ I thought I could roll out of here quietly and roll into retirement, but I guess I’m going to go out kicking and screaming,” he said.
Bradshaw was living in Vancouver when he got into a goldsmith apprentice program, though with no plan of making it his life’s work.
“I had no idea that was going to happen. It’s funny about the destiny of things,” he said. “I obviously had a bit of a natural talent for it. I’m more or less self taught, don’t have any schooling to speak of, but my stuff is fairly simple.”
Having started in the jewelry business by selling his wares at craft shows, which taught him he needed to get his own store, Bradshaw and his wife bought an old van and started driving across Canada.
“I had a little fold-up jewellery bench and we were doing craft shows and stuff, ended up in Halifax,” he remembered of that time in the mid ’70s. “People were really wonderful here ... and we also ran out of money.”
Bradshaw has digital photos of 1,200-1,300 pieces he’s done to show customers to give them an idea of what’s possible. He then makes wax models of rings for the customer to approve before he starts melting gold for them. He has jars of little pellets of gold on his workbench that he buys from Canadian smelters.
“Rather than take it out of the earth. I like the principle of that,” he said. “My pieces are fairly heavy. Everything is custom. In Halifax, I’m probably one of the only ones who does this style of jewellery. We’ve really created a niche. I do my thing, and I’m not offended if someone doesn’t like it, I’ve got all kinds of competitors doing all kinds of stuff.”
Calling himself “a pretty serious diamond authority,” Bradshaw says when he builds a diamond ring for a lady, he’s making it for her to wear for 50-70 years so “much of selling a diamond to somebody is educating them on what they’re spending their money on.”
Bradshaw loves building the jewellery, but says it’s the relationships with customers he’ll miss most in retirement. Partly to make sure they’re looked after, he’s trying to find someone to take over the business.
“Failing at it so far. It frustrates me so badly, because it’s such an opportunity for another goldsmith to come in here ... the old man takes his name off the door, takes his stock out, and the new goldsmith comes in and puts his name on the door,” he said. “This business is like my child, I created it.”