Tomasz Donocik could've been a fashion designer. Or a painter, in fact.
A young fine artist hailing from Vienna, he went in search of a skill set that he could potentially make a profession – landing on jewellery at Central St Martins, London. “And 20 years later, I’m still doing it!” he tells us.
Since graduating he’s spearheaded a new way of wearing jewellery, for men in particular (although he designs for women, too). “My most crazy commissions come from men and it’s often for themselves, which I love,” Donocik says. “I started as a mens’ designer, so it’s really close to my heart. Mens jewellery used to be so limited, when I started there was nothing on the market – I remember cable steel jewellery or tribal patterns on cord, that was it. I knew there was much more that could be done.”
His core collection, however, is “for the woman who has won her battles and knows what she wants. My jewellery is not for those who resist temptation, but pursue it – that’s an Oscar Wilde quote, by the way,” he adds, without missing a beat.
Donocik designs jewellery that will stand the test of time. “In my designs, everything is considered – I design both the front and the back of every piece” he explains. “The nature of what I do and how I do it is to create pieces that will be remembered. In 100 years time, if someone picks up the Bladerunner ring, they will have a comment. Whether they like it or not, they aren’t going to look at it and think ‘this is just like every other ring’.”
Here, we get into more detail about that meticulous creative process, talking bespoke briefs, jewellery tech and the personality traits that make for a designer like Tomasz Donocik.
Talk us through your creative process, where does it start?
It always begins in my mind; and I always start with paper and a pencil, nothing beats it. The idea will develop as I draw it out, then most of the time, I just jump into the 3D modelling of it on the computer, because whether it will work in reality is so important. I’m very impatient, always looking and wanting to do the next thing. So, it is actually quite nice to use tech to make that leap.
My passion is in the creative side, so I put more energy into that. I execute the one-offs, the bespoke commissions. But, if I am going to make a repeatable piece, I have the very best people working with me. In fine jewellery, we have to remember that there’s a polisher, a stone setter, a mounter, a caster, there is the designer, and then there’s the maker. There are so many people involved in one piece.
What do you like about traditional jewellery craftsmanship?
Today, everything we do still uses traditional techniques. Obviously, we also have computer-aided jewellery making tools, like lasers and so on. But if you come to my workshop, I’ve got the tools that have been used for the last century. To roll out a piece of metal, you still use a rolling mill. There’s a hammer, a pot of pliers, a file, there’s sandpaper. I mean, sandpaper is from ancient times and it’s still my favourite tool because it gets rid of everything.
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And on the flip side, what’s your favourite innovation in jewellery making tech?
As mentioned, I love 3D modelling. Being a perfectionist, 3D modelling calms me down, because it really can be perfect. Before, I was trying to carve designs in wax and thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’m not going to be able to do 20 of these to look exactly the same!’ There are people out there who love it, but because I’m always running towards the end, 3D modelling helps me achieve what I want.
What inspires your designs?
I like a change of scenery. It might be the colours, it might be the textures, or just the environment. I remember when I went to Japan for the first time, maybe 10 years ago, I was so inspired by the power lines running up and down the street, hanging up in the sky, like a spaghetti of cables – rather than hiding them in the ground. It was amazing.
It’s also the zeitgeist. Sometimes, you do something and then discover someone else is doing something similar. It must be something in the air, or maybe the influence of the media, or maybe we all went to the same exhibition. It’s the vibe of that time. It will be interesting to see what comes out of lockdown. It’s been a very difficult time for everyone, but you can draw on that emotion and put it into your art.
How has the past year impacted you creatively?
I spent lockdown just painting – I’m really in love with watercolour. And I’ve also been doing bespoke projects. I ran a competition on Instagram, where I asked people to tell me their theme and their favourite stone. Then, I picked a person at random and designed something for them.
Her theme was rock ‘n’ roll punk and her stone was emeralds. So I did an earring, which was a cascading safety pin of black diamonds with an emerald at the bottom. It was just a drawing, but it got people really engaged and I was able to keep my focus on creating. It actually sparked a little seed in me for something new. I didn’t realise at the time, but this could potentially be a new avenue – making the client the inspiration. It’s interesting that you can create amazing things, starting from a point where someone else has set the brief.
What parts of your personality are suited to being a jewellery designer?
Once I find an interest and focus, I will not stop. Time will go by and I’ll just be working on the piece. I can focus immensely for 10 hours straight, or even longer if I’m really into it – I don’t even notice that I might be hungry. I get into this kind of rhythm, very much in the moment. But if I don’t have the interest – I’m just watching the clock go by!
What sparks your ideas?
I have so many ideas that I can’t figure out technically yet. I’m working on making some of my pieces as design objects, like drinking flasks. Imagine a beaker made from pink opal and white agate…. It’s going to sit in my head for another year, maybe even longer, until I work out how to get it done. But I don’t mind that, I like to daydream. One day I’ll dream up something else and remember that it suits that idea I had a year ago.
I love to put everything up on my walls – I collected imagery there. It might be something I saw on the internet, or something I photographed on my phone and printed. We’re constantly bombarded with imagery, they come and go too quickly, so it needs to be out there and remembered, otherwise it’s forgotten. In fact, one of the girls who works with me said, ‘Can I tidy this wall up?’ And I was like ‘No, I need my chaos!’.
Which artists are you inspired by?
In terms of colour and chaos, although he wouldn’t say it’s chaos, Mark Rothko. I love his work. Jean-Michel Basquiat is another one of my favourites. And Albrecht Dürer’s super precise drawings. Plus, Frank Stella, of course.
I also love the old-school artists. Growing up in Vienna, my school would do these 24-hour trips to Venice or Florence. We would jump on the night train, wake up in the morning, go to all these museums and see da Vinci, Michelangelo et al, and then head back to Vienna on the same day.
I believe that you need the traditional skills to be able to experiment with the crazy. You need to know how to do the disciplined work, then bastardise it and create something new. Like the amazing abstract painter Jackson Pollock says, you need to know how to do the walking in order to do the running.
What’s the most exciting project you’ve got coming up in 2021?
You know what, I would say working with Lymited. I’m really excited about potentially using this platform to design one-off pieces, creating mega collectibles.