'Tweak'ed On The Rock '

Sunday, August 05, 2018

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Always on the hunt for talent from the Rock, Toronto-based communicator and philanthropist Donette Chin-Loy Chang happened upon Tweak jewellery designer Caroline Bruce of Artful Soul at the Barbados on the Water Festival in Toronto, Canada. Chin-Loy Chang posted a photo of one of Bruce's spectacular pieces and created instant gem envy at the Style Observer (SO) desk. The chip never falls far from the block! SO had, mere hours prior to the post, been speaking to Bruce's aunt Pam, herself a woman of exceptional talent who in the '80s helped to position Jamaican designs on the world stage. The same family is also behind Bruce's Patties. There's nothing quite like connecting the dots when sitting down with a Jamaican.

Caroline Bruce's passion for jewellery was honed in Montego Bay where she lived and worked a decade ago. She describes the collection as funky-elegant boutique jewellery. “Every piece of tweak is a study in colour, texture and a touch of the unexpected. And every piece is a guaranteed compliment,” she said.

“At the risk of sounding trite, I have to confess that I really fall in love with every piece I make. And if public reaction is any indication, everyone is sure to find a piece of tweak that they can't live without. From natural stones to orchid specimens preserved in resin, every component of each piece is carefully and skilfully chosen for maximum impact. I want a woman to see a piece of my jewellery, fall in love with it and not be able to stop herself from wearing it three days in a row! That's the greatest compliment for me.”

Growing up in small town Ontario (Parkhill, to be exact), not exactly the centre of fashion gravity, Bruce explained her early fascination with fashion. “I think I was consistently overdressed for every event, church picnic and piano recital I attended in Parkhill. In fact, I'm pretty sure I still am,” she chuckles. She never studied art in high school, although she did try to take a fashion course only to find the class enrolment too low for it to run in the small high school she attended. Nevertheless, creating was a consistent part of her life and her parents always encouraged her sewing, painting, stamping, and flower-arranging projects.

Post-high school, in true spreading-her-wings form, Bruce left home to attend university in Toronto and get her dose of big city life. The city was good to her; the biology degree she chose to pursue, not so much. It was during this time that a friend introduced her to a wonderful place called a bead store and the love affair began. Refusing to let Organic Chemistry and Immunology get the best of her, Bruce did finish her degree, but not before plotting her next move — a Bachelor of Interior Design at Ryerson University. “I didn't know much about interior design per se, but I did know that I had strong design opinions and a bit of a fascination with business, so I thought interior design would be a good fit for me. And I knew that as a designer I would be expected to look great on the job. This I knew I could live with.” Four years later, degree in hand, Bruce packed up and moved to her father's homeland of Jamaica to design with Sandals Resorts. The love of beads grew through all of these life experiences and she may or may not have loaded her carry-on luggage with upwards of 20kg of beads to take back to Montego Bay. It was in Jamaica that tweak was born.

Upon her return to Canada, Bruce couldn't think of anything she'd rather do than try to make a business out of a hobby she loved so much. She had sold her jewellery to family and friends and even a few people she didn't know, over the years, but it had always been a means to buy more beautiful beads. Could this hobby become her career? Maybe. Armed with encouragement – Bruce took the plunge.

“I try not to make anything I could go out and buy. If I have an idea and then see something similar in a magazine or online, I throw it out or alter it to make it into something totally me,”she said. If she doesn't feel it says “tweak”, it doesn't make it out of the design studio. “I know there are very few new ideas left in the world of jewellery, but I like to think that my colour combinations, compositions and use of materials are at least somewhat unique.” She has a point!

Her creations are available in an Internet boutique, aptly named tweakboutiqueonline.com. She also invites customers to visit her studio to shop by appointment and occasionally exhibits at various shows, both public and by-invitation-only. “I want everyone to be able to get their fix of tweak, but I don't want it to be everywhere.” It may not be the typical capitalist attitude, but so far so good.

— NMW

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