What a gem! The Toni Cavelti fonds

We are pleased to announce that descriptions and accompanying scans for the records of prominent Vancouver-based jeweller Toni Cavelti are now available. The Toni Cavelti fonds contains over 2,400 drawings and design materials, promotional materials, correspondence related to the design of a necklace for Queen Elizabeth, and an unpublished autobiography. We have made a small subset of his drawings and transparencies available on flickr.

A promotional photograph showing a gold necklace.
Reference code: AM1670-S2-F3-: 2016-051.385

Cavelti was born in Illanz, Switzerland in 1931. When he was fifteen he began his apprenticeship with the goldsmith Richard Bolli in St. Gallen, Switzerland. He completed his apprenticeship in 1950. Soon afterward he moved to Geneva and began work at a watch and jewellery atelier in an industrial setting. There he felt unable to fully utilize his skills and expand his craftsmanship. After seeing a painting of the Vancouver Harbour in a display at a hotel, he made the decision to move to Canada. He arrived in Vancouver on June 13, 1954.

Designs from Cavelti’s first workbook, 1946-1950. Photo by Kristy Waller. Workbook described at Reference code AM1670-S1-: 2017-005.03

After his arrival in Canada, Cavelti worked as a goldsmith for another jeweller for just over a year until he had saved enough to open his first shop. Never interested in mass production, he operated his jewellery business with a vision of quality and craftsmanship guiding his practice. Between 1956 and 1999 he ran his jewelry shop and though the location moved, one thing remained; he established connections and friendships with his clients, artists and neighbours wherever he went.

View of Cavelti’s storefront at 692 Seymour Street. He operated out of this location between 1971 and 1991. Reference code: COV-S509-: CVA 778-418

Always in a jacket and a tie, often his white coat, Cavelti maintained a sense of respect for his customers that was central to his business. During one of my conversations with him, he demonstrated the way he would sit down across from a customer and draw a piece for them upside-down so that they could see the drawing as he was completing it. Cavelti considers himself a craftsman and emphasizes that he designed jewellery for his clients, many of whom he maintained very close relationships with over the years.

Drawing by Cavelti showing the necklace he designed for Queen Elizabeth, winner of a Diamonds International Award. Reference code: AM1670-S1-F18-: 2016-051.466

The Toni Cavelti fonds contains over 1850 original drawings of jewellery. Included is the original drawing of the necklace that he designed for Queen Elizabeth. In 1971 the government of British Columbia commissioned him to create the design. He also designed a bracelet for Princess Anne. Princess Anne was ill the day her appearance in the bracelet was scheduled and there are no photographs showing her wearing the design.

Album page showing a quartz brooch by Cavelti that was on display at Goldsmith Hall, London in 1961. Reference code: AM1670-S1-F19-: 2016-051.444

Cavelti had a very successful career and worked hard to make a name for himself in Vancouver. In 1961 he was the only Canadian participant to show work in an exhibition of contemporary jewellery at Goldsmith Hall in London, England. The work shown was a brooch with natural quartz from Switzerland. Cavelti told me that this was his favourite piece he ever designed. He was the recipient of four Diamonds International Awards; considered to be the ‘Oscars’ of the jewellery industry, they are awarded for excellence in diamond jewellery design and craftsmanship. The first award won by Cavelti was for a ring design in 1957 and he was awarded another for a brooch design in 1963. He won his third Diamonds International Award for his necklace design for Queen Elizabeth and his fourth was awarded in 1977 for a pavé-set platinum necklace.

18-carat gold brooch, influenced by the contrast of the density of downtown Vancouver and the natural landscape. Reference code: AM1670-S2-F3-: 2016-051.321

Although Cavelti considers himself a craftsman, his work displays impeccable technique and a unique vision. This style was not only influenced by his training and background, but also by his surroundings. Both the physical and social landscape of Vancouver informed his work. He became friends with local artists and architects and what he learned from them can be seen in his designs.

Gold bear mask pin, design by Bill Reid.
Reference code: AM1670-S2-F3-: 2016-051.461

After a successful and long career, Cavelti sold his company to Birks in 1999. Cavelti continued to design and consult there until early 2008. Since 2008 he has been working on wire sculptures, spending time with his family and managing a building he owns in downtown Vancouver. We would like to thank Toni Cavelti for donating his records to the City of Vancouver Archives, and for his subsequent generous financial support of their description and digitization.

5 responses to “What a gem! The Toni Cavelti fonds

  1. Dennis J Duffy

    This is quite an acquisition — well done!

    I seem to recall that CBC Vancouver made a short film about Cavelti in the mid-to-late 1960s. We used to have it at the BC Archives, until 2000; now it’s back in the vault at CBC.


  2. Dennis J Duffy

    Here’s my description of the film:

    TONI CAVELTI. F1990:12/102

    Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1964
    1 reel (20:30 min. ; 738 ft.) : sd., b&w ; 16 mm.
    SERIES: The 7 O’Clock Show.

    PROD: George Robertson. PH: Doug McKay. ED: Ron Brown.

    DOCUMENTARY: A profile of Vancouver jewellry designer Toni Cavelti. He is seen at work in his store and workshop on Seymour Street, and discusses the intricacies of his craft.
    AIR DATE: 1964 09 10.
    CBUT NO: 131-1 & 121-2; neg box 699.

    102.1 original negative A&B rolls
    102.2-3silent print & master mag sound track

  3. Heather Gordon

    Thanks Dennis – we were thrilled Mr. Cavelti wished to donate his records to us. We have a copy of the film – on optical disc, and hope to make it available soon.

  4. Ruth Volquardsen

    Just a note about my ring. My husband and I purchased our wedding bands at Tony Cavelti’s tiny shop around the corner from the Strand Theatre on Seymour in 1968 – before he moved to the shop half a block down on Seymour. I had read about him, probably in the Sun, and wanted our rings made by him.
    I needed to see Mr Cavelti after we were married because the skin under the ring was beginning to peel. He put tiny holes here and there around the ring and it has worked like a charm ever since. Now I’m almost 82 and a widow and my hands are gnarled. I love my ring and hate the thought of removing it. Guess I’ll go to Birks to have the deed done if and when the time comes that I can no longer wear it..

  5. Michael G. Grice

    I have a man’s gold ‘little finger’ ring and matching cufflinks, designed and made by Mr. Cavelti in the early /mid 70s – (a university graduation present to myself). They are of an atypical design for him, for the time, being a series of joined ovals and heavily textured. I am now, obviously, much older and find myself gazing at them but no longer wearing them as my hands/fingers are arthritic and I can no longer get the ring past swollen knuckles and putting on any cufflinks are an exercise in patience and finger-twisting. Question: What do I do with the set? Should the pieces be appraised before sale? Where, in fact, would I sell them? Should I wait to see if any family members are interested (none so far)? Is there actual value in old/used jewellery? Any advice you can provide would be greatly appreciated. Many thanks, Michael G. Grice

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