For decades, Montreal jeweller Gloria Bass has been a name in the male-dominated field of jewelry design. Her signature inter-changeable stacking rings, intricately woven coil pieces, baroque pearls and chunky gemstone rings and bracelets are easily recognizable as “Gloria Bass designs.”
Bass has been building her reputation and brand since the late 1970s, when she returned to Montreal from a sojourn in California, where her husband was furthering his studies and she was exploring the creative arts that eventually led her to jewelry making. The store and workshop that she opened in the late 1980s on Greene Avenue in Westmount (after six years on Queen Mary Road), is a go-to destination for anyone who appreciates fine jewelry design.
Although she no longer does bench work – she supervises jewellers onsite who do that – she is as busy as ever designing new collections and custom pieces. These typically include contemporary-style necklaces, and earrings, 18-karat gold (yellow, white and rose) stacking rings; chunky rings and multi-textured bracelets; and intricately woven coil pieces that are among her signatures.
She loves gemstones and uses them all: sapphires (blue as well as pink, yellow and orange), rubies, emeralds, diamonds and dozens of others, in all shapes and cuts. She smiles: “They have to inspire lust.”
More than 50 per cent of Bass’s work is custom-made jewelry, and she just launched an online store at www.gloriabassdesign.com.
“I like to push the envelope…and, then, push a little more,” she says. The word “retirement” is not in her vocabulary. “I am closed on Mondays,” Bass says. “That’s my homage to retirement. I have a list a mile long of pieces I want to make.”
Her success dates back to her time in San Diego in the late 1970s and a used book she bought toward the end of her two-year stay there. The book showcased the work of artists using textile techniques to create jewelry. She was so taken with the work of one of the artists that she tracked him down and persuaded him to give her private lessons. “A lot of his work was in coil,” she recalls. “It was right up my alley. It changed the course of my life.”
She went from there to study jewelry-making and metal work at the renowned Penland School of Craft in North Carolina. When she returned to Montreal, she set up a work bench in her home and started experimenting with coil work. She also began designing her own pieces for private clients. When a member of the Bronfman family bought one of her coil pieces slated to be part of a joint exhibition at the Canadian Guild of Crafts before the show had even opened, she knew she was doing what she was meant to do.
Bass taught jewelry-making and was head of the jewelry department at the Saidye Bronfman Centre for 12 years. She went on to apprentice with famed Montreal jeweller Johnny Blackwood, who insisted she work in gold, refining her skills even more. “I stayed with him for six years, and absorbed it all, before going out on my own,” Bass says.
Over the more than 40 years she has been designing jewelry, trends have come and gone. Today, she says, people are dressing up less, and that can be a challenge when it comes to them wearing jewelry. But she is grateful for her success, both past and ongoing.
“What’s really wonderful is when people tell me ‘It’s a Gloria Bass’,” she says. “It’s still a thrill when I go to charity events or galas and I see something I have made.” •
Gloria Bass Design
1361-1 Greene Ave., Westmount 514-933-7062 www.gloriabassdesign.com