Looking up from the laser welder he is using to repair the claws on a customer’s diamond ring, jeweller Geoff Bourdon of Woodland Jewellers Ltd. smiles.
“If my grandfather had this when he worked here, I would have never been able to use it,” Bourdon says of the welding machine. “He would have loved it.”
As Woodland Jewellers Ltd. prepares to celebrate its 80th anniversary, Bourdon and Woodland CEO Cindy Watt are enjoying comparing old technology with the new. Some things change, while others stay the same.
“We continually keep up with the cutting edge because that’s where my grandfather and my great-grandfather’s passion was when they were doing it,” Bourdon says.
When Bourdon, 28, joined the business, his grandfather Ralph Woodland had been retired for about 10 years.
“I picked up where he left off,” Bourdon says. “I went in, dusted off the shop and started it back up.”
Today he uses some of the tools his grandfather and great-grandfather Tony Woodland used.
“My grandfather would have done jewellery repair with a torch and solder,” Bourdon said. “Even though I still use that today for a lot of applications because traditionally it’s still the best way to do it, I also love my heatless laser welder, which I’ve been using for four years.”
The laser welder has become one of the primary tools in modern jewellery making, he explains.
It doesn’t have solder in it, it’s actually a pure joint of gold.
“That way the jewellery is a bit stronger and I have more control because it’s finer work done under a microscope,” he says.
Watt says even changes in wrist watches has been fun to observe. In the beginning watches did not have batteries, and after years of using batteries, many of them are now solar.
“Technology has evolved and reverted,” she adds.
Watt’s father and grandfather were watch inspectors for the Pacific Great Eastern Railway and its employees.
“My dad and grandfather used to take apart each piece, oil, remake parts, and then put them back together,” Watt says.
Today the Citizen watches they sell keep on time by a radio ping to the atomic clock in Denver, Colorado.
“In some of them they have a quartz crystal and the watch measures how fast it bounces back and forth,” Bourdon says.
Old watches had a tuning fork that would time the vibration, whereas the new watches will regulate themselves daily.
“I do use two of the original watch benches in the workshop,” he says.
Compared to the past, there is a wider variety of gem stones available because new gems are always being discovered.
“I have examples of things in the shop that had never been found before,” Bourdon says.
Jewellery making is also more technical than it was before, the two point out.
Where old-school jewellers might have guessed about weights, today some of the alloys are measured to half a percent for how accurate they are in the mixes.
Ethics in the business are also changing and Watt has seen one Canadian manufacturer change his plant to focus on manufacturing Canadian gold and diamonds.
“The Canadian Diamonds and Gold program is the only one fully certifying origin and ethical practice of all gem stones,” Bourdon explains.
While the store hosts four generations of cases and hand-written ledgers from as far back as the 1940s are on site, both insist some things have not changed.
No matter how advanced technology is, the customer still needs someone they can trust to know they are getting what they want, Bourdon suggests.
To celebrate its 75th anniversary five years ago, the business donated a custom designed Woodland anniversary ring for a raffle in support of the Cariboo Memorial Hospital Foundation.
They’ve continued ever since and to date the initiative has raised $39,000.
Bourdon has designed each anniversary ring to reflect an aspect of cancer. This year’s ring is a light yellow green centre diamond.
As if he’s working in a restaurant, Bourdon describes its diamonds ‘colours as cognac, champagne and chocolate.
The community has always been important to the Woodland family and the hospital in particular.
Tony served on the hospital board for more than 20 years and his family volunteered there for many years.
Raffle proceeds go to the purchase of cancer detecting equipment.