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How I became a goldsmith and a jewellery designer in Cape Town

I arrived in Cape Town in March 1991 after staying 2 months in Zimbabwe, where I waited to obtain visa to enter South Africa. My country of origin, Bulgaria and South Africa didn’t have diplomatic connection at this time hence the Zim trip. I arrived in Cape Town, hitchhiking from Joburg on 9th of March and decided to stay. My qualifications then didn’t include jewellery designer or  fine jewellery manufacturing.

I have formal education as violin teacher, 5 years of blacksmithing and knife making as well as artisan degree in prospective drilling. The last two years before my SA move I rented a small shop in the Bulgarian resort of Albena. I was making jewellery from horn and bone, which if properly treated resembles ivory. This was my first attempt at jewellery design, although a very different type.  In South Africa I was hoping to find job as an engraver, a skill I was training myself to do, along with the horn and bone jewellery. While looking for a job in Cape Town I was spending quite some time looking at the windows of the jewellery shops.  I was fascinated by the sparkle of the diamonds and gemstones. Jewellery industry was in a toddler state in Bulgaria and this was all very new to me.

I always liked precision craftsmanship and this was as precise as it comes. Unfortunately my knowledge of working in precious metals was close to none and I didn’t think I have a chance there.

Helmold Kohler Master Goldsmith was the shop I was spending most time around.  It was right in the middle of the pedestrian part of the city bowl and the pieces displayed on the window were a class on its own. I had their telephone in my note book along with many others I marked as potential employers, although I never seriously thought of contacting them, bearing in mind my experience in the field. One day, after about two months of job hunting I came about an ad in the newspaper for a goldsmith with experience in fine jewellery manufacturing in which I recognise Kohler’s business telephone.

They had a vacancy but I didn’t have the experience they require neither the courage to give it a try. About a week later I finally found something solid. Paglliari engravers were the biggest company in Cape Town doing trophies, engraving and even coinage. The old Mr. Paglliari was very kind and offered me a trial employment. I was happy. This was a big step towards my goal to stay in the country. Once permanently employed, getting a permanent residence was relatively easy then.

I decided to go and have a drink to celebrate my success and on my way there, stopped again at Kohler’s to admire the displays. Cape Town City is full of beggars, some of them very crafty and all of them good “psychologists”. They can recognise a foreigner miles away (local people were not targeted much)and follow you mumbling, until you give them some money. That day this particular woman got me twice passing by and because (then) I could not say no, relieved me of some of my cash. Now she saw me again watching the jewellery on display and her face lit up sensing another opportunity. Once I heard the familiar mumbling behind my back, almost instinctively I pushed the door and entered the shop. This move put me on the pat of working in the jewellery industry, first as a goldsmith and later as a jewellery designer in my own studio.

I was faced by Mrs Kohler and intimidated or not, had to verbally present my application. Oddly enough, she believed in me and after about 20min, I had another job offer. I stated my two months trial the next day and the job offered by Mr Paglliari was taken by my brother who came to join me  few months later. With my last money I bought a huge book by the name of “Jewellery-Concepts and Technology”. In the trade circles it was known as The Jewellers Bible. After hours I was reading the book and during working hours looking how my colleagues are doing it live in the workshop. I am a fast learner. After six weeks I was told that I will be permanently employed. Two years later I build my own workshop, resigned and started Kirov Jewellery Studio.