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Jewellery designer Shawna Basque does her own East Coast thing

The jewellery industry is a facet of fast fashion that has typically flown under the radar. But like fast fashion clothing, consumers are recognizing that there are also issues with unethical and non-sustainable jewellery that can take the zing out of your bling.

Metalsmith and jeweller Shawna Basque believes that in making pieces that are timeless, she has found a way to be kinder to the environment and the pocketbook.

“I make heirloom quality pieces,” says Basque from her new home studio in Simms Settlement, NS, near the tony South Shore village of Chester. “The jewellery I design and make is built to last, but I also believe everyone deserves to have something beautiful, and I do my best to create pieces that are also affordable.”

It’s a philosophy that seems to work well for Basque. When she was 27, a stroke changed the way she did a lot of things. In her mid-40s, she returned to school to study art at the
New Brunswick College of Craft & Design in Fredericton.

Basque lived most of her life in New Brunswick. Her family moved from Windsor, ON, to the Maritime province when she was 15 years old. She lived there until her move to Nova Scotia last year.

Working in several different sectors, including several years as an event planner in New Brunswick, she always had the desire to go back to school and create. In 2016 she had an opportunity that she couldn’t refuse. The New Brunswick government had launched a new bursary for low- and middle-income families. 

Designer Shawna Basque

“I would never have gone back to school and be an entrepreneur today if I didn’t have this chance at free tuition. It changed a lot of things,” says Basque. “Because I didn’t have experience in this field, I had to take a year of visual arts. I learned so much that year about design theory that is very much part of my process.”

In the spring of 2020, she graduated with a degree in jewellery and metal arts.

Not long after graduation, in the early days of the pandemic, Basque started working on her first collection of jewellery and the concepts behind her own brand name, Shawna Basque, plus a personally handcrafted production line called Sterling Coast Designs.

“I work mostly with silver, and I have lived on both coasts at one time or another, so that’s where I found my name,” explains Basque.

While she does some work in gold, mostly commissioned pieces, silver is her favourite.

“Silver has so many interesting properties. I love working with it,” she adds.

Basque says she only buys Canadian silver. Like the rest of us, she’s seen costs climb, and she watches the market carefully. “A big order can almost clear my bank account, but I know where it comes from and that is important to me,” she says.

While it took a long time, she now thinks of herself as a Maritimer. She finds inspiration for her designs in the coast and from the surrounding water. She has about 50 different product lines and many of them reflect the sea and the shifting patterns of life.

Asked how she describes the style of her work, she laughs. “Somewhere between Jackie O and Lara Croft from Tomb Raider,” she says. “I love working with silver and pearls but there is always a little something unexpected that happens with each design. It might sound funny, but sometimes these pieces just build themselves.”

Meet each of the makers in our Made Right Here 2023 series in the video below

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