“We’re a jewellery store, but we’re jewellers first.”
That’s what Ralph Vanderberg says about his Manulife Place store, and you’ll notice it as soon as you walk in, from the unique pieces on display to the on-site workshop where his designers and master goldsmiths craft them.
But where you’ll feel the Vandenberg difference the most is in the experience of having the perfect piece created.
Step 1: The chat
The first thing Ralph and his team do is get to know you a little bit, because how you live your life will inform the way you wear your jewellery. And since all their people are gem experts, whoever you speak with will know what questions to ask.
For example, if you’re a nurse and have to take your jewellery off a lot, they’d recommend a different style than if you were buying a piece you never planned on taking off.
What you do for fun plays a part as well: athletes and foodies may want smaller pieces that don’t get in the way, while social butterflies may want bigger “conversation-starter” type pieces.
And then, of course, they’ll get to know your design tastes. “Most people come in knowing what they like, but not what they want or what’s even possible,” says Ralph. “After we listen to their story and share some initial thoughts, they get excited.”
Step 2: The sketch
Once Ralph and his team have a general idea of what you want, they’ll do a few “counter sketches” for you right there in the store to get your (and their) mind working.
“Sometimes I’ll do the sketches,” says Ralph. “But all our people are gem experts, so anyone can do it. And because no one here works on commission, there’s no incentive to lead customers down a path they don’t want to go.” Ralph told us about a couple from Calgary who made the trek up to Edmonton because no one down there was capable of showing them exactly what they wanted. “They were amazed at the extra mile we took to help them, but for us, it’s the only way to do it.”
Step 3: The layout
After you choose a sketch you like, it’s taken to the on-site drafting table and recreated as a scale representation of what it could look like. You can be as involved as you want in the details, and the Vandenberg team values the input. “At the end of the day, we want the customer to fall in love with their jewellery. And if that means they have to sit with an artist and direct every stroke of their pencil, then so be it.”
Step 4: The painting
While the sketch and layout are important, neither will show you how the piece is going to look on you. That’s what this final step in the process does.
The team paints a to-scale, full-colour likeness of the piece in water colours on a translucent velum you can hold up to your hand, ear or neckline. “It’s the way Faberge used to do it,” says Ralph proudly.
This unique approach to custom designing jewellery is matched by a unique approach to customer care: they’re one of the few jewellers that doesn’t take deposit. “If you love the final piece, you take it. If you don’t, we’re happy to keep it because we know it will be perfect for someone else.” There are limitations to this guarantee, of course — Ralph referenced a skull-and-crossbones ring that didn’t qualify, but thankfully, those are few and far between.
Vandenberg Jewellers is a Manulife Place mainstay and we love having them here as much as Ralph loves being here: “5,000 people walk by the store every day, but it never feels packed here. We can take the time with clients without keeping others waiting too long.”
Although, when you walk out with the final piece, you’ll see it was worth every second.