The innovative design approach of Mark Lash

August 25, 2014

Inspired by an architecture concept in Union Square, New York — where an old façade is preserved within a glass box with new buildings erected on top of it — Mark Lash reinvented a worn heirloom wedding ring for a client who had been told by other jewelers it wasn’t worth restoring. Unlike the building in Manhattan, Lash placed the old ring on top of a new one to show off its beauty while strengthening it. He recalls the tears in his client’s eyes when they came to pick up the ring. Lash knew it was “mission accomplished.”

Born and raised in Toronto, Lash’s designs have become synonymous with celebrities and the Red Carpets in Canada and the U.S., including the Juno Awards, the Oscars and the Grammys. He has created pieces for Jeanne Beker, Drake, Shania Twain, Bruno Mars, Rachel Bilson and John Legend.

How does Lash create his innovative pieces for clients across the continent and around the world? He shares this and more in The North American Issue this month.

JILL ADAMS: How did you get involved in the jewelry business?

MARK LASH: I was actually at the University of Toronto, studying to be a dentist. I found that I really enjoyed working with metals and wax, and decided to try to carve some wax into jewelry. I’ve always had a love for jewelry: my mother loved it, so she would ask me to come with her to pick out some pieces, and I was fascinated with the jewelry business.

I started carving wax designs, just for myself, my family and some close friends, and then a lot of people would see [my pieces and ask] if I could design something for them. So I started from a very small shop in my parents’ basement, realized that I had a talent for jewelry design and decided to make it a full-time career. I’ve been doing it now for approximately 30 years.

Do you remember the first piece you designed?

Yeah, it would have been an initial-ring. They were really popular when I was in my late teens, and a lot of students, young men and women would go to the jewelry shops, where the rings would be cut out of block letters. I really liked initial-rings, but I kind of wanted to take it to a different level, so I designed a ring, where the initials were held between two bars of gold. I received a few orders for them in a week, and it just took off from there.

Where do you find the inspiration for your collections and custom designs?

I love to travel to Europe and go to a lot of jewelry trade shows, which are really inspirational because you have people from all over the world showing unique stones and gems — a lot of my pieces are designed around a certain gem.

I also have a construction business; I do interior design and residential construction, so I get a lot of inspiration from architecture.

Your pieces are very popular with celebrities. What sets your designs apart from other Red Carpet pieces?

I think a lot of jewelry that you see on the Red Carpet are ready-made pieces that many of the designers or the fine-jewelry houses have in stock. In my case, a stylist will send me a picture of the dress or the suit that the celebrity is wearing, and I’ll get my inspiration from the fabric and the style. I design the piece according to the outfit.

Mark Lash_1

Lash takes an unusual approach to designing jewelry for celebrities.

Is there anyone you remember being particularly excited to design for?

When I met John Legend’s fiancée [Chrissy Teigen] at the time, she showed me what she was wearing to the Grammys. As soon as I looked at her dress and the neckline, I could see that a very interesting and substantial earring would be more spectacular than any other jewelry around her neck area. Her dress had a little bit of a vintage feel to it, so I designed a very large chandelier earring. I took an older piece that wasn’t salvageable and used all of the old-mine-cut stones, designing a magnificent pair of earrings. When I brought her earrings to their residence in L.A., she was just so excited and said, “This is exactly what I envisioned wearing that evening!”

Can you give us an example of the process of creating one-of-a-kind pieces?

Certainly. I designed a very particular bracelet for Drake when he wrote a song that had lyrics about a black diamond bracelet. It’s known as the Drakelet by Mark Lash. The bracelet has over 2,000 diamonds in it, but I wanted it to be very masculine, so I used white gold that I blackened, and I set black diamonds, as opposed to white diamonds, in the bracelet links. It’s understated, yet quite valuable.

What are some of your most memorable career experiences so far?

My first year going to the Grammy Awards, and going to the Juno Awards in Canada a number of years ago. Dressing a number of up-and-coming celebrities has also been really exciting for me — like Carly Rae Jepsen, who I dressed for the Juno Awards at the start of her career, [as well as] Bruno Mars, who asked me to design a bracelet for him and jewelry for his band for their world tour.

How has your design aesthetic evolved throughout your career?

All of my new ring designs have a beauty mark trademark, which is actually a natural pink diamond that’s set inside the ring. It sets my rings apart from someone else’s. I’ve just recently started doing this.

But there’s no question about it — a lot of my clients bring in pieces that I’ve made for them 20 or 30 years ago, because a big part of our business is re-modelling the design. [I’m surprised when I see some of those pieces] but that was the style back then — very heavy gold and very chunky, with a lot of metal. A lot of my designs now are a little bit finer.

Techniques have changed a lot too: instead of setting diamonds by hand, we now have a microscope technique and are able to set the stones very close together. They pop up more, and there is less metal around them.

Do you have any news that you can share with our readers?

I [recently] opened my Mark Lash store in Toronto, and I’m hoping to open some stores in the U.S. based on the new design of the Toronto store, including the cabinetry and the jewelry displays.

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By Jill Adams
Photography by Aleyah Solomon

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