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Natural talent

Award-winning Whistler jewelry maker finds inspiration in her surroundings
wearable art Award-winning jewelry designer Justine Brooks will have her pieces displayed at Ruby Tuesday as part of the ArtWalk this summer. Photo submitted

What is the mark of a fine piece of jewelry?

Cut of diamond? Carat of gold? How about whether it started out as an appetizer?

One of the most compelling pieces in Whistler designer Justine Brooks's burgeoning brand is a ring shaped like a tiny octopus. She plucked the live version from bins at the T&T Supermarket in Vancouver and wheels started turning.

"I often used to go through Chinatown because I'm always looking for interesting textures," Brooks says. "I take the actual organic object and that burns away and the molten metal gets injected in there."

The process is called lost wax casting and she's created necklaces and earrings with everything from leaves to pinecones. The objects have to be sturdy enough (she's still trying to master a flower), but there are few requirements beyond that. For pieces like her anatomical heart, paper plane and deer antlers, she carves an object out of wax.

"I'm working on my fall collection right now," she says. "One of the things I'm doing is a butterfly pendant. I'm trying to get colour into the wings. This is the first time I'm trying to work colour in subtly so it's not too bright, but still has a bit of flair."

With a background studying ceramics at Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver (she just finished designing an alumni ring for that school), Brooks's first encounter with jewelry design was during a trip in the Himalayas. She stumbled upon a one-day silversmithing class and decided to check it out. "There was no electricity and the silver had just come out of the earth in its raw form," she says. "That was my first hands-on experience."

Eventually, she enrolled in a formal jewelry design program at Vancouver Community College (where she was awarded an outstanding alumni honour recently) and launched her career full-time creating pieces shortly after. Since then, she's had her work featured in magazines like Good Housekeeping and Western Living (where she won designer of the year) and sold in stores around B.C.

Though Brooks has long traveled to Whistler to participate in the Bizarre Bazaar, she only moved here last fall after becoming engaged to a local doctor (whom she met at that event). All of these experiences — along with her travels — inspire her pieces, she says. Her soon-to-be husband's career led to her anatomical heart locket, Whistler prompted a snowflake and a trip to Alberta led to an antler necklace, for example.

"I'm thinking about doing a spine and a pelvis for my fall line," she adds.

While her pinecone earrings have been a top seller, she was pleased to discover the more eccentric pieces — like the heart — were also a hit. "It's definitely a niche market," she says. "But it's nice when you do something niche and people love it and want it."

Locally, she's represented by the White Dog Studio Gallery and her pieces are currently featured at Ruby Tuesday in the village as part of the ongoing ArtWalk. "That's exciting because I've wanted to sell there for a while," she says. "It's been a nice introduction to get a foot in the door there."

For more visit her website at