Since his youthful quest for rock ’n roll stardom in Hollywood, Victor Velyan has shaken up his life many times.
To supplement the rock ’n roll career, Velyan ran errands for a jeweler. He had an artistic inclination, so after the idea of a music career had run its course, he signed on as an apprentice for the master jeweler for two years. The jeweler was a tough teacher, telling Velyan he would never amount to anything and not letting him even touch anything for months. Still, the first time Velyan made a piece of jewelry with his own hands, his teacher cried.
Velyan became very successful as a designer, diamond setter and bench jeweler, but his early career was spent making jewelry for other designers. His business was growing rapidly but — still in his 20s — he was both bored and burned out, when he went on a safari with friends in Africa. When he got home, he was compelled to go back. “I had fallen in love with Africa, which happens to a lot of people the moment they set foot on that continent,” he explains.
He left a partner in charge of the business, bought a one-way ticket to Zimbabwe and spent the next 12 years leading safaris.
Eventually, he returned, got married, and tried to behave like “a responsible adult.”
The turning point in his relationship with jewelry came the moment he perfected a proprietary patina technique he had experimented with for some time. He diluted metals like copper — often waiting a year or two for the copper to dissolve in acid — and then painting that copper and acid mixture on silver. He discovered that it brought the copper back to life from mineral to metal and created interesting stains on the pure silver he loved to work with. He uses a green patina, a brown patina and an antique ivory patina. The green patina in particular is called a “living” patina because it continues to evolve with the wearer. “It’s an Old World line made with simple, handmade tools and that patina on top of everything,” he says.
“Finally, I had created something I was proud to put my name on. That was the drug I had been searching for.”
“I wasn’t sure how the industry would receive that — fine jewelry with green stains all over it. Literally, it looks like it came out of a shipwreck.” But it caught on quickly after one jewelry storeowner took a chance on it.
Once it did take off, the sky was the limit as far as his imagination was concerned. “I went nuts with it,” he says. “I came up with so many designs that I couldn’t keep up.”
“Finally, I had created something I was proud to put my name on. That was the drug I had been searching for. Since that day, I have been super-excited about work. I can’t wait to get up in the morning and get my ass to work.”
He also adapted his designs into gold for people who didn’t get the shipwreck vibe, or said they don’t wear silver.
“But my passion is still for the really cool lady who will wear that piece — that looks like it came from Cleopatra’s jewelry collection — with jeans and a T-shirt.”
By crafting his own unique pieces with the quality of timeworn relics, the restless artist had at last found the key to his creative passion and a cure for boredom and burnout.
“I love colored gemstones,” he says. “But I’m still a bench guy. I love to sit at the bench and pound things. Everything is handmade. There are no CAD/CAMS, no programs. Everything looks like it’s a thousand years old. Metalsmithing is probably still my favorite part.”
Ring with 14.80-carat cabochon paraiba tourmaline with diamonds (0.88 TCW) in 18K gold, $92,400
Bracelet with pearls and diamonds (3.19 TCW) with 24K gold and 18K gold, $38,500
Ring featuring a freshwater pearl surrounded by diamonds (0.33 TCW) in 24K gold and sterling silver with green patina, $11,000
Q&A With Victor Velyan: Expanded Online Content
What is your secret talent?
I cook. That's my talent and my hobby. I only took one cooking lesson in my entire life, but I can come and find whatever is in your refrigerator – old vegetables – and create a gourmet meal. I can also eat in a restaurant and identify seven out of 10 spices in a dish mankind of come close to it and make it.
What other hobbies have you pursued?
I'm an avid scuba diver and I have dived around the whole world, remote places where you use a dugout canoe and have a 12 year old as a guide. I have always wanted to see the migration of hammerhead sharks, where there are thousands in the water. I tried it for many years unsuccessfully and finally found them seven or eight years ago in Mexico. I found the entire migration, and I got bit by one of those hammerheads. It wasn't the end of the world. It was a scratch. But when I surface, my arm won't stop bleeding. I take a picture and send it to my agent and her first reaction is not how are you, but what happened to all the artwork (on my tattooed arm.) I did enjoy that experience.
What piece or pieces of jewelry do you wear all the time?
I wear a leopard claw around my neck that I made a gold cap for many years ago. My life has been very interesting and Africa was a big part of it. I also wear a rosary that I made with red spinels that is so freaking unique. Twenty one matching red spinels from Burma; it took me seven years to collect those. I wear that at least once a week.
What do you like to shop for?
I collect other artists, other jewelers, paintings. I also paint and sculpt myself. I'm very involved in the art world from performing arts all the way to still life.
What are some of your inspirations?
Architecture, music, nature, travel, unique cultures, history and fine art.
Are you the most interesting man in the world?
My life has been very interesting, and I do drink Dos Equis.
When did your artistic talent first make itself known?
When kids were making snakes out of Play-Doh in kindergarten, I was sculpting an elephant.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Hollywood. You'd see me walking down the Sunset Strip with a bottle of Jack Daniels. That's what I was doing in the '80s.
This article originally appeared in the November 2017 edition of INSTORE.