It was a Steveston Village stroll in 2011 that transformed Sasha Shkolnik’s career. Originally from the Ukraine, she had been living in BC with her partner Leon, studying jewelry design and burnishing her goldsmithing skills while working with some of Vancouver’s most prominent jewellers. Operating a home-based studio on the side, she was also developing her artistic vision along the way.
But while the idea of one day owning her own storefront jewelry boutique seemed possible, it wasn’t until the couple found themselves walking on the 3500-block of Moncton Street that the dream suddenly became real. “There was a place for rent and it just started calling to me,” says Sasha. “We already loved the village and the timing seemed right—it all just fell into place really quickly.”
Sasha and Leon inside the store. | Photo: John Lee
Starting from scratch
Opening soon afterwards and launching with private commissions and displays of Sasha’s own work, Juvelisto—the Esperanto word for ‘jeweller’—has since evolved into a must-visit magnet for local and visiting jewelry fans. And while it still showcases Sasha’s unique creations, a selection of highly diverse work by around 25 other artists from Canada and beyond also populates the sparkling display cases.
But that’s not all. Juvelisto’s bright, inviting interior—think swirling ironwork accents and rustic wood surfaces—now houses its own team of expert goldsmiths, many of them working on custom designs or transforming old pieces with fresh new ideas. There’s even an adjoining workshop space where locals and visitors can create their own items via a series of accessible hands-on classes.
A glimpse inside the shop. | Photo: Leon Shkolnik
Since day one, the lion’s share of work at Juvelisto Design—where the unofficial motto is ‘Be Different’—has been custom projects. These personally designed rings, pendants or other items result from in-depth discussions with individual customers looking for enduring, one-of-a-kind pieces they will feel deeply connected to.
A custom-designed wedding ring. | Photo: Leon Shkolnik
But uniqueness is also the foundation of the store’s ready-to-wear pieces. Its display cases are teeming with tempting treasures created in-house or by artists handpicked for their top-quality original work. “These items are bold and striking and they’re not really for everyone,” says Sasha. “They are for people who are creative and artistic themselves, and who are looking for something different that fits their style.”
A gold ring with lemon quartz tanzanite and diamonds. | Photo: Leon Shkolnik
Her own designs exemplify that approach. “I like to feel free and express myself as an artist,” she explains. “I’m inspired by my travels, by what I see in nature and by my admiration for certain shapes.” That includes a collection—themed around the organic, sinuous shapes of pods and nuts—that she has honed for several years. It includes everything from silver pendants shaped like split-open walnuts with bejeweled interiors to slender ‘pea pods’ enclosing neat rows of shiny pearls.
One of Sasha's organic designs. | Photo: Leon Shkolnik
How to choose
While her own work has continued evolving over her 23 years as a professional goldsmith, Sasha says the tastes and interests of jewelry shoppers has also changed. “People are more and more interested in finding something unique these days. They’re fed up with seeing the same things everywhere. And I think that’s something that sets us apart—that’s become our niche.”
A necklace from the barnacle collection. | Photo: Leon Shkolnik
Not that choosing the perfect item is always easy—especially if you’re buying a gift (yes, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner). Juvelisto’s friendly staff is always available to assist, of course, but Sasha also has some advice if you’re looking for a great present for a loved one. “Buying something connected with their birthstone is a good idea. You can also look at their existing jewelry to see what they like. It’s really about listening to you partner and showing that you know them well.”
A sapphire and diamond ring. | Photo: Leon Shkolnik
But if you just can't make up your mind, why not buy them a gift certificate so they can take a class and create their own item? Juvelisto's classes—under their School of Metal Arts banner—launched five years ago, when another slice of luck gave the business an opportunity to expand.
That’s when the adjacent shop closed down, leaving Sasha and Leon wondering who their new neighbours would be. “People had been asking us about classes ever since we opened, so we decided to take over the space and turn it into a workshop.”
The adjoining School of Metal Arts space. | Photo: Leon Shkolnik
The timing also worked for Leon, who had been considering a career change. Officially joining the business and taking over many of the technical and management duties, his first task was building the workshop. “I spent months designing that workbench,” he chuckles. “It’s a single piece of old wood, probably Douglas fir.”
Now, there’s a full slate of sociable classes on offer, suitable for beginners and beyond. With themes such as rings, pendants, and even gem-carving, they’ve been very popular, says Sasha. “Each class is project-based so you design and create an item from scratch, usually in sterling silver. The materials and tools are provided, and you get to take something special home with you.”
Sasha herself has never stopped exercising her creative muscles. “I want to try so many things. I still think and dream about jewelry all the time,” she says, adding that she couldn’t do it without Juvelisto’s amazing six-person team plus the support of locals and the visitors that come through her door. “I wasn’t born in Steveston but I have a great feeling of belonging here. I feel that I’ve found my place in the sun.”