Jeweller back in operation


The fire that extensively damaged his gallery hasn’t dampened jeweller Les Riddel’s enthusiasm for working in the Cromwell Heritage Precinct.

On November 26 the restaurant owned by Armando Varlotta and adjoining Objects of Art gallery owned by Mr Riddel went up in flames.

Firemen believed insulation on a fridge melted, causing wires to cross, begin smouldering, which then turned into a blaze, Mr Riddel said.

Normally the restaurant would have been open, but Mr Varlotta had decided to close early because of the exceptionally hot temperatures.

This was not the first time Mr Riddel had dealt with fire in his business, saying he had experienced three other incidents.

“The first one was in my workshop in Belleville, Ontario.”

Mr Riddel had a large display area in the basement of a department store.

“The building beside us burned down, and when the firemen came to put it out, all the water they used to put out the fire drained into my store.”

When Mr Riddell came to work the next day, there was so much water it was up to his armpits.

“My cabinets were floating all over the place, my furniture was all floating and of course there was no power on, it was all dark, it was like going into a bizarre cavern,” Mr Riddel said.

Previous experience guided Mr Riddel when it came to his current gallery.

“When dealing with this I kinda knew what I was in for,” he said.

A Portacabin was dropped off in December, and power was back on a few days before Christmas.

New signage directed people to the temporary gallery inside the Portacabin.

“I have quite a large group of people waiting for things to be done, but I haven’t had any cancellations, so people have been incredibly understanding.”

The majority of the work Mr Riddel did was bespoke jewellery, working with clients to create personal pieces

“I specialise in recycling customers’ old jewellery, making new jewellery out of it.”

When couples came in looking for wedding rings but didn’t have a lot of money to spend, Mr Riddel advised them to ask family members for pieces that might be broken or tucked away in a drawer, and he found creative uses for old pieces.

Mr Riddel used a wide range of materials beyond typical ones like gold and silver.

“Wood, plastic, bone, antler, ivory, platinum, palladium, stainless steel, titanium, I’ve done all kinds of strange and wonderful things,” he said.

“I carved a lady’s hip bone one day. She’d had a hip replacement.”

Despite the fire,Mr Riddel was very happy with living and working in Cromwell and had plans to become a wedding celebrant.

“I’ve had experiences where not only have they wanted to get engaged right after seeing the jewellery, they want to get married as well,” he said.

Mr Riddel wasn’t sure when gallery renovations would begin, but was positive about the buildings’ owner, the Old Cromwell Town Society.

“They have been extremely good about helping getting everything back and running,” Mr Riddel said.

Charred remains . . . jeweller Les Riddel, shows the fire damage to his gallery and workshop in the Cromwell Heritage Precinct. PHOTOS: SIMON HENDERSON
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