Life, often the mistress of inexplicable whimsy, rarely unfolds as one would expect, yet somehow, puzzling so, we actually end up exactly where we are meant to be. For Rafka Koblence, former Israeli National Wrestling Champion and Olympian in training, this could not be more true. Deciding not to join his team at the 1972 Munich Olympics and move to the USA instead, he soon learned of the devastating terrorist attack that murdered his former teammates and coach. Completely shocked and heartbroken he vowed to stay in America and forge a new path. Remembering his past love of the work from Carl Fabergé, the world renown Russian haute jewelry designer, Rafka began a new life, first in Boston, and then later in New York City, training his eye and honing his skill. In 1996 Rafka & Co. was founded.
His American Dream is still coming true as he celebrates twenty five years creating his own collection and specializing in custom creations using his extreme attention to detail and his master jeweler’s standards of excellence. Rafka’s vision of fine jewelry utilizes modern technology and almost-forgotten artisanal techniques. He strives to offer old-world craftmanship with unparalleled quality and pure aesthetic pleasure. Forever inspired by the timeless work and immense talent of Peter Carl Fabergé, Rafka strives to bring dedicated craftsmanship and detail to today’s high jewelry aficionado.
We had the opportunity to talk with Rafka about his work and his latest collection.
Your work is inspired from vintage jewelry designs; which era is your favorite?
The two eras from which I draw the most inspiration are the Victorian and the Edwardian periods of jewelry making. Jewelry from the Victorian era is suffused with complexity and workmanship that exists in parity when compared to other contemporary periods. The Edwardian era has intricate detail, the introduction of platinum, and beautiful filigree as the common denominators that set it apart.
Coming from such a contrasting background how has your experience as a jewelry designer developed?
Since getting involved in the precious stone business in 1979, aspirations began in me to create jewelry which I finally was able to start doing in 1996. I gained experience challenging myself to design and create more complex and detailed pieces using higher quality materials for custom commissions.
The Dream Catcher Collection is your latest design. What was your inspiration?
The Dreamcatcher collection began as an epiphany one night several years ago after suffering for weeks of restlessness. I envisioned a dreamcatcher, with all its entangled wires and complexity swooping down to take my dreams away. The enthralling aspect of the dreamcatcher is the complex network of entangled wires, through the chaos one can’t find where the wire begins or ends and yet it creates a beautiful pattern.
You also do custom creations. What is it like to work closely with a client and how long does it usually take for a custom jewelry piece to be completed?
One of the most key aspects of creating custom commissions is the relationship between myself as the designer and the client. I first listen with close attention to the client’s intent and desired outcome for the commissioned work and make sure to create something that not only meets their requirements but exceeds their expectations. The time depends on the complexity, detail, and level of workmanship required to create the piece(s), generally once the design is final 4 to 8 weeks is the average time to bring what’s in my mind to reality.
Do you have a favorite gem that you like to work with?
I love working with all gems and precious stones, especially since I began this career buying and selling the best quality gems I could find. However, Colombian Emeralds will always hold a special place in my heart for their unique intensity of color, luster, and mystique.
Over your decades of experience what has been one of your most memorable moments?
My son Phillip, a graduate of UPENN, had one of his closest friends, Scott, come to me when they both decided to get engagement rings for their fiancees’. His friend, a young lawyer, wanted to get remarried to a beautiful young woman from Eastern Europe. I never met her, and I only had a picture of her left hand holding a champagne flute to go off of for sizing. He gave me his budget and showed me what style of ring and stone he wanted to guide my design. I believed that his choices in style of ring and stone together lacked elegance. So I told him I would make him a ring of my own design and if he didn’t think it was the perfect ring then he had no obligation to purchase it and I would be happy to make another ring to his liking. Ultimately when he eventually laid eyes upon the ring I had designed and created for him and his soon-to-be wife he was immediately brought to tears. As soon as he left my office, my son Phillip called me perplexed inquiring if the ring I had made for his friend was per chance nicer than the one I made for him several months before.
How are you able to recreate haute jewelry pieces with the feeling of a bygone era in today’s manufacturing abilities since vintage jewelry is known for its intricate detailing and fine craftsmanship?
What I cherish and use from the bygone eras are the intricate attention to detail and fine hands-on craftsmanship. I achieve that by sparing neither time, nor effort, or expense in combining the old know-how and new cutting-edge technologies to create the perfect piece or collection that I envision. The goal is to use the old ways in combination with the new to create pieces and heirlooms that are suffused with timeless mystique and intrinsic value.
Which of your designs is your favorite so far?
Because no two pieces in my repertoire are alike, each of them holds a special place within my heart. My creations, crafted by hand, each contain within them a piece of me, my soul, as they all were original and classical inspirations successfully brought to life.
Do you have any advice for young jewelers who would like to follow their passion for design?
To young and aspiring jewelers I say the following: Find what kind of jewelry you are passionate about and the rest will fall into place. There is a veritable ocean of creations out there, don’t be afraid to stand out and discover ways to set yourself apart from the rest. Developing the individuality of your creations is the foundational key to success in the modern jewelry world.