5 years ago, when I first moved to Norwich, I was given a ring that belonged to my great grandmother. It was very old and fragile, and the stone in the middle kept falling out. Chatting to a friend, they recommended that I visit a jewellers on the corner of Dove Street, who would be able to help me. I’d seen this place before: it stands out amidst other jewellers in the city for its modern, dark exterior, and clean, uncluttered displays which are mounted on plinths that almost – but not quite – take your eye away from the workbench that exists inside the small, open plan shop.
This shop had always seemed intriguing: it was clearly as much a studio as it was a retailer. Going in one morning, Sonkai not only resized the ring, but also re-set the stone so that it remained in place and the ring was able to go on public outings instead of just sitting in an ancient box in my sock drawer. Even then – coming in with a small request, with something that probably wasn’t worth a lot to anyone but me – the staff were friendly, generous with their advice and meticulous in their work.
This level of care, personable service and dedication to quality is the beating heart of Sonkai, and has been since they first opened in 2006, on Norwich’s Exchange Street.
Now, 11 years later, you’ll find them on Dove Street, creating and selling beautiful, contemporary pieces designed and produced in-house, as well as retailing a selection of other jewellery from around the world that complements the shop’s contemporary yet effortlessly warm aesthetic. There are no salespeople in the shop either; when you visit you’ll always be dealing with a skilled professional. The whole business revolves on an axis of creating exceptional work all under one roof, and this is what makes Sonkai incredibly special.
This ethos runs to their roots too. The shop was born after Craig – a goldsmith trained in Johannesburg – was given the opportunity to take ownership of the Jeweller’s shop he was working in at the time. Against all realistic odds, and with no small amount of risk, Craig got together the funds to buy the shop. Alongside him was Sara, who agreed to help Craig after meeting him 5 months previously. Together - and with virtually no money - they spent the daytime working in the shop, building the workbenches and staying until midnight painting, cutting, and making window displays. The name of the new shop was ‘Sonkai’, meaning ‘gold’ in Romany, and within the ‘o’ of their name was a dot in the centre: symbolic of gold in alchemy.
5 years later the business re-located to where it currently stands, on a cobbled corner where Dove Street meets Pottergate. The shop is currently comprised of 3 more staff alongside Craig and Sara: 2 designers who create both hand-drawn and CAD designs, and an apprentice who works alongside Craig to repair, restore and create bespoke pieces. The proximity of the team means that with every piece, and on each commission, designers are working right beside makers to create work that is beautiful and technically perfect at the same time.
As well as making work on commission, Sonkai have a beautiful range of jewellery that’s ready to buy, including three of their own ranges which have been designed and made right in the shop:
The form of these pieces is soft and rounded, using a mix of metals in a way that feels elegantly understated and earthy. Pieces in the collection come in a range of metals, so if you see something you like, talk to one of the team about the different options available.
With a more irregular, hard finish than the Pebble collection, the metals in the Flint collection are carved to create a deep hammering effect. This looks captivating on their rings, where textured bands offset sparkling stones (as pictured in the title image of this post).
The most popular of Sonkai’s collections, the Reed range is the most feminine of the three. Again available in a variety of metals upon request, Reed combines delicate and slender metalwork with gems in small circles and teardrop shapes. For hoop earrings with something a little bit different, the mini-hoops in this collection are completely beautiful, and very wearable.
The intricate multi-stranded ‘nest’ collection is also part of the Reed Range.
Together with their own collections, Sonkai also sell a range of jewellery by other designers, all carefully chosen from makers around the world who offer something special, contemporary and unlike anything you might find elsewhere.
But at risk of sounding cliché or oversweet, it really is the people at Sonkai that make the shop so unique. As a retail environment, it is welcoming, approachable and un-intimidating; the product ranges are streamline and navigable, making it a straightforward shopping experience for even the most indecisive of customers. Being in the same room as the designers and makers working on the bench is fascinating, and creates a laid back and informal atmosphere. Inside a glass coffee table used for consultations, plastic dinosaurs hang out with succulents, and for the customer there’s always someone on hand to talk to, whether it’s for impartial advice, or just a chat.
So if you’re still pondering that special Christmas gift, I really recommend that you visit. Sonkai offer all sorts - from their own ranges, to commissions, to cleaning, resizing, remodelling and everything in-between. If you’re looking for quality, design integrity and an independent retailer you can trust to do you proud, you can’t go wrong visiting a place who live by the mantra “don’t give anything to a customer that you wouldn’t give to your own mother”.
Sonkai will be open every day from Tuesday the 5th of December, until Christmas. Opening hours: 10am – 5.30pm.
Find them at 14-16 Dove Street, Norwich, NR2 1DE
Greater Anglia has Advance fares from £10 one way between London Liverpool Street and Norwich. Trains run every 30 minutes. Greater Anglia also serves Colchester, Ipswich and Diss on the Norwich line. Direct trains also run from Cambridge.
East Midlands Trains runs services from Liverpool, Manchester and Nottingham.
Flights into Norwich served from Edinburgh, Manchester, Exeter, Aberdeen, Jersey*, Guernsey* and Amsterdam.
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