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Turlockers rare skills bring shine to jewelry design
Computer program future of business
jewlery 2
Don Fernandes is busy at work at the downtown Turlock Vail Creek location. - photo by Photo Contributed

Everyone knows diamonds are extremely rare, but exactly how rare are they? To find a single one-carat diamond you would have to sift through 100 to 250 one-ton dump trucks full of earth.

In the world of fine jewelry design there is something just as rare — a true “jeweler.”

Turlock’s Vail Creek Fine Jewelry Designs is home to one of these elusive gems — Don Fernandes. The lifelong Turlocker is the owner of Vail Creek and he’s been nationally recognized for his rare skills. Back in 1999 Fernandes was just the third jeweler in California — and 31st in the nation — to be awarded the Senior Bench Jeweler Certification through Jewelers of America, a national association for jewelers.

Fernandes began working on jewelry design and craftsmanship as a teenager under the guidance of his uncle, Tony Azevedo. He started with wax carvings and worked his way to cutting diamonds — something he says is an innate talent thanks to his partial Swiss heritage, and in fine jewelry design the cut is paramount.

In 2000 Fernandes established his place amongst the best jewelers in the nation when he placed second in the Stuller/ Signity Jewelry Design Competition. His design was selected from a field of 526 entries. In 2001he followed with a top 30 finish at the International Jewelry Design Competition with his a custom-made piece, the Rolagem — which has been featured in trade publications.

“In reality, anyone can call themselves a jeweler and hack away at a diamond,” said Don’s wife and Vail Creek co-owner Alta. “But it takes a true craftsman to service a piece of jewelry  and to maintain the strength or piece.”

The cut is man’s attempt to make an element that is already beautiful even more beautiful.

“The cut is what brings a diamond to life. A good cut can bring out the flash, the rainbows and the light of a diamond and Don makes selling a piece of jewelry because his cuts sell themselves,” said Alta.

While Fernandes is a true craftsman he has decided to let technology guide the future of Vail Creek, which recently opened a new, second location at Monte Vista Crossings in addition to their downtown location.

The Monte Vista store features state-of-the-art jewelry design technology known as CounterSketch Studio, which is software that can best be compared to AUTOCADD. CounterSketch is the faster, customizable direction of the jewelry industry. It can create almost any piece of jewelry — within reason — and render a realistic three-dimensional rendering of the piece on a hand. The software can create virtually any cut, size, color and stone and thousands of rings, necklaces or bracelets.

Produced dimensions are sent to a factory where the product is designed and the cuts are made in just minutes (not including shipping time). Vail Creek is the sole licensed holder of CounterSketch from Turlock to Fresno.

The whole process almost cuts out Fernandes, but not entirely.

 “I will definitely still have a purpose,” joked Fernandes. “While it can do a lot it can’t do extremely precision cuts that only a human can do and another thing about jewelry is that it can’t be so mass produced that you would walk around and see your ring on other people’s hands.”

Fernandes said jewelry pieces will always need the care and maintenance that can only be completed by a skilled jeweler.

To contact Jonathan McCorkell, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.