While other teens were out socializing, Aret Oymakas was studying jewellery with his grandfather. ““My grandfather was a master diamond setter. His mentality was that instead of riding my bicycle during the summer holidays, I could sit with him so he could teach me his trade.” Aret, the owner of Livia Diamonds, points to a shelf in his studio where his grandfather’s century-old tools are displayed, and recalls, “I practiced on synthetic stones and learned the proper way to set diamonds to not chip them. I would have rather been outside playing with friends but now I appreciate what my grandfather taught me.”
Aret was born in Istanbul but his family moved to Canada when he was a toddler, at which point his parents opened a jewellery store where he worked part-time during high school. After graduating from Seneca College with a diploma in marketing and advertising, he became a partner in the family business. When his parents retired, it was time to get out on his own. Aret opened Livia Diamonds in 2013.
Aret says his grandfather’s values still guide him today. “My grandfather taught me ethics and discipline and how a person’s name and reputation are very important,” he explains. “I believe that if you are transparent and honest, you will have a strong working relationship with the client.”
Livia Diamonds specializes in customized bridal jewellery. Ninety-nine per cent of first-time customers want an engagement ring with personal meaning. While there are several shelves of rings on display, Aret says these are just samples for inspiration – all Livia Diamonds jewellery is customized to suit the client. Aret explains, “Customers are not buying something that is predetermined. I design a ring that has meaning, that suits their feelings and works well within their budget.” His most recent creation was for a Winnipeg couple: “They wanted a ring to represent where they met in Toronto.” The ring has a subtle image of the CN Tower etched on the band, below the couple’s engraved initials.
Aret says that some customers are initially afraid to buy a customized piece. What if they don’t like it? He says, “I make a prototype so the customer can see the actual ring and make changes. It totally eliminates the element of surprise. I don’t think anyone else in Toronto does that.”
Livia Diamonds is best known for engagement rings but Aret says, “Customers are not just one-time clients. There are always milestones like anniversaries, birthdays and Christmas. You grow old with the clients, and it becomes more of a friendship than a seller-buyer relationship.”
Aret took his time finding the perfect home for his studio. “I was always in love with the St. Lawrence Market area. I like Colborne Street and the boutiques and restaurants on this street,” he says. “We are in the centre of the city but it is still quiet.”
A love of the neighbourhood is important to Aret but he also wants to do good in the broader community. He has set a personal goal to donate $100,000 to The Hospital for Sick Children before he retires. “People close to us have had kids at Sick Kids so it’s a soft spot. I give a percentage of profits to Sick Kids. I do as much as I can to help them.”
Aret’s biggest love, though, is for his family. When asked how he proposed to his wife, he laughs, “My story is boring. I make nice engagement rings but when it came to my own proposal I’m not very creative.” But family means so much to Aret that he named the business after his wife Leda and his daughter Olivia. “I fused their two names together as best we could – Livia Diamonds.”