The Beadery: a Queen West gem for 20 years

If there’s one Torontonian who can be called a fashion district survivor, it’s Claude Abittan, owner of Queen Street West staple, The Beadery. But don’t let the name of the store fool you; it sells more than wooden, plastic and metal beads.

Indeed, the shop offers an impressive range of gemstones, rings, necklaces and bracelets, some of which are available for customers who wish to create their own jewelry. Other items are made by Abittan itself. But what Abittan and his daughter Anastasia, who also works at the store, are best known for is what he calls « antique and sentimental repair. »

“We can do any type of jewelry or watch resizing or repair,” says Abittan, who sometimes does up to 60 a day. « The best thing I’ve ever done was add a repair service to my business. »

Walk through the Beadery and there’s an entire back wall dedicated to framed clippings and photos of models sporting her wares.

Residents of Queen West and others may recall that the Beadery closed and moved from its original location three years ago. From 2001 to 2019, the store occupied 466 Queen St. W., just down the street from its current location at 516. “The owner wanted to sell the building,” says Abittan, “and he wasn’t interested. by a new lease for us.

Prior to opening the Beadery, Abittan was an expert belt maker with a small store on Richmond near Spadina. “I loved working with leather,” he says, “and I had one-of-a-kind belts back then.”

The city’s fashion or garment district is framed by Bathurst to the west, Spadina to the east, Queen West to the north, and King to the south. It was once home to many Jewish residents and the textile and cloth makers they brought with them. After World War II, these massive warehouses were moved to cheaper and more convenient locations near highways, mostly in the suburbs. However, you can still find remnants of this history along Queen West.

Being an entrepreneur has been at the heart of Abittan’s life. « I’ve never worked for a boss and I like to do my own thing, » he says, noting that he always enjoyed sketching and designing jewelry patterns when he was growing up in Casablanca and Israel.

Beadery owner Claude Abittan poses seated at his desk where he and his team make fully custom jewelry.

« I remember my father, back in Morocco, who inspired me with his drawings of birds on his cigarette packets, » recalls Abittan. « I quickly illustrated and was caught in class for making art when I should have paid attention to the teacher. »

While living in Israel, he began painting in oils and sold his first piece at age 21. “Then I got into fashion,” he says, “and I never really picked up a brush again.”

He has seen how trends come and go, and sometimes come back, on the Queen West fashion scene. And her store has taken advantage of these style changes. « Accessories were all the rage in the 80s, then they dropped in the 2000s, » he says. « Now they’re really fashionable again. »

Abittan imagines patterns for its rings and necklaces, sold under the Abittan brand, sometimes at home by doodling or at the shop during quiet periods. From his sketches, he will use software such as AutoCAD to make 3D renderings of his work which he will eventually produce by hand once he has fine tuned the details.

One thing that sets Abittan’s boutique apart is that it sources rare stones and pearls that other stores often don’t carry. « No one really has natural tanzanite beads, » he says, « but I always do. »

Claude Abitan

In addition to Anastasia, who often runs the store, Abittan has six other children, one of whom is set to succeed him. “Almog is only 16, but he’s a genius,” he says, “and he’s already designing rings. He can just watch someone work on a piece of jewelry and then do it himself.

Maybe Almog will support the kind of custom work that will keep the store owner busy all day. Abittan tells me about a client who flew to a mountainous region of Ireland and brought back a piece of sea-green rock for Abittan to use in an engagement ring. Abittan decided to reconstitute the stone by grinding it into powder and mixing it with the gold from the ring.

“I didn’t get into this for the money,” he says. « And to be honest, I’m happy with the way things are going, how busy I am and I want it to stay the same. »


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