With its 40th anniversary approaching in the new year, ShanOre Jewelry has become an integral player in the Irish jewelry scene. Still family-owned and -operated, the company has spent two generations crafting the finest quality Celtic jewelry with a fresh and personal touch. To mark the occasion, we spoke with founder Frank Maher and sales head Stuart McGrath to learn more about ShanOre’s unique history and guiding philosophy.
In 1979, Frank Maher was made redundant at the Irish jewelry company where he worked. It was the start of a worldwide recession, and Frank had four young sons and a wife to support, but found little success in the job market. He decided to take his diverse work experience and savings to lease a property on Talbot Street in the heart of the Dublin city center and begin producing jewelry on his own, using the craftsmanship and managerial skills he had gained from his past positions. This was the beginning of ShanOre Jewelry, a company now on the cusp of 40 years in business.
It wasn’t easy going at first—Frank and his wife, Liz, often worked seven day weeks growing their business from scratch and, it being 1979, doing all their books and paperwork by hand. In their second year, though, Frank and Liz got lucky—they received a large export order from a company in the UK. The domestic market continued to serve them well, but they felt it would be important to take advantage of the Irish diaspora in America and its demand for Irish gifts and ephemera. They began making sales trips to the US and started gaining traction in the US Irish jewelry market, especially as Irish cultural stores gained popularity in the 1980s and 1990s.
Frank and Liz’s eldest son, Shane, went to London to work, where he apprenticed with a diamond dealer to gain the full insight and appreciation for working with the precious stone. Upon his return to Ireland, he went to work for his family’s company, and not long after, he initiated a complete review of ShanOre’s activity, from design through marketing. During the review he reached out to the company’s customer base regarding the designs and styles they’d like to see in their jewelry. Based on his reviews and customer feedback, ShanOre introduced a line of Celtic diamond engagement rings, followed by a range of diamond wedding rings.
Rings—especially the perennial favorite, the Claddagh ring—have been a mainstay for the company since its inception, but as time went on, demand grew for earrings and pendants, as well. In recent years, when charm beads became a popular worldwide jewelry trend, ShanOre introduced Tara’s Diary, a collection of charm beads that allows the wearer fully express their unique connection to Ireland. Naturally, many of the beads feature intricate Celtic triskele spirals and vibrant shamrocks, but the collection goes beyond the traditional images associated with Irish jewelry. Some beads represent places in the Emerald Isle, like Dublin’s iconic Ha’Penny Bridge, the basalt columns of Giant’s Causeway, or the neolithic passage tomb of Newgrange. Others display images of various hobbies or interests, like Irish music and dance—one of the beads is even modeled after a tiny cheeky pint of stout.
Stuart McGrath, the head of ShanOre’s business development and sales, tells ShamrockGift that silver has always been a popular material, but that recently rose and yellow gold have returned to fashion, as well. Naturally, the company’s offerings have expanded to reflect the changing trends, and many pieces incorporate both silver and gold. They introduced Swarovski crystals in many of their silver pieces in 2015 and 2016, and the sparkling additions have been an immensely popular update to the classic Celtic images and designs.
Always ahead of the curve and anticipating their customers’ wishes, ShanOre typically launches two new collections per year. In 2018, they unveiled the Celtic Initials necklace collection, which offers crystal-encrusted initial pendants adorned with delicate Celtic trinity knots for a personalized token of the wearer’s Irish heritage. The second new collection this year is the Princess collection, which blends new and old by paying tribute to classic Celtic designs like the trinity knot and the crowned heart, and Swarovski crystals and the contrast of sterling silver and rose gold make the pieces fresh and modern.
The lifespan of a ShanOre piece, from design to finish, is a lengthy one, with many rigorous reviews to ensure quality. Naturally, the company draws the bulk of its inspiration from classic Irish designs, but ShanOre designers are in constant contact with their sales staff to make sure they are up-to-date with current trends and, more importantly, customers’ current demands. Once the design team agrees upon pattern, materials, and stones used in a new piece of jewelry, they make a model using computer aided design, or sometimes, they will go the old-fashioned route and create a wax model. From there, they make a durable mold in the workshop from which every piece of that particular design will be cast. If the article of jewelry is made of more than one piece, the cast pieces will be soldered together and polished. If the piece takes stones, the gems will be selected individually and set. The entire ring, pendant, earring, or bracelet will undergo another polishing, and if the metal is silver, the item will be rhodium-plated to ensure long-lasting shine.
After the piece of jewelry is complete, it must then be inspected to make sure it adheres to ShanOre’s high standards. The inspection takes place not in the workshop, but in the Dublin Assay Office, located in Dublin Castle. The Assay office was established in 1637 to evaluate the quality of all gold and silver throughout Ireland and still operates today under the auspices of the Company of Goldsmiths. Today the Assay office functions much as it did over 300 years ago, independently testing pieces of jewelry for the purity of their precious metals and stamping those approved with the office’s official hallmark (and without which their sale would be illegal).
All hallmarked pieces are brought back to the workshop and packed into ShanOre’s luxury gift boxes, in which they will be sent to their new homes.
Though the shipping and logistics team have expanded in recent years to keep up with global demand, ShanOre is still family-run, and despite its growing operations, remains a small business with only 11 employees. In 2017, the company moved from the original Talbot Street shop to a brand new custom-built workshop in the Citywest business campus to the south of Dublin’s city center, where ShanOre operates today.
Customer satisfaction has always been their main driving principle. From offering unique, fresh interpretations of classic Irish imagery to excellent customer service to fast shipping, quality of experience sets ShanOre apart from their competitors.
Of course, their customers aren’t the only ones who appreciate ShanOre for their commitment to high quality and impeccable service. The North American Celtic Trade Association has heaped the company with numerous awards in the past several years, and in 2017 alone, ShanOre won NACTA’s best promotional support, best jewelry design, and supplier of the year awards, among many others. Earlier this year, Feefo, a company that rates businesses based on real customer reviews, honored ShanOre with their Gold Service award for their incredible customer care.
The traditional Irish patterns remain popular sellers with ShanOre jewelry wearers—the ancient Celtic crosses, spirals, and knots that have captured the Irish imagination for thousands of years continue to inspire modern jewelry wearers. Of course, the Claddagh ring has been an immensely popular piece of jewelry since its invention in the 18th century, and naturally, ShanOre’s beautiful and high quality Claddagh rings have been a staple for their near 40 years of existence. The popularity of the Claddagh design has inspired its use as a motif not just on rings, but for earrings and bracelets, as well. Incorporating birthstones to the line of Claddagh rings has been a wonderful way for people to further personalize how they wear and honor their Irish heritage. The shamrock is another popular image that figures prominently in ShanOre jewelry, and many of their shamrock pieces incorporate other Celtic designs—like spirals or the tree of life—or sparkling green gem accents. Other styles and patterns wax and wane in popularity throughout the years, and sometimes the appearance of a triskele or a Celtic knot in a movie or a television show will lead to a resurgence in demand.
Their designs have a universal appeal that goes beyond age and demographic—the ShanOre customer could be a young person picking out their first Claddagh ring or a couple selecting their engagement rings and wedding bands. Gifting, of course, has become immensely popular with ShanOre customers; many who have bought their own pieces have become inspired to share the beauty and creativity of the company’s designs with their friends and family.
The reason for the success of ShanOre these four decades is relatively straightforward—a dedication to preserving Irish history and imagery and ever-changing personal style, McGrath says. Their designers place a high premium on knowing what their customers like to wear and what makes them feel good.
“People enjoy being fashionable while paying homage to their Celtic roots.”