Life

Finding the spiritual in
gold

American actress Kate Hudson shops there. Her mother, Goldie Hawn, a long-time fan of one of their designers, pops in on trips to Ubud.

Brooke Shields has been known to spend the odd afternoon adding to her wish list, and former Posh Spice, Victoria Beckham, has poked her head in the door at least once.

These celebrities are among the many that enjoy the fine art of jewelry that is on display at Treasures in Ubud. More like an entr*e-sized museum of modern art than a jeweler's, Treasures is a powerhouse of some of the best in contemporary jewelry.

Among the artists using precious stones, pearls and lustrous gold as their medium in the gallery's creative stable is internationally renowned designer Carolyn Tyler, the eccentric and wonderfully eclectic artist Jean Francois Fichot, Greek-born sculptor and jeweler Filipos and newcomer to this diamond bright limelight, Irwan Holmes.

It is Carolyn Tyler who is a favorite of Goldie Hawn, according to the owners of Treasures, Tara and Odeck Ariawan.

"Goldie has been into the gallery. Her daughter Kate has shopped here. Goldie is just as bubbly in person as on film. We had a fun afternoon with her," Tara says.

"Goldie had already collected Carolyn Tyler pieces in the States, so she came to see her work here while she was in Bali. She said it was a treat to see these pieces here on the other side of the world."

It is Tyler's passion for rare gems and her reinterpretation of ancient design elements that make her work so special, explains Tara.

"Carolyn has a real passion to create pieces around the gemstones," she says. "She has fallen in love with gemstones and likes to use the most unusual she can discover. She uses amelite - nautilus shell fossils in some works. Amelite is very unusual and not often used in jewelry."

The artist's subtlety with gold allows these extraordinary marine fossils and blazing gems to burn bright in their settings, such as in a multicolored sapphire bracelet.

Bordering on the outrageous, the piece is formed of hundreds of vari-colored sapphires knitted into a woven gold backing, clasped with a solid gold, granulated lock.

It is here that the skill of the designer and the craftsmen come into play - despite its boldness, the work is not garish. It sings more of the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, a work you would not be surprised to come across in a museum of the ancients.

This aspect is characteristic of the designer's one-off works, Tara says, adding that the gathering together of enough sapphires of the same cut, size and quality makes the bracelet particularly rare.

"Carolyn's works reflect pieces of the past; she really likes to use the hand-crafted decorative techniques, such as granulation *tiny markings and balls overlaid on a gold base* filigree and repouss* chain-making methods," Tara says. "Of all our artists, it is Carolyn who utilizes a lot of the ancient jewelry-making techniques. There is a Byzantine feel about it."

To interpret her designs, Tyler turns to the masters of silver and gold - the Balinese craftsmen whose people have been working these metals for 1,000 years or more. It is into these masters' hands that some of the world's best designers place their visions, recognizing that, in Indonesia, the handcrafting skills of the ancients are still alive.

Greek-born sculptor Filipos, who, like Tyler, is a Bali resident, is better known for his massive interpretations of the universe in marble and precious woods, finished to a degree that morphs creation into art. The sculptor brings that same attention to detail and universal mythology to his jewelry: flying gold wings in earrings echo the wings of Icarus that were to free him from the labyrinth, a heavy opal turtle-shaped ring breathes with the legends of the East.

Filipos, like another world-class artist represented by Treasures, Jean Francois, embodies the spiritual through his pieces.

"That is one of the most unique aspects of the works here," Tara says. "Each of the artists has their own vision and concept. There is a depth and complexity to the pieces.

"Jean Francois started out very organic. Over the past 15 years we have seen his works become finer and his design use of gold and precious gems become quite brilliant. But his signature is that he travels a lot and finds wonderful amulets and other ancient and very precious pieces he fashions into his designs."

An example is an ancient, broken Chinese fan. Jean Francois has taken two of its intricately carved fan-blades, rebirthing them as earrings.

Where Treasures is a gallery rich in contemporary jewelry designs that will likely become heirlooms, a stroll through the Ubud market can also turn up some fine jewelry sold by the gram, rather than according to its rarity or assigned artistic value - a Faberg* versus "never mind the quality, feel the weight" scenario.

Designs at the market gold sellers are almost 1950s classic; earrings are vivid with rubies, sapphires, an occasional diamond, granulation and filigree. Some feature the traditional trumpet backing, a filigree cone that slides over the pin. In the past this was a solid cone of gold or silver that was pushed through the ear piercing - a design still alive in Bali Aga villages, according to master goldsmith Wayan Renbyok.

Buyers at the market gold stalls, who vie for custom with the vegetable sellers nearby, are mostly Balinese who save up year after year to purchase the precious gold and gems they will wear during the regular sacred ceremonies that confirm their Hindu beliefs.

Teaching an understanding of how metals and gems fuse into works of art, religious symbols or personal keepsakes is what Studio Perak in Ubud does well. The studio, run by husband and wife team Joanna Witt and Ketut Darmawan, introduces people to the art of the silversmith.

"Most people are very surprised by what they can make in three hours. That they can make a piece of wearable jewelry," explains Ketut, pumping by foot the welding torch sometimes used to heat silver to a workable temperature.

"This is an experiential class," Joanna adds. "Occasionally people find they want to keep learning and for others it's fun to learn about something new."

She adds that some students have chosen to continue their silversmith studies after the three-hour introduction into the world of gems and valuable metals. Although of course they discover it "takes years" of dedication to become a designer who can wield gold and gems with the hands of an artist.

- Photos by J.B. Djwan

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