With a transformative energy that has to be experienced to be believed, Asia is continent where you’re able to look equally outward and inward for inspiration. Crystal clear waters, abundant greenery and ornate monuments offer visual stimulation as far as the eye can see, while time-honored traditions and spiritual practices offer essential nourishment for the soul.
A divine mix of tradition and technology, where a bullet train can deliver you to the doorstep of a Buddhist temple, Japan had been on my wanderlust wish list for quite some time. While my time there was short, Japan dizzied me, dazzled me and left me wanting more!
Catching the spring cherry blossoms in full bloom, Kyoto stood out above-and-beyond as somewhere I know I must revisit. The rural hills and trees carpeted in blushing pink, I wandered amongst Geisha houses, ornate shrines and bamboo-clad tea outposts. The area’s history, quite literally, etched in stone in its perfectly preserved monuments and flourishing in its lush botanical gardens.
Kyoto is also the birthplace of many celebrated Japanese art forms, from imposing Samurai-inspired palaces to tranquil ryokan lodgings and home to ancient pottery crafts and traditional knife-making. Every glance filled my mind with questions, ideas and inspiration. This is somewhere I could spend years and still discover something new every day.
Formerly the Imperial Capital of Japan for over 1,000 years, the city still lives and breathes history but also boasts a bustling metropolis of business and trade at its center. This contrast between the past, present and future fascinated me and reminded me that no matter how advanced our society becomes, we as individuals will always look to where we’ve been to understand where we are and where we should go. This was the case when I practiced a Buddhist meditation, the spiritual tools of the past centering me in the present and preparing me for the future.
After my visit to Kyoto, I reflected on how the present and future can also inform my creative passion. Every piece can tell a story about the past but can only exist in the present, perhaps reminding its wearer to live fully in the moment. Likewise, remaining conscious of the future can guide me towards more advanced, innovative methods of creation, pushing the boundaries and infusing Kyoto’s wonderful time-warping effect into my life, my designs and the lives of others.
When I think of Bali, my consciousness is immediately awash with color. It’s an island flanked by vivid coral reefs and fringed by white-sand beaches, where lush green rice terraces contrast against rugged volcanic gradients, forever bathed in sunlight from an azure-blue sky. Likewise, this immensely vibrant Indonesian island has fostered the development of one of the warmest, most colorful cultures on earth.
What immediately inspired me about Bali was not only the striking color and rich culture—a stunning mixture of Indian, Chinese and Hindu elements that can be seen (and touched, smelled and tasted) everywhere—but the visual depth and richness to everything around me. Greenery seemed to vibrate with energy, the sea awash with tranquility and the air thick with anticipation. In addition to the island’s natural wonders, I experienced the same with Bali’s man-made treasures. Hindu stone carvings spoke to their intricate creation, temples resonated with long-forgotten chants and ornate silverwork sparkled with sacred meaning.
In my mind, this has a lot to do with the spiritual intention behind the creation of these items. Everything in Bali, whether decorative or structural, whether grounded in necessity or spirituality, has a strong meaning behind it. Just as one example, the nine directional temples on the island were specifically designed—down to the most minor detail—to protect the island and its inhabitants from evil forces. This intent is something that can truly be felt, and likewise, is a vital part of my approach to life and philosophy of design.
For me, Bali is also about people—from the immensely talented artisans to dedicated surfers—who put all their time, energy and conviction into what they love and believe in. This mentality is so ingrained in Bali that it’s hard not to pick up some of that passion and bring it home with you. I last visited Bali in 1998 and I feel it calling my name again, to saturate my mind with color, renew and reinvigorate my creative energies, and as a place to hone more techniques and collaborate with local creators.
The vastness of India is sometimes too large for my mind to comprehend. The fact that the chaotic frenzy of Delhi, the spiritual stillness of the Himalayas and the pure vibrancy of Rajasthan all are in the same country is incredible to me. I’ve only visited India once before, in 2012, but remember being awe-struck by the variety of beautiful materials, handmade goods and rare treasures that I could use for inspiration and bring back to incorporate into future designs.
The history of jewelry in India is as vast and complex as the country itself. More than just an adornment, Indian jewelry has long acted as an insurance policy, protective talisman, signifier of status and a tool of communication.
Starting in the 16th Century, the Mughals brought advanced knowledge of gem-setting with them from Central Asia to India. Precious metals and gems quickly became their way of displaying wealth, cementing power and retaining their divine status. So much so that they even passed laws preventing anyone but the highest classes from wearing jewelry. Many Mughals would also adorn themselves with miniaturized deities, signifying their special connection with the gods and imbuing the pieces with deep cosmic meaning. The link between jewelry and spirituality is one that has remained strong in India, and an area of my craft that captivates me.
Throughout the ages, Indian aesthetics—including jewelry—began to absorb influences from Colonial powers and other cultures to create the ornate and distinctive style that is still seen to this day. I find this intermingling of ideas fascinating and it’s an area I strive to explore further in my own work, too.
The traditions and techniques of jewelry making are handed down carefully in India, generation by generation. In fact, jewelry makers are even assigned their own caste—Vishwakarma—a term derived from “divine architect” in Hindu mythology. My hope is that I’ll be able to return to India very soon to bask in the vastness of this beautiful country and the vastness of knowledge—both spiritual and technical—that it holds.
Throughout all my travels—and there have been a lot of them—people always ask me what my favorite country is, and I answer without hesitation: Bhutan. My reasons for this response are many, but in essence, it feels like my spiritual home. A place where I feel fully grounded, at peace and at my most creative.
Nestled in the Himalayas between India and Tibet, Bhutan is a notoriously secretive and spiritual country that ranks highly in economic freedom, ease of business and peacefulness. They even pioneered the concept of gross national happiness to measure the collective well-being of the population. All of this plays into the immense sense of calm you feel the second you arrive there, secure in the knowledge that you and your location are somehow working together in harmony.
With its national identity immersed in Buddhism—and due to its relative isolation from the rest of the world—Bhutan has managed to keep its culture intact and relatively unaffected by outside forces. Religion is infused into every element of the country’s culture and traditions. From national dress to architecture and, of course, jewelry.
Bhutanese jewelry is rich in bronze (Lugzo is the traditional name assigned to bronzework) and often takes the form of heavy bracelets, loop earrings and clothing adornments set with turquoise, coral and the zhi stone—said to have special protective powers. During my visit, I was inspired to create my Tiger’s Nest Necklace for the cliffside monastery that has become an icon of Bhutanese beauty, culture and spirituality. Whenever I think of that bracelet, I dream of returning to my favorite place, the place that feels like nowhere else on earth.