Leaves of Life

Jewellery designer Silvia Furmanovich finds inspirations in nature

Jewellery designer Silvia Furmanovich finds inspirations in nature, cultures and craftsmanship, especially from India.

Her eyes were fixated on a miniature painting hung on the wall of one of the exhibition areas of Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The year was 2016 and what has transfixed Silvia Furmanovich, a São Paulo based jewellery designer, were the paintings on display made between the 16th and early 19th centuries. These paintings were once part of the Indian royal courts. She might have left the exhibition area, but a piece of India stayed with her. And what started at the exhibition titled, Divine Pleasures: Paintings from India’s Rajput Courts, nudged her to embark on a journey to India.

“I began a month-long creative pilgrimage to India to meet the artisans, who have, for centuries, specialised in Rajasthani miniature paintings,” Silvia recalls. She works with them to this day, creating jewellery pieces for her collections. She was so inspired by temple architecture, motifs found on the walls of buildings and some rare materials that she created a special India collection a year after she first laid her eyes on the miniature paintings from the exhibition.

The passion and knack for handcrafted jewellery is, however, not new to Silvia, who is born into an Italian goldsmiths family. “I remember watching my father work in his atelier, his skilled hands creating elaborate decorative objects with great detail,” Silvia says. Her great-grandfather created sacred adornments for the Vatican. Her father trained her eyes to look for handcrafted marvels and taught her the importance of craftsmanship.

“So, whether I am looking at lacquer work from Japan or hand-woven bamboo from Thailand, I am intrinsically drawn towards things that take their own sweet time to make. Machines might have taken over, creating things that look the same, but nothing can beat the agility and ability of the human hand.”

Belonging to a family known for their craftsmanship and expertise, Silvia’s destiny might have been sealed with gold, but she discovered it when she was training formally at a goldsmithing class in 2003. “As I watched a piece of gold melting above a flame, I knew it was the way forward for me.”

Silvia still remembers vividly the first piece of jewellery she designed. It was an intricately woven bracelet with porcelain beads that were secured with the gold clasps that she had made during her goldsmithing class.

“Those bracelets are still represented in our collections, only evolving into more bolder, feminine and vibrant versions. I love when jewellery is different from anything you’ve seen, when it has the power to surprise,” Silvia says, and rightly so. Her jewellery pieces stuns, to say the least. They imitate life, the wilderness.

Over the years, wood has become a signature material in her collections, mainly because of its warmth and lustre. It’s a beautiful, living material. Technically, wood marquetry lets the designer make things on a small scale while keeping them lightweight. “My patrons are not looking for diamonds. They want innovation. They collect jewellery in the same way as they collect art. They are looking for superb craftsmanship,” Silvia says. In last 16 years, Silvia has found ways to incorporate the beauty that exists in nature.

Apart from the Mother Earth, what has also influenced this artist is the place where she grew up and now lives at. She is drawn to the exuberance of Brazil, its natural

beauty and also the fact that it is the hub for sourcing gemstones.

“You might notice something I called a Brazilian attitude in my work, their love for life and women who are comfortable with themselves. And the fact that this melting pit is a quick flight away from other vibrant cultures makes it a perfect inspiration board,” Silvia says. 

And during all her travels, Silvia becomes a sponge… an observing, absorbing one. She keeps journals and scrapbooks wherever she travels to, adding images, sketches and everything in between that inspires her. “One of the most exciting parts of my creative process is to find something rare in a remote part of the world and transform it into jewellery.” Much like seeds of Rudraksha.

Silvia always find herself in the search for fine handcrafted craftsmanship. She travels the world to find and collaborate with the guardians of extraordinary skills that are likely to be forgotten and are on the verge of disappearing.

“To create objects of lasting value and innovative beauty, I have always sought to make jewellery that combines little-known craftsmanship and unusual materials, such as wood marquetry from Brazil or miniature paintings from India, working closely with local artisans,” Silvia adds. She sources the materials from all over the world. From Brazil comes precious and semi-precious stones such as tourmalines, topazes, citrines and opals. The wood is reclaimed from the furniture industry or parts of trees that fall. “I don’t have a prejudice against using materials such as seashells or wood with gold and diamonds. Mixing precious with common is beautiful.”

It might be difficult to work with unconventional materials, but she knows her way around it. Every piece of jewellery is set by master craftsmen in São Paulo. The marquetry part is done in the Amazon rainforest region of the country. It can take over a week to do a single marquetry piece for a pair of earrings. The piece then has to be sent to São Paulo, where it is set in gold with diamonds and precious stones. It can take one to two months to finish each piece. 

Releasing one collection in a year, she retails from Bergdorf Goodman in New York, Neiman Marcus, Stanley Korshak in Dallas, Marissa Collection in Naples, Florida, as well as online on Moda Operandi and Net-a-Porter. “Our jewellery typically is priced at $5,000 to $15,000, although some special, one-of-a-kind pieces can go up higher,” Silvia says. Her next collection is inspired by the obi, the sash worn with a kimono in traditional Japanese garment, and will debut in the US during fall 2019.

As she gets back to the box containing textile samples from a prominent family business catering to aristocratic women of Kyoto and a swatch book with 141 fragments of fabrics for obi from the Meiji period (1866-1912) she found on one of her travels, we can’t help but think that in the time of technological advances, one woman still is attracted to and inspired by unique forms of craftsmanship.