In Asia, 3 jewelry brands reflect the spirit of the times

TOKYO — Now that the pandemic has delayed many travel plans indefinitely, you can only dream of destinations like Tokyo and Seoul (unless, of course, you already live in one of those cities).

But if you can’t visit such places, you can at least wear something that evokes them. Here is a sampling of designers making the latest jewelry from Asia: clean, conceptual creations; playful accessories for your face mask; even full rings. Enjoy the escape.

Seoul, South Korea

Hath, a company that was only created last December, was aiming to debut this fall in Italy and Japan (where it had good business partners and where there is a leading market for the high jewelry) – but 2020 had other ideas.

“We didn’t want to postpone our project, so we just changed the plan and launched in South Korea,” Minyoung Park, 34, said in a FaceTime interview from the company’s small, brick-walled workshop in Seoul. .

He is in charge of communication, marketing, merchandising and retail. Hwaseung Lee, 39, and Hyunsuk Yang, 30, designers and jewelers, complete the brand’s team.

Mr. Lee started working with metal about 20 years ago when he was in the South Korean army. (Service is mandatory for young men.) “I used to do designs on Zippo lighters,” he said, and then give them to fellow soldiers when they finished their service. “They always loved them,” he added.

After completing his service, he lived in Tokyo for a year and, inspired by Japanese craftsmanship and materials, then enrolled as an apprentice in a workshop in Seoul to learn how to make jewelry. His day job, however, was as a buyer of luxury men’s clothing.

A few years ago, the two interests merged. “We came up with the idea of ​​making jewelry that combines various metals and gemstones with fabric,” Lee said. The result was a collection called Ribbon in the Sky, which mixes metal charms with colorful ribbons in bracelet, anklet, necklace and ring variations.

Mr. Lee’s visit to Milan’s Duomo in 2012 inspired the brand’s current collection. “I was shocked by the pillars, the tiles, the stained glass windows, the balance of the structure,” he said. “In our pieces, the shape of the metal bars came from the pillars, and the loop came from the shape of the arch and the central window.”

The collection, with pieces starting at 169,000 South Korean won (about $150), is sold at chic department store Galleria as well as Hath’s flagship store in the south Korean capital’s nearby Hannam-dong district. Korean. “For a young brand like ours, being stocked in Galleria was very valuable,” Park said, as it exposed a wider audience to the team’s work. And just a few days ago, they learned that the Shinsegae department store will be selling the jewelry in two of its stores.

In the brand’s make-to-order system, customers can choose from 36 ribbon colors and three types of silver charms (gold, platinum and even diamond-set versions are also available) for immediate in-store crafting. or for delivery to the shelf. stores within three to five days.

But even as the pandemic delayed the partners’ business plans, it also prompted their version of a mask lanyard (48,000 won), an item they noticed was trending on the streets of Seoul. The cord, which combines sterling silver and silk ribbon, is meant to keep a face mask handy, and it can also be worn as a necklace or bracelet.

“When the virus ends, we are not sure if we will continue to manufacture the cord, but this article has played a big role in allowing us to create new models that meet contemporary problems and needs,” said Mr Park. .


Taro Hanabusa, once a dentist at a clinic here, now creates custom jewelry for clients like Cardi B and Lady Gaga.

“I like backpacking, and as a dentist it was impossible to have a long vacation,” he said from his dark upstairs studio in Tokyo’s Katsushika district.

But his dental training has come in handy, the 40-year-old designer said, as he takes molds of body parts like fingers and ears – using much the same process as dentists – to produce his silver designs. .

In 2012, when he started fangophilia, “I started with the teeth, because it was easy for me,” he said. (Marilyn Manson regularly wears a Fangophilia grid on her upper teeth.)

Mr. Hanabusa describes his jewelry as a second skin of metal. “I think the natural body shape is so beautiful, so I just cut out the body part using metal,” he said. “I’ve never been inspired by other jewelry or fashion brands, but I love body modification and tattoos so much. My inspirations came from that kind of culture.

Some of his pieces, Mr. Hanabusa said, are designed to make a major impact in magazine shoots or music videos (like Nicki Minaj’s “Only” in 2014 or Cardi B’s “Money” in 2018). G-Dragon, Grimes and Kat von D have also worn his designs.

Although his primary focus remains bespoke pieces, Mr. Hanabusa plans to present a full ready-to-wear collection in the spring that will be sold in New York (Shop Untitled) and London (Lab Store), and online. He said he aimed to suit a wide range of budgets and tastes with adjustable nail rings, nail caps, fingertip rings, joint rings and various earpieces, such as ear covers. sharp elves. Prices range from $50 to $250.

Mr Hanabusa said he used to travel about half the year, meeting clients from all over the world. But the closed borders of 2020 weren’t so bad.

“The pandemic has given me time to stop and think about new ideas and create new pieces,” he said.

Iwakura, Japan

When the worlds of Keisaku Nagasaki and Fuyuka Tsuji collided, Phenomena Collection was the result.

About 20 years ago, they were both university students: Mr. Nagasaki was studying metal modeling and Ms. Tsuji was concentrating on visual communication, design and photography.

“We wanted to see what it would look like when two people who study different fields, think differently and have opposite personalities create something on the same theme,” Nagasaki, 45, wrote in an email. “It was experimental, like a chemical reaction.” The formula worked: they got married in 2002.

In 2010, the couple presented the jewelry collection, concept pieces inspired, as Mr. Nagasaki wrote, “from unseen things like the words of a conversation between two people.” They work in this small town just north of Nagoya.

At first glance, square, cube and triangle shaped items look like small works of art and make you wonder what is the right way to wear them. But this is the desired effect: some rings also serve as earrings, for example.

“Why don’t you change your way of thinking and seeing things? Mr. Nagasaki wrote. “That’s the concept we created. It is surprising and unexpected.

The pieces are made of sterling silver and 10k or 18k yellow gold, and prices range from 5,000 yen ($48) for small silver cube earrings to around ¥53,000 for yellow gold rings.

Tatsuro Motohashi, the owner of Xanadu Tokyo, an independent boutique in Tokyo’s trendy Harajuku section, wears the brand and said it appeals to a lot of people: “I have everyone, older office women to young fashion students, who come to buy pieces. In his shop, Mr. Motohashi shows off large gold or silver cuffs that can be worn as belts, and what the Phenomena collection calls Border bezels: a narrow, semi-circular band that can be clipped onto the bridge of the nose like glasses.

For their spring 2021 collection, Mr. Nagasaki and Ms. Tsuji, 44, were inspired by the spread of the coronavirus. “This is a situation that should not have happened,” Mr. Nagasaki wrote.

They created a ring, called Off, with a protruding part that doesn’t quite fit around the finger – a feature that represents the pandemic. (It sells for ¥33,000 to ¥52,000, depending on the material.)

But, he wrote, “We also put hope that we can distract ourselves from this situation and relax.”