In Asia, 3 Jewelry Brands Reflect the Times

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

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

Seoul, South Korea

Hath, a business that was established only last December, had intended to debut this fall in Italy and Japan (where it had good retail partners and where there is a top-tier market for fine 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,” said Minyoung Park, 34, in a FaceTime interview from the company’s small, brick-walled atelier in Seoul.

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

Mr. Lee began working with metal about 20 years ago, while he was in the South Korean Army. (Service is compulsory for young men.) “I used to make drawings on Zippo lighters,” he said, and then give them to fellow soldiers as 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, later enrolled as an apprentice in a workshop in Seoul to learn how to make jewelry. His day job, though, was as a buyer for luxury men’s wear.

Several years ago, the two interests merged. “We came up with the idea to make jewelry combining various metals and gemstones with fabric,” Mr. Lee said. The result was a collection called Ribbon in the Sky, which mixes metal charms with colored ribbons in bracelet, anklet, necklace and ring variations.

Mr. Lee’s visit to the Duomo in Milan in 2012 inspired the brand’s current collection. “I was shocked by pillars, tiles, stained glasses, 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 arch shape and central window.”

The collection, with pieces priced from 169,000 South Korean won (around $150) is sold at the chic Galleria department store as well as at Hath’s flagship boutique in the nearby Hannam-dong district of the South Korean capital. “For a young brand like us, being stocked in Galleria was very valuable,” Mr. 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 would sell the jewelry at two of its locations.

In the brand’s made-to-order system, customers can choose among 36 ribbon colors and three types of silver charms (gold, platinum and even diamond-studded versions are available as well) for immediate fabrication at the boutique or for delivery to the department stores within three to five days.

But even as the pandemic has delayed the partners’ business plans, it has also prompted their version of a mask lanyard (48,000 won), an item they noticed was trending on the streets of Seoul. The lanyard, which combines sterling silver and a 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’re not sure we’ll still make the lanyard, but that item played a great role in allowing us to create new designs that address contemporary issues and needs,” Mr. Park said.


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

“I like backpacking travel, and, working as a dentist, it was impossible to have long holidays,” he said from his dark upstairs atelier in the Katsushika ward of Tokyo.

But his dental training has been useful, 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 creations in silver.

In 2012, when he started Fangophilia, “I started with teeth, as it was easy for me,” he said. (Marilyn Manson regularly wears a Fangophilia grill on his upper teeth.)

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

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

Although his primary focus will remain custom-made pieces, Mr. Hanabusa plans to introduce a full ready-to-wear collection in the spring that will be sold in New York City (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 helmets, fingertip rings, joint rings and various ear pieces, such as pointed elfin covers. Prices range from $50 to $250.

Mr. Hanabusa said he used to travel about half the year, meeting clients around the world. But the closed borders of 2020 haven’t been all bad.

“The pandemic gave me time to stop and think of new ideas and make 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 both were university students: Mr. Nagasaki was studying metal modeling, and Ms. Tsuji was focusing on visual communication, design and photography.

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

In 2010, the couple introduced the jewelry collection, conceptual pieces inspired by, as Mr. Nagasaki wrote, “invisible things such as the words in a conversation between two people.” They work in this small city just north of Nagoya.

At first sight, the square-, cube- and triangle-shaped items look like small art pieces and make you wonder what is the proper way to wear them. But that is the intended effect: Some rings double as ear cuffs, for example.

“Why don’t you change the way you think and you look at it?” Mr. Nagasaki wrote. “That is the concept we have created. It’s surprising and unexpected.”

The pieces come in sterling silver and 10-karat or 18-karat yellow gold, and the prices range from 5,000 yen ($48) for small silver cube earrings to about ¥53,000 for yellow gold rings.

Tatsuro Motohashi, the owner of Xanadu Tokyo, an independent boutique in Tokyo’s trendy Harajuku section, carries the brand and said it appealed to lots of people: “I have everyone ranging from older office ladies to young fashion students come in and buy pieces.” In his boutique, Mr. Motohashi shows large gold or silver cuffs that can be worn as belts, and what the Phenomena Collection calls Border eyewear: a narrow, semicircular band that can be clipped onto the bridge of the nose like glasses.

For their spring 2021 collection, Mr. Nagasaki and Ms. Tsuji, 44, have drawn inspiration from the spread of the coronavirus. “It’s a situation that should not have happened,” Mr. Nagasaki wrote.

They have created a ring, called Off, with a protruding part that does not quite fit entirely around the finger — a feature that represents the pandemic. (It sells for ¥33,000 to ¥52,000, depending on material.)

But, he wrote, “We also put in the hope that we’ll be able to take our minds off this situation and relax.”

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