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Designer Spotlight: Hans Brumann

Swiss by birth, Filipino by choice, the master jeweler tells of the
beauty of his craft.
Designer Spotlight: Hans Brumann Swiss by birth, Filipino by choice, the master jeweler tells of the
beauty of his craft.

There is no mistaking a Hans Brumann piece. Strong sculptural lines, audacious colors, and idiosyncratic shapes make his jewelry less about ornamentation and more about art—sparkling masterpieces doyennes of Manila society and expatriate wives have sought to own. The fact that Asians have a preference for frills over minimalism has made his modern vision all the more rare and alluring. “I am most proud of having been able, through the years, to create my own style, which is recognizable by a lot of people,” declares the 57–year–old Hans, who came here in 1967 to work for the most prestigious jewelry firm then, La Estrella del Norte, before establishing his own line in 1978. Since then, his contemporary styling—years ahead of its time—has been a mainstay in the party circuit.

His newest foray is the Azure collection, which features the gemstone tanzanite, a stone said to be a thousand times rarer than diamonds. Recently renamed as December's birthstone, tanzanite is ethically mined to protect both the environment and the people who mine it.

When and how did you get into jewelry design?
During my four–year apprenticeship (from 1957 to 1961) as goldsmith in Zurich, Switzerland, I had to attend a technical art school, where we learned how to sketch and properly depict jewelry designs using pencil and watercolor. Designing was part of the apprenticeship curriculum. Years after, I developed a preference to designing jewelry over making it. I became more interested in creating something on my own rather than just following a design from someone else. It was exciting to design and execute the piece by myself, to be there from the beginning of the idea to the last touch.

A few years later, I went to Germany to learn more about my profession and especially about the history of jewelry design. This was at the State Trade School in Schwaebisch Gmuend where I also took up other [technical] techniques of the trade. Looking back now, I still benefit from this time in Germany.

What is your design process like?
A piece of jewelry is (most of the time) composed of precious metals such as gold, platinum, or silver and precious gems. So I start with the stone first, then design around these stones to create a new line.

How have you evolved as a designer?
Since my arrival in the Philippines, I have designed jewelry for the wealthy, affluent, and important people in trade and politics. I have done this at La Estrella del Norte and Ding Velayo before I started my own company 30 years ago. It was mostly by word of mouth—and not advertising—which has created my faithful customer base.

Can you tell us more about your latest collection?
The Azure collection is our latest one and has the tanzanite, a beautiful blue stone, as the center gem. When I first saw the loose tanzanites, I was amazed at their strong colors and sizes, but I was also looking for other stones and materials to break the powerful color of blue. I tried contrasting colors—the green tsavorite (garnet), dark kamagong wood, and white coral—to good results.

What is your favorite piece?
The cylindrical shaped kamagong pendant with tanzanites, tsavorites, and diamonds set in white gold. I think it is the combination of the two colors with the dark wood and the sparkling diamonds which makes this so beautiful

What inspires you?
The bark of a tree, the structure of a leaf, the door handle of an automobile—things created by nature or man.

What is your design philosophy?
Less is more; it is more difficult to create a functional design with simple lines.

Why do you think minimalism is so popular when jewelry in essence is all about ornamentation?
I have nothing against ornamentation; only overdoing the ornaments can cause disorder.

What plans do you have for your jewelry line in the future?
A future plan for a new exhibition or collection will [center around] the newlywed. I like to change a little bit the concept of the jewelry worn for the wedding occasion, [which] I find a little too conservative and without color.

Who are the jewelry designers you admire and why?
Among the local jewelry designers, [I like] Eduardo Castrillo, who's actually a sculptor. He has created his own style and design concept, and has not changed it. His designs are very recognizable. Among the foreign designers, I have difficulty [mentioning] one in particular but looking back during my studies in Switzerland and Germany, it is my professor in the Kunstgewerbeschule Zurich Kurt Aeppli, who 'gave' me the love for designing jewelry.

How do you unwind?
Golf is a fantastic game to unwind because it takes 4-5 hours to finish a game and you forget all the problems in the office.

What music do you listen to?
In general, I prefer classical music—Mozart, Beethoven, Vivaldi—but I also enjoy old jazz.

Where do you vacation?
We vacation once a year in Switzerland for museum visits, opera, and theater.

What is your favorite cuisine?
My wife Maria's

Who are your fashion icons?
Fashion designers from Japan, like Issey Miyake

Who are your favorite authors and what are your favorite books?
Pascal Mercier's Night Train to Lissabon; Simonetta Aguello Hornby's The Almond Picker; L' Adultera by Theodor Fontane; Friedrich Durrenmatt's In den Verliesen der Wirklichkeit; The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood; Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore; and Sam North's The Old Country

Art appreciation
In addition to jewelry, Hans also sculpts—abstract creations of kamagong wood, mother of pearl, and metal. His favorite artists include painters Picasso, Van Gogh, and Cezanne, sculptors Henry Moore, Alexander Calder, and Alberto Giacometti, and architects Renzo Piano, Frank Gehry, and Mario Bota

Click here to view pieces by Hans Brumann.

Click here for Hans Brumann's contact information.

-Mariane Perez (taken from Preview's, January-February 2008 issue)

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