Kenneth Cobonpue by Hans Brumann, or how an iconic chair inspires a ringBy Thelma Sioson San Juan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
One never knows what to expect in a piece of Hans Brumann jewelry—it could be an image of Rizal (Rizal collection to mark the hero’s 150th birth anniversary), a Christmas tree, or a grid. Or—it could be a Kenneth Cobonpue chair, which is precisely what is in Hans Brumann’s yearend collection presented two weeks ago. The Cobonpue rattan chair—a global iconic design today—is the inspiration behind the Hans Brumann ring.
While other jewelry dazzles with diamonds and stones, Hans Brumann has become known for his rich imagery that never fails to surprise and to leave in awe the buyer or spectator (like us who can’t always afford his pieces—sometimes, yes).
He puts in concrete form such rich imagery through the use of unconventional materials, like kamagong and molave, coral, nacre or mother-of-pearl. He’s not only innovative, he’s also bold and daring—a few years ago, for instance, he worked with the rarely used tanzanite.
His is a craftsmanship which apparently he and his workshop alone can produce—it’s not only intricate and detailed, it is also tedious and daring.
The yearend collection he unveiled two weeks ago at Makati Shangri-La, where he has a store, is curiously titled “Beauty and the Beast.”
What makes it “Beauty and the Beast,” we asked. His answer regaled us because it was neither esoteric nor romantic, it was pragmatic. The “Beauty” pieces, he said, are perhaps softer and dazzling as a woman is, with diamonds and precious stones like sapphires and rubies; his “Beast” pieces are comparatively structured, mannishly voluminous like a manly beast.
And—the “Beast” pieces are more affordable, using silver or brass. He made this delineation between “Beauty” and the “Beast” because he wanted to reach a broader market, way beyond the very loyal Brumann clientele who can fork out a seven-figure sum for jewelry, and Brumann has a steadfast and loyal clientele who looks forward to his annual collection.
In “Beauty and the Beast,” Brumann explores mother-of-pearl or nacre, with eye-popping results. Among the eye-grabbers: a huge brass cuff made of mother-of-pearl and multiple cubic zirconia; a 14k yellow-gold neckpiece with one blister pearl and 126 brilliant cut diamonds; a brass neckpiece with two blister pearls and two hematite balls.
Brumann, this time, showcases what he can do with “blister pearl,” capitalizing on its shape—that bulge—and its texture. One never thought biomorphism could look this elegant, but in the hands of Brumann, it can and does. There is a silver (gold-plated) bracelet with one mother-of-pearl blister that’s shaped like a Christmas tree cut in half. It’s strung with other mother-of-pearls, one of which is shaped like a fish, and also with nine corals, one red coral, one freshwater pearl, six lapis lazuli and one cabochon sapphire.
The Kenneth Cobonpue ring is 14k white gold with a moonstone. The ring is a square frame of symmetrical holes, like a Cobonpue chair—a three-dimension wonder of craftsmanship which, Brumann himself admitted, was not easy to make.
Brumann has kept these precious raw materials, such as the mother-of-pearl, through the years, and brought them out early this year to start working on them. The Christmas tree-shaped mother-of-pearl, for instance, had been in a storage box since the 9/11 New York disaster; he was about to use it for a collection.
Despite his horde of precious and semi-precious stones, however, Brumann has always believed that the beauty of jewelry lies not only in the material itself, but more so, in the design and craftsmanship.
A pricey piece in the collection is an 18k white-gold ring with green tourmaline, 18 square rubies, 16 sapphires, baguette diamonds, black diamonds and brilliant cut diamonds. Despite its geometric, structured design, it doesn’t look chunky on one’s finger.
The master jeweler has a playful imagination and perhaps even more playful hands that allow him to up the ante, where craftsmanship is concerned.
To this day, Brumann loyalists love how he makes rings or pendants using kamagong. “I love the natural color of wood,” he told us.
In Switzerland, where he was born, as he was at the point of preparing for a career, he was made to choose—he could be a dentist, a goldsmith or a baker (he comes from a family of bakers).
“But I didn’t like looking at teeth all my life,” he recalled the decision he made.
He had always wanted to be a graphic designer. To be a goldsmith was the closest to it.
In 1978, the young bachelor jeweler—only 26 then—chose to migrate to the Philippines where, he knew, there was a growing demand for a jeweler, compared to back home where jewelry-making was already an old, fine art. He was hired by La Estrella del Norte, the leading jewelry brand at the time.
He never left the Philippines, and put up his own workshop and jewelry line, which has developed a lucrative following through the decades.
Perhaps not known to many, Brumann is a Filipino citizen. He applied for naturalization more than 40 years ago. And he and wife Maria have advocacies and scholars, among them their workshop employees.
Brumann also has a gallery at Greenbelt 5 where, the day before the unveiling of the “Beauty and the Beast” collection, the latest sculpture works of Brumann and paintings of Norberto Carating were presented.
Overheard at recent dinners:
A designer bewailing the exorbitant rates of today’s young artists—“There are no more starving artists, only starving collectors.”
A society watcher trying to describe a certain woman: “Well, she’s not up-and-coming. And she’s no has-been—because she’s never really been.”