Many countries have a rich cultural history of adornment and refined artistry. But none more so than Bali. Few places in the world are quite so enchanting. What makes Bali unique is the fact that these traditions are still evident today, and modern jewellery designers are tapping into the once well-kept secret to reveal the beauty of Balinese jewellery in their designs. Countless are those who come to Bali specifically with the hopes of harnessing and incorporating the practices of local artisans into their work.
Where exactly did these creative traditions begin, and more importantly, how are they still so alive and vibrant today? Of course, with the prominence of spirituality in Balinese identity and culture, mythical stories may tell a different story than the history books. Stories of gods descending to teach a man how to work with gold and silver, how to be civilized and how to craft jewellery are common.
The roots of Bali’s jewellery heritage starts after the colonization of Bali by the Majapahit Empire of Java. Bali became a hub for Javanese craftsmen and the art of silver-making truly flourished.
Whichever story you prefer, this pool of talented silversmiths and goldsmiths have transcended the years, inspired by their vibrant surroundings, the beauty of their offerings of gifts to their Gods, and their strong connection to their ancestors.
The true heart of the community of gold and silversmiths is now found in the village of Celuk, around 10km south of Ubud. This small village has truly defied the powers of globalization: at the prospect of the infiltration of tourism, the villagers transformed themselves from rice farmers to gold and silversmith. Some of the specialities that are combined to create the finest jewellery include filigree, very delicate soldering of beads and threads of metal to create a design; jawan, using spots of silver to create texture and engraving-like features; and granulation, an ancient technique using even more refined speckles of metal to create a design. Bali itself is often the inspiration for artisanal designs: the symmetry of nature, bold coloured flowers, natural art forms – the backs of animals like turtles or bull’s horns; as is its cultural history: extravagant mandalas, statues of Gods and heavy tribal armoury.
Not only can designers use the creative skills and craftsmanship of the Balinese but have become the inspiration of many. In fact, designers often come with ideas, but in fashioning these ideas into reality, Bali’s artisans inadvertently become the true artists behind the jewellery design. The beauty of this resides in the fact that each piece of jewellery is a unique vision of not only the designer but the craftsperson at work. It is a rare and unmatched collaboration between two completely distinct worlds: the mind of the modern artist with the interpretation of the traditional artisan.
In a world in which activism and sustainability in fashion are not only becoming increasingly trendy but also essential, the hidden strength of designers transplanting their jewellery design to Bali is that it offers the opportunity to engage in ethical and sustainable practices.
Both utilizing Bali’s natural talent, as well as contributing to the development and livelihood of local communities through partnering with local artisans ensures that brands stay socially conscious and contribute positively to a newer, slower form of design in fashion.
It also plays a role in guaranteeing this cultural continuity, so that generations to come can delight in the enchanting practices of Bali’s design masters.