Bex Manners. Bridging the gap between artisan and collector
Recently one article caught my eye. The author described some human activities that UNESCO had included in the list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity. It made me think how fragile and vulnerable our way of life is in the conditions and rhythms of modernity, and how necessary it is to preserve and respect it. Traditions, rituals and customs, crafts — the importance is not even so much the cultural manifestation, but the wealth of knowledge and skills that are transmitted from generation to generation, the socioeconomic value and significance for the society development.
In the world of jewelry everything is constantly evolving with the changing times. Many techniques are practically not used or forgotten. The computer technology has given endless potential for a creative work. The creation of a jewelry piece has become a production, mass “luxury”, which overshadow its authenticity, details perfection and uniqueness of lines and shapes.
Jewelry art is an integral part of the human activity, which reflects its spirituality, cultural preferences, economic opportunities and historical stages of development. Every corner of the earth has its own jewelry themes, metal processing techniques and traditional approach to the work.
A jewelry piece “becomes part of you. Your style, your story, your memory that can be passed down for generations.”, says a jewelry designer from London Rebecca Manners. She was born and raised in Menorca and in 2009 decided to set up Bex Rox brand after working as a fashion stylist and creative director in New York.
In the past few years Rebecca has become a “jewelry pilgrim”, as she calls it. She travels through the countries of Southeast Asia, bridging the gap between artisan and collector. Her work focuses on cooperation with skilled craftsmen around the world and creation of individual and unique jewelry that preserves and respect the of the cultural heritage.
Rebecca’s current focus is working to preserve traditional goldsmith techniques in Afghanistan, Myanmar and Bali, Indonesia. “This past year I have been able to come back to my authentic self, challenge myself by diving into the unknown, gain imperative knowledge about necessary subjects such as transparency, sustainability, connectivity, humanity, spirituality. The celebration of life” she says. “It has led me to understand my purpose as a creative” she continues. “A celebration of the arts and the makers behind them working on the ground to look for innovative solutions to preserve cultural heritage through crafts-peoples traditional techniques that are in danger of dying out.”
The jewelry art in Afghanistan is authentic and distinctive: textured and multi-layered surfaces, complex metal cutouts and inserts of blue and red stones. Rebecca is a partner of a non-profit organization Turquoise Mountain, which aim is to preserve and revive Afghanistan’s arts and architecture through restoration projects and vocational training. It also supports the local jewelers, providing them with equipment and comfortable working conditions.
The KUCHI collection became the result of this collaboration. It is inspired by an Afghan nomadic Kuchi tribe living the life of gypsies throughout central Asia. Their ornaments are abundant, joyful and eclectic, reflecting nomadic freedom and life style.
From prehistoric times the jewelry and body ornaments have been an essential part in the life of Indonesians: they were worn by shamans and healers, warriors, dancers, they accompanied them during various ceremonies and periods of life. In Bali goldsmiths are renowned for the granulation and lost wax technique as well as their stone carving.
Rebecca has been working closely on the ground for the past year to track down the best craftsmen. She is working with them closely, listening to their stories, learning their processed and developing collections.
To celebrate 10 years since Bex Rox was born, Rebecca created 10YRS10ICONS, each piece of which was endowed with meaning and value. The jewelry is made sustainably by using 18K & 22K recycled gold and silver sourced from pawn shops in Bali and ethically made supporting master goldsmiths.
Myanmar is famous for its rich history and culture: lacquer art, lotus silk weaving of Inle Lake, a variety of ethnic textiles, precious stones, woodcarving and delicate handcrafted gold jewelry. These crafts are still taught in many regions, representing indispensable part of the cultural identity and livelihoods of people across the country. However, this industry is in decline. Every year fewer craftsmen work in their field, and many traditional motifs, techniques and materials go into oblivion.
Most of the jewelers with whom Rebecca collaborates come from the Rakhine State, a northwestern region of the country with a rich jewelry history.
“One of the first things we learned, was how to sit still. We spent the first months just learning how to concentrate. This concentration brings attention to the task, and accuracy to the hands”, says the master goldsmith Thein Aung. He has been a goldsmith for 24 years and loves to make intricate pieces in solid gold. This craft with a rich tradition Rebecca supports through close cooperation with the masters of the Turquoise Mountain.
The Thorani collection combines traditional techniques and modern design in 18ct gold and silver. The fish is a cultural symbol of the Inthar locals from Lake Inle where the local economy survives mostly on agriculture and fishing.
Unfortunately due to the rise of tourism, and the deficient waste management around and on the lake it is threatening the natural environment with over 30 endemic species. The Thorani collection is not only supporting local traditional craft in Yangon but is also contributes to solving the biggest problem in the world — the Ocean. Rebecca is a member of the Project 0, which deals with the restoration and protection of the ocean.
Rebecca works with the customer in the team. She listens attentively to his story, explores it, transforming it into a wearable art piece. Then the designer carefully chooses which master will realize it, taking into consideration life style and wishes of the client. In each country with which Bex Rox collaborates, there are its own technique, resources, knowledge and wisdom. The reconstruction of a unique personal experience, translated into a fusion of traditions and contemporary design fascinates Rebecca, and this work approach is a manifestation of respect for history and centuries-old culture.