I often find myself driving across town—from my Los Angeles home, located down the street (literally) from the world-famous Hollywood sign, to the tony enclave of Beverly Hills—in order to meet jewelers and watchmakers on their home turf, usually within a three-block radius of Rodeo Drive.
The neighborhood is as wealthy and privileged as popular culture would suggest—which makes these visits at once exhilarating and gemstone beads
. (I love the pomp and circumstance of the luxury business…except when I find it exhausting.)
But last Wednesday, when I visited the jewelry designer Jacquie Aiche, I had a profoundly different Beverly Hills experience. For starters, Aiche’s by-appointment-only showroom is located on a tree-lined street in one of the city’s more modest (yet still posh) residential districts, in a spacious, wood-floored apartment that’s part of a courtyard complex reminiscent of the 1990s TV series Melrose Place. I loved the showroom’s cozy vibe the moment I crossed the threshold.
Aiche describes her “body jewelry,” which retails from $1,700 to $10,000 (depending on the thickness of the gold chain and the amount of diamonds), as “the modern day La Perla—women don’t want to take it off,” she says. “It becomes an extension of your body.”
All the jewelry is handmade in Los Angeles in sterling silver and 14k gold, and it features a rich use of color. Aiche is drawn to offbeat gems, like ammonite, Laguna agate from Mexico, lapis lazuli, and turquoise (the last evokes her mother’s Native American heritage). As of this year, she is collaborating with the mining company Gemfields to create a line of finger bracelets featuring Zambian emeralds.
Aiche’s impressive list of wholesale accounts—from Oster Jewelers in Denver and London Jewelers on New York’s Long Island, to stockists as far afield as Kuwait, Tokyo, and Paris—is an indication of just how well consumers have taken to her utterly wearable styles.
Four years ago, Aiche had a personal encounter that added a new signature element to her collection. She met a charismatic rabbi by the name of Sylvain, who practices a mystical form of Orthodox Judaism known as Breslev. The spiritual movement atarted by Rebbe Nachman in a Ukranian village 200 years ago resonated with Aiche, who subsequently collaborated with Sylvain on the Blesslev Amulets collection.
The pieces feature tiny scrolls inscribed with a Kabbalistic mantra that are tucked inside vibrantly colored pouches of exotic skins (snake, stingray) and strung from semiprecious beads in styles that range in price from $65 all the way up to $2,200.
Celia’s latest exhibit was held at Private View, Salcedo Auctions, in Makati, where her jewelry lived up to the show’s title, “Enchanted Ornaments.” Celia told me it was at a social function in Makati in 1987 where the necklace she was wearing fascinated the well-known painter Arturo Luz. Where did you buy that, who made it, Arturo asked, and when Celia told him she didn’t buy it but she made it, the stunned artist said, “You have to put up an exhibit in my gallery!” Celia did, and the exhibit launched her career as a jeweller – with a difference.
Her designs are a mix of beads, jade, pearls, precious and semi-precious stones, boar’s teeth, rope and bottles, antique amulets and Kalinga mat, ever so gingerly and expertly put together with melted and carved gold and silver. Her customers are art collectors, Wholesale beads
, who, Celia says, “are tired of conventional jewelry, those who like rare and unusual objects and bead enthusiasts.”
Celia has exhibited in cities in Indonesia, the US, Australia and Czechoslovakia, and in select museums and art shops in Manila. It was in Jakarta in 1987 that she discovered a whole new world of beads. People who heard that a Filipino diplomat’s wife was interested in beads, brought them to her house, still tired-looking from years of being kept unappreciated in cabinets. Celia was enthralled, she knew the beads were rare, she bought them, and produced an enchanting collection of jewelry. The exhibit she put up was a success. The locals were baffled that a Filipina could produce such beautiful ornaments from items gathered from caves and rivers.
As a little girl growing up in Iloilo, Celia had marvelled over her grandmother’s bangles and necklaces. After finishing high school, it was not jewelry designing that she took up, but fine arts, major in painting, at Philippine Women’s University. She attended art workshops at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. She studied painting with Kumaril Swami of the School of Shanti Niketan in New Delhi; with artist Roelijati Soewarjono in Jakarta, and Oriental painting with Dr. Teruko Haga. She held three exhibits of impressionist paintings, and one exhibit of glass sculptures, another fascinating episode in her artistic life.
Celia’s art pieces are intertwined with global cultures. Karen Kua-Lerma, Salcedo Auctions president, writes in the studio’s catalogue: “While embodying the elements of Filipino style and tradition, the influences of Molano’s jewelry are indeed global. With various cultural influences making an impact on her work, one can see traditional salakot designs, for example, interspersed with European faience and African semi-precious stones. This deft handling of hybrid forms and her long time love affair with jewelry have for years allowed her to create pieces that are both innovative in construction and design, and timeless in their beauty. By uniting art and antiquity, Molano provides her collectors with a refreshing take on the old and the new, the East and the West – a marriage of only the best and the most beautiful in a singular work of art.”
Art writer Rita Ledesma writes in the Private View catalogue celebrating Celia’s show thus: “(Celia) learned that for thousands of years (India’s) materials, techniques ,and elaborate styles had in essence remained the same and that jewelry traditionally marked every stage in an Indian’s life whether in the use of necklaces, earrings, belts, bracelets, or anklets.” Completely captivated, “Celia formally studied the craft and recognized the intrinsic connection between beads and culture. She knew then that this would be her life.”