For Brazillian jewelry designer Silvia Furmanovic’s latest series, she looked to the natural world for inspiration. The result, the Bamboo Collection, is a gorgeous, unexpected merger of materials, and a celebration of centuries old Japanese weaving techniques. Here, finely layered bamboo, twisting around itself seemingly infinitely, is accented by silver and gold, diamonds and gems. The humility and the grandiosity of Furmanovic’s chosen materials play off of one another smartly, and contemplate the very definition of luxury.
Have you always been interested in bamboo as a material, or is this a recent interest of yours?
Since the beginning of my career, I have nurtured an appreciation for objects made by the hand of artisans. I have also always been drawn to unusual, natural materials, and the possibility of elevating their value by mixing them with diamonds and precious stones. I did a very small capsule collection back in 2012 with woven bamboo I found in Thailand. Years later, through my travels to Japan, I encountered the art of bamboo weaving and basketry. The challenge was to adapt the pieces to the scale of jewelry. During my research, I was looking at the work of masters Abe Motoshi, Morigami Jin, Shiotsuki Juran, and Jiro Yonezawa. I also visited this gallery in Paris called Galerie Mingei, where I was introduced to the work of several bamboo masters.
Tell me about the process of taking Japanese knot-weaving techniques to Brazil for production. Who are the artisans instrumental in this process?
One of my first experiences with bamboo weaving happened during a visit to Japan, where I came to know the artisans from the city of Beppu, a hot springs town located in the Southern Japanese island of Kyushu. Bamboo weaving is a tradition there that goes back generations. The process involves lengthy apprenticeships in workshops, whereby the know-how is handed down from father to son. Mastering those skills and techniques can take decades.
During my research for the Bamboo Collection, I discovered that the state of Acre in the Amazon rainforest—the region where we make our marquetry pieces—has one of the largest bamboo plantations the world. This was a very surprising finding and synchronicity that brought me back to my own country, and showed I was in the right path.
In addition, we did a partnership with Instituto Jatobás, founded by Brazilian philanthropist Betty Feffer. Instituto Jatobás is a non-profit organization committed to influencing and expanding sustainable living and consciousness in the country. The organization has dedicated over 88 hectares to plantations of bamboo—a material which has over 5,000 recorded uses—and is pioneering the use of the material in sustainable developments across the country. Our company will be supporting the institution’s craftsmen to teach them Japanese knot-weaving techniques; we plan to bring craftsmen from Japan to teach them this particular art.
What challenges did bamboo present as you began to work with it, if any?
When I was in Beppu, I visited the Beppu City Traditional Crafts Center, a museum that chronicles the craft’s evolution in the region, and also offers workshops on bamboo weaving. The museum’s director referred me to a number of local bamboo artists, most of whom work from home. I contacted and visited each of them. One of the more challenging aspects of the collection was communicating with the artisans because of the language barriers. I had to be very specific about the types of pieces I commissioned from them to adapt to the scale of jewelry. However, they are very proud of their craft and felt very happy someone from outside was recognizing the value of what they do, so they were very open to collaborating.
What can be said of the marriage of this historically utilitarian and efficient material with precious stones and gems?
Combining precious stones and gems with bamboo is a way to confer value to exquisitely crafted objects made by expert hands. I recently saw a documentary called Takumi: A 60,000 Hour Story on the Survival of Human Craft, which argues that it takes at least 10,000 hours of focused practice for a person to become an expert in any field. In Japan, there are craftspeople who go far beyond this in order to reach a special kind of mastery. These people are called takumi, and they devote 60,000 hours to their craft. For me, this is more valuable than gold, diamonds, and precious gems. This kind of craftsmanship involving a lifetime of training and time is what luxury means to me. Therefore, I believe these humble materials need to be elevated and given the “framing” they deserve.
Your collection references “The Seven Teachings of Bamboo,” which describe the different wisdoms the material affords. How did you come to discover it?
While I was visiting a bamboo farm in Brazil, there were seven different signs throughout this hiking trail that we did. The teachings were authored by a Brazilian priest, and they liken bamboo’s physical properties with spiritual lessons. The teachings are as follows:
What bamboo teaches us, most importantly, is humility, to become humble before our difficulties. We do not bend before problems and hardships, but only before the principle of peace, which is to be at one with everything.
Bamboo takes deep roots, because whatever it has going upwards, it has going downwards too. Like bamboo, we should deepen our roots to Source each day.
Have you ever seen bamboo grow by itself? Perhaps only when it is young, before others are born at its sides, much like the process of co-operation. They are always glued to each other, so much so that they look like trees from a distance. We can try to pull a bamboo out of it and find that we are unable to.
Bamboo teaches us not to create branches. As its goal is to reach the top and to live in a thicket, in community, bamboo does not allow itself to create branches. We spend a lot of time in life trying to protect our branches, giving priceless value to insignificant things. To win the game of life, we need to shed everything that keeps us from going up smoothly.
Bamboo is full of knots. As it is hollow, it knows that without them, it would be very weak. Knots are the problems and difficulties we overcome. Knots are the people who help us, those who are close and end up being strength to us in difficult times. We must not ask life to keep us from problems. They are our best teachers, if we can learn from them.
Bamboo is hollow, empty of itself. As long as we empty ourselves of everything that fills us and steals our time, that takes away our peace, we will not be happy. Being hollow means being ready to be filled with life force.
Finally, the seventh lesson from bamboo is that it only grows upwards. Bamboo seeks things from above. That is our goal.
What about bamboo makes it a material perfect for this moment in time?
I am very excited about the sustainable dimension of bamboo, and this year has shown everyone how limited and precious our earth’s resources are. A sub-family of grasses, they live for about 20 years, but the underground root system continues to grow and produce new shoots, so they—in essence—live forever. Certain bamboo species grow half a meter a day; they mature from shoot to full size in just two to three months. It is very different from traditional wood/ trees, which take years to grow. It is very gratifying to work with this kind of sustainable materials in my work, with an eye to a more sustainable future.