When asked to define her idea of beauty, Silvia Furmanovich sites “the forms of sacred geometry found in nature.” Her work–a gorgeous melding of various methods and materials–takes that inspiration to heart, creating collections that feel not simply made, but preordained.
One could attribute the Brazilian designer’s advanced, highly conceptual techniques to early exposure to the craft. Her father, Salvador Longobardi, was a goldsmith. Furmanovich observed him diligently as a child, taking notes as he worked from his atelier. “I used to watch him make beautiful things. He was a huge guy with huge hands and he made little things, so I was very impressed. I remember his artifacts in yellow gold, and he taught me all I needed to know about the importance of craftsmanship, of finishing, details you can’t readily see.” Furmanovich, for her part, works well beyond metallurgy, designing with what–borrowing a term from the art world–could be called a multi-media approach. Carved turquoise, lacquered mosaic, murano glass: the combinations are uncommon and spectacular.
Most impressive, perhaps, is Furmanovich appropriation of marquetry for the purpose of luxe ornamentation. The ancient technique uses layers of wood for a sort of trompe-l’œil effect, and is seen most readily in jewelry boxes and various interior decor. While impressive in skill, the style often does not appeal to the more modern of senses. Furmanovich’s marquetry, however, is almost unrecognizable from its forebearers. Her wooden earrings look like the wisps of bird feathers. Her wooden rings give off the impression of light catching the facets of real diamonds. She has taken a technique and transformed it for her own vision, elevating something that once seemed staid.
While Furmanovich employs plenty of diamonds and precious stones in her collections, it takes a particular type of woman to appreciate her brand of cerebral beauty. “My customer is a sophisticated, worldly woman who can buy whatever she wants but decides she wants something unique and different, one-of-a-kind, that no one has,” says Furmanovich. Her pieces–seen within the pages of Vogue, Elle, and Bazaar; worn on the bodies of Naomi Campbell, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Isabeli Fontana–seem to impress the more one looks and analyzes them, notices the unique sweep of metal, the prominent placement of a pearl, the fearless mix of materials of variant worth. “I don’t have a prejudice against using common materials like seashells, resin, wood, or even bamboo with gold and diamonds,” Furmanovich states. “I want to make something that matches what I’m looking for; it doesn’t have to be conventionally ‘precious.’ Mixing precious with common is beautiful.”
Today, Furmanovich’s collection is the result of an ongoing evolution. While the blending of unexpected materials has remained constant, Furmanovich has churned through an innovative catalogue of styles and shapes: galactic swoops, assertive symmetry, exaggerated deco. The constant growth is attributed to her “desire to create bold and beautiful jewelry,” as well as her dedication to “discovering new ways of manifesting the beauty that already exists in nature.” Of her continued process, Furmanovich remarks, “I have become more confident along the years, and I am much more fearless than when I started.” Ever curious about the endless permutations of beauty in the world, Furmanovich has created a body of work reflective of that, embued with seemingly infinite possibility.
Here, we talk to Furmanovich about the value of the handmade, keeping an open mind, and finding constant inspiration from the people and landscape of her homeland.
There is something very whimsical and grand about your pieces—like dress-up for grown-ups. Did you have favorite pieces of jewelry you would wear as a child?
My favorite piece of jewelry as a child was my father’s tie pin, which he designed.
What is the most important thing you learned from your father, Salvador Longobardi, a goldsmith?
Today in jewelery and in fashion, producing copies of the same style is prevalent. Things that are individual and handmade hold more value. I always thought it was important for my collections to have one-of-a-kind pieces.
How do you approach your design process?
The initial stages of research and the possibilities of combining different materials are very exciting for me. I keep an open mind. It usually starts with wanting to make something unusual and different, which will surprise my clients. Nature is always my main source of inspiration.
Marquetry is not something you see often in jewelry. What first drew you to use that process in your work?
The collection is a result from a trip I took to the north of Brazil, almost to the frontier of Peru, to visit a group of artisans. I met a guide and his story was amazing. He was raised in the forest and he was very skillful in wood marquetry. He went to study to be a priest; the German priests gave him four years in a German university. He came back to the forest and opened his own business. The local team is very skilled and they’ve made something I would have never imagined possible to create in the smaller scale of jewelry. It’s a very Brazilian collection. The pieces lightweight and colorful, the designs are based on tree branches, feathers in a variety of colors, geometric patterns of gems and flowers from the Amazon forest. It’s a very complete collection.
How is the marquetry made?
Marquetry has long been used as a means of decorating furniture and wooden artifacts, widely used in Europe from the 15th century onwards in the decorative arts and ornamentation. For this collection, artisans go out in search of wood from parts of trees–including branches, bark material, etc.–that fall to the ground. Many of them are found within rivers; by being in the water for so long, they start to acquire different hues. The wood is therefore salvaged and reclaimed, making this a sustainable process. The veneers come from different species of trees. The marquetry technique is realized by skilled craftsmen, who cut and assemble different shapes of veneer or “leaves” into a sheet that is then pressed onto the surface of the piece. The grain, figure, and colors of the thin veneers are taken into consideration in order to create the decorative patterns. The pieces are then paired with precious gemstones and diamonds.
What does jewelry provide a woman in her day-to-day life?
Jewelry should make one feel more confident, happy, and underscore a woman’s personality. It’s important to find what really suits who you are as an individual.
Your work—from the settings to the processes—tends to be very innovative and unique. How important is it that your work continues to push the envelope?
It is very important. It seems like these days everybody has the same things!
What are your favorite stones/metals/materials of late?
I love working with ebony and it’s very sculptural quality. You can really carve it into any shape; the possibilities are endless. I will also be eternally in love with turquoise!
How does Brazil and its natural landscape influence your work?
I am drawn to the great exuberance of the natural beauty found in Brazil. The country is a wonderful resource for all kinds of colored gemstones and I am inspired by the endless possibilities resulting from their combination. My work is also very colorful and draws on the colors found in the art of native cultures. Brazilian women are sensual by nature; they have a very strong love for life and are very comfortable with themselves, and they like to wear statement pieces.
Your work seems to be influenced by your travels. Is there a particular trip or country that you remember impacting you in a significant way?
During a trip to Japan last year, I found the most incredible artifacts, including pieces in lacquer and tiny handpainted shells coated in gold leaf. I acquired antique combs and turned them into necklaces. This is what makes each piece unique.
Which three pieces in your collection represent three of the most important moments of your life—and which moments were they?
One of my first hand-woven bead bracelets with a gold clasp symbolizes the beginning of my life as a jewelry designer. It’s a technique that uses porcelain beads coated in 22k gold, woven manually using a very malleable thread. I used to make those by myself with my own hands. The effect is of a fabric or tapestry, and there are so many color combinations and design possibilities.
Later on, I enjoyed working with antique netsukes, carved miniature sculptures used in clothing in Japan as important symbols of distinction. I collected netsukes along the years, purchased through auction or antique stores. The final pieces–necklaces and cuffs–reflect the idea of highlighting a collectible object that can be appreciated and worn as jewelry. Coming across the book The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal, which recounts the history behind netsukes, was a very significant moment for me!
Finally, I am in love with the marquetry, which I am still developing at the present moment!