Meet 6 Of The Philippines' Top Jewellers: Nicole Whisenhunt, Paul Syjuco, And More
Having been born into a family of celebrated artistry, Paul Syjuco is, not surprisingly, laying a claim to a unique niche in the jewellery industry. His creations, which he describes as “quite personal”, are inspired by the concepts behind his own interests and experiences.
After a few years of working in corporate, Syjuco flew to the US where he found himself invested in the technical aspects of gemmology and design. All this interest culminated in 2007, when he founded his very own brand.
These days, he finds himself still evolving and adapting. “We are a jewellery-wearing culture and it’s good to see this love for jewellery moving forward,” he says.
Syjuco’s own pieces often incorporate local materials such as mother of pearl and carabao horn. “I’ve made a gold bangle inspired by woven palm leaves to try out weaving techniques,” he adds. Though he leans towards more simplistic styles, his creations are versatile enough to cater to those who seek bolder designs.
In 2020, Syjuco launched a fine jewellery line called PS ILY for younger buyers. “It’s minimal and meant to be worn together or layered,” he describes. “For my flagship brand, Aum by Paul Syjuco, I have quite a few designs in the pipeline and plan to come out with a few special pieces every quarter.”
Jewellery is all about fun, at least for Candy Dizon. As one of the designers at Jul B Dizon Jeweller, Dizon utilises much of her imagination to create elegant yet wearable pieces. She, her sister and her sister-in-law have all banded together to design inspired pieces that celebrate the nuances of their most precious memories.
“Inspiration usually comes from my travels. The shape of a flower, colour of the leaves, structural built of a tower. It could be anything that I find beautiful and can translate into jewellery,” she explains.
Their brand, Jul B Dizon Jeweller, was first established by Paz Bañas, Dizon’s grandmother. Since then, the family business has grown to include multiple collections, one of which is the Filipino-inspired Simbolo collection. “We have pins and bracelets of the Philippine flag made of rubies, sapphires and diamonds. We also paid tribute to our street vendors such as mangtataho, mangbabalut and manglolobo,” Dizon shares.
The jeweller, who’s now working with an undisclosed celebrity, is currently designing a new line of jewellery for babies and young ladies—an exciting opportunity for her to lend her own style to a younger audience. Dizon also notes that layered chain necklaces with charms are currently the hottest trend in accessorising. People may also wish to customise their charms according to what they hold most dear—from airplane pendants for precious travel memories, or charms that remind us of those we love most.
“As I get older, my rule when it comes to wearing jewellery has developed into ‘More is more is more and that’s ok,’” she shares. “I love wearing multiple bracelets on each wrist, three rings on each hand ... I say, life is short so enjoy your jewellery as much as you can.”
Her love for jewellery started with someone close to her heart. Inspired by her mother, Macky Fah of Bijoux Fah admits that much of her sentimentality stems from family connections. “The love of jewellery started from my mum whose taste I’ve always admired. I’m still waiting to get my hands on certain pieces in her collection, which I will pass on to my daughters,” she says.
Fah reveals that her training came from members in the family as well, her father-in-law to be exact, who was a jeweller at Bern and in Gstaad. Though he’s retired, Fah is happy to continue the tradition, which she says is becoming more and more recognised in the country. “[The local jewellery scene] is growing exponentially,” she notes. “My family and my husband have always loved one-of-a-kind estate jewellery. I’m glad it’s catching on.” Like her clients, Fah has been investing in easy everyday fine jewellery “with a mix of [some] island vibes”, alongside custom medallions in all shapes and sizes. “I have a penchant for mixing sentimental tokens from loved ones [with] pieces I found in my previous travels pre-pandemic,” she says.
Her tip for jewellery investors? Do your due diligence. “I find that even with gem sourcing, that if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.” It’s best, she advises us, to simply focus on jewellery that can fully express one’s truest personality.
Storytelling is a big part of Nicole Whisenhunt’s love for jewellery. Using precious stones and metals as her canvas, Whisenhunt creates a fantastic narrative that’s both art and accessory. The spirit of sentimentality is also very much alive in her pieces, something which adds an extra dimension of meaning into what she fashions. “I do a lot of reworking of old jewellery
into something new,” Whisenhunt explains. “Most of the time clients are commissioning a piece which holds sentimental value to them. With that said, I am often asked to interpret their story into the jewellery [and] I think this is what makes my work unique.”
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Her career, which has burgeoned beautifully throughout the years, finds its humble roots in 2004, when Whisenhunt first explored beginner level “jewellery making”. As she advanced her skills, Whisenhunt brought her talents to Europe and trained at L’Ecole Van Cleef and Arpels. Now, the jeweller manages her own company with her own in-house plateros and craftsmen. Though she laments the few number of goldsmiths in the country, she also believes in the opportunity of growing the market. “What we need to do is grow more interest in the art and skill of jewellery making. By doing this, the younger generation can learn and continue the trade,” she says.
Especially at a time like this, when most jewellers recognise the growing movement within their own fields, Whisenhunt hopes to bring about more local influences into her work. “I have yet to create a Filipino-inspired collection in fine jewellery but given the time and opportunity I would love to design and create pieces inspired by our local heritage,” she says.
Whisenhunt is now working on a new collection inspired by ancient Eastern mythology. If it’s anything like her previous works, it’s likely to include influences from her favourite movements— Art Deco, La Belle Époque, Art Nouveau.
Unique, vintage jewellery finds its niche at Riqueza Jewellery. Helmed by Erica Reyes, the brand has two jewellery lines: one that caters to unique, antique vintage pieces, while another that focuses on custom design.
Reyes, who has spent time under the tutelage of the esteemed Ramon Villegas, has admitted to her own passion for one-of-kind jewellery: “Just like my clients and the ladies that I design for, [I] have uncommon taste.” As no doubt many of her clientele believe, Reyes views jewellery as not just an art but something that involves an emotional quotient. “A jewellery piece must make the wearer feel happy and beautiful, and enrich life,” she says. She’s also not one to dwell too much on trends, creating instead timeless pieces with meticulous detail that will outlast any fad.
Due to Reyes’ love for vintage finds, many of Riqueza’s pieces have an inspired history. Her designs usually take on the romanticism of years gone by, and Reyes herself admits to looking back on the glamorous Manila social scene of the Sixties and the Seventies. The designer, however, doesn’t limit herself to only a certain era, as her creations also embody the many influences of colonial jewellery tradition. “[Colonial jewellery tradition is] very rich and sophisticated, combining Indo-Malay elements, Chinese influences, European Baroque and Rococo styles. There are so many inspiring aspects to it. Philippine architecture and even tropical plants and flowers [also] provide so much inspiration for my jewellery,” she explains.
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Individual distinction seems to be a big influence on jeweller Kristine Dee, who founded her eponymous Kristine Dee Jewellery brand. “My clients inspire me the most with their own personalities and sense of style,” she says. “Each of them [is] unique and elegant in his or her own ways.”
Dee, who first took her master’s at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, says that industrial design and jewellery making were the biggest tools that helped shape her career. “[These] are what brought me here today,” she says.
Now with a store in BGC, Taguig, Dee has found herself eagerly experimenting in the design scene. “[The jewellery design scene] is just a matter of combining what we know: the techniques learnt, the different materials available and the inspirations as a jeweller,” she observes. One of her most delightful muses, Dee says, is the native orchid found in the Philippines and in Southeast Asia. The warmth and elegance of the flower’s form is what inspired one of her favourite collections, the Vanda collection. “Filipinos have a good sense of taste in jewellery design,” she asserts. “We have been exposed to different styles from our colonial background and we follow the trends of today from Europe and Asia. We are able to match these pieces in a medley of expressions, each to our own personal preferences.”
Her only advice to new collectors: “The quality of the stones, materials and workmanship are very important to consider. Good quality and design will maintain its value over time. Aside from this, take time to research on the reputability of the name you are buying from.”
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