As I flew over a carpet of forest into a tropical Yangon evening, I was delighted that Turquoise Mountain had invited me to work with them on a new project. On my way up to the village workshop I passed by the Irrawaddy River on its slow, meandering voyage and reflected on the gradual journey the country was also undertaking. It was in a crucial period of re-birth for Burma and I was excited to be a part of it.
Founded at the request of HRH Prince Charles and Hamid Karzai, The Turquoise Mountain foundation was originally set up in Kabul with the aim to revive the country’s traditional crafts. Last year, partnered with the Suu Foundation, a humanitarian organization, Turquoise Mountain began their dedicated mission in Burma. Starting with restoring historic areas of the country, they hope to contribute advancement of health and education of the Burmese people through reviving traditional arts and crafts.
While jewellery making has always been a huge part of Burmese society, people are increasingly favouring poor quality, machine-made imported designs. And as a result, the jewellery industry is rapidly declining. As Burma itself is one of Southeast Asia’s poorest countries, I felt it crucial to help this ailing industry and the suffering craftsmen to preserve the traditions of their ancestors.
Wherever I went in Yangon, the chiming of bells followed behind me in the distance. The temples were like a chorus, calling the Gods to listen to the prayers being offered. Mesmerized and enamoured I began incorporating sound into my designs, allowing each piece to have its own voice.
I worked with Aung Chay a goldsmith in Rakhine to create the collection and sourced the stones from women of the community. Outside the gemstone mines in Yangon, women gather at the end of each day to take home waste rock. They are free to sort through the rubble and search for Rubies, Sapphires, Tourmalines and Peridots, before selling them at an all-female market nearby. They often go weeks without finding anything, yet the prospect of discovering just one substantial stone could change their lives overnight.
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