Jewelry Design at the House of Alaia

Published 29 November 2016   


Written by:
Zia Aussum

Behind the Batu Bolong storefront of House of Alaia, alchemy is taking place – a magical process of transformation, where expert artisans and metal smiths are creating inspired jewelry and sharing their craft.

Every time I try something new (painting, surfing, cooking lessons in Moroccan cuisine), I harbour a secret hope that I’m about to unearth some as-of-yet undiscovered talent, an innate aptitude that’s been lying in wait to unleash itself on the world. And so it goes when I arrive at the House of Alaia on Batu Bolong, ready to launch myself into a jewelry making workshop, where I’ll emerge three hours later with a piece of silver jewelry made with my own two hands.

img_2358Learning curve
The key to metal stamping is a steady hand and even pressure.

As I enter the shop I’m immediately grateful for the chance to escape the unrelenting heat. The air conditioning is humming, there’s an Indonesian ballad playing on the radio and a general sense of calm and creativity in the air. Made, a 6-year House of Alaia veteran, is hard at work, cutting tiny heart and diamond shapes out of a small 10 karat gold rectangle that resembles a dull razor blade. The blade is destined to become a pendant on a necklace and seems appropriately edgy for the cool craftsman who wears a gold Rubik’s cube on a long chain around his neck. I ask if it actually moves, and Ayu, our translator and shop manager, responds, “not yet, but he’s working on it.”

img_2289A ring for every hand
A selection of rings

The Batu Bolong storefront is the brainchild of House of Alaia founders and designers, Nea Hildebolt and Christy Feaver. Half retail shop and half workshop, with six workstations set up for students and artisans alike, it’s the jewelry equivalent of a teppanyaki table, putting the craft on display for all to see. Made asks me if I know what I’m going to make. I’ve been on Pinterest all morning in the name of “research” and have settled on a flat bar necklace stamped with Canggu’s latitude and longitude coordinates. Made smiles. Something tells me he’s seen this before.

The workshop begins and the process is labour-intensive, but there’s a comforting sense of order and I turn myself over, an eager student in Made’s expert hands. First we head to the mini-factory further down the gang where we melt the silver into something approximating a breadstick. This gets put through the rolling mill, a machine that resembles a pasta maker and flattens the silver into a thinner and thinner strip. After this it’s back to the workshop in the storefront where Made hands me a hammer and shows me how to flatten out any kinks in the metal. We measure and cut the silver, creating a practice piece and a piece that will ultimately become my final design. Made places a stamp set in front of me with 26 letters, a few symbols, and numbers from 0 to 9, and then tells me to practice until I’m confident in my letter stamping skills. This could take a while.

After a few missteps, I’m ready to go for gold (or silver in this case), and I carefully hammer away, my brow furrowed with concentration as I do my best to keep my numbers crisp on the metal surface. When I’m done, Made shows me how to file the edges on my piece to make them smooth to the touch, he drills the holes where I’ve marked, helps me sand and polish my piece, and then it’s time to add the chain. He patiently watches as I try (unsuccessfully) to thread the rings of the clasp onto the delicate links, and eventually takes pity on me and offers to help. I watch in awe as his considerably larger hands work the tiny pieces like a magic puzzle, effortlessly connecting the chain and the clasp. After that he carefully welds all the joints so they won’t come apart, and steeps them in battery acid to remove the binding agent, then washes the necklace in soap and water, and suddenly, my piece is ready.

I ask Made, if he had to give me a grade for my work, what would it be? “7.5/10,” he replies, “you go a little heavy on the stamping.” He’s right of course, but like a child looking at their crayoned drawing, I’m blind to my mistakes. I can’t see the places I’ve gone outside the lines, only the masterpiece I’ve made with my own two hands.

Of course the pieces made by the master craftsmen who work for the House reach far greater levels of perfection than I could ever achieve. There are eight smiths in total and two wax carvers, all experts in their craft, each playing an important role in the development of a new piece.

img_2351A wax
carver hard at work on an intricate design.

Most pieces begin in the wax room of the factory where tattoo-covered shirtless artists work through the midday heat, carving impossibly delicate details from Hildebolt and Feaver’s visions into wax – a technique known as lost-wax casting that’s been used for thousands of years. These wax models are then used to make a mold, which becomes the blueprint to bring each exquisite piece to life.

From the beginning Hildebolt and Feaver set out to make “inspired jewelry”. Their pieces aren’t just pretty or striking (although they are certainly both), but hold a deeper significance within each design. For example, the Fabrics of Life Collection is a series of custom patterns stamped on weighty antique brass or oxidized silver cuffs, inspired by cultures around the globe, each one paying tribute to a different intention, from peace to happiness, strength to courage to love. Traveler’s Coins share similar sentiments, the pendants designed to protect and guide the wearer on their journey through life. The Reminder Bracelets are inspired by the Four Agreements, the bestselling book from Don Miguel Ruiz, and serve as reminders of the ways you can bring more joy, love, and peace into every moment.

img_2286Inspired design
Hildebolt and Feaver aim to create beautiful pieces
that inspire strength, courage, connection, and love.

Aside from their extensive collection of inspired work, the House of Alaia designers receive a high volume of requests for unique engagement rings and other custom pieces – 90% of their work in Bali involves custom design. Business is booming internationally, with their products exported around the world. They run daily jewelry-making workshops for adults and kids in store, and in response to recent demand they’ve even introduced a couples class, where partners can come in and celebrate their love by creating unique pieces for one another. I’m not certain that my piece would be embraced by a partner – only a parent has a responsibility to love a child’s quirky creations – but I’m enamoured with my piece and all its imperfections. Every stamp, every cut, even every flaw – they’re all mine, and that’s what counts.

Tis the perfect season to stop by the store and place a custom order for a special gift, sign up for a class and get out of the rain, or shop their existing inspired designs.

House of Alaia
No. 27B Jalan Batu Bolong
Canggu, Bali

1 Comment

  1. Hello,

    My sister and I are starting our own jewelry brand in Belgium.

    We would like to know whether you can help us with the production of our designs?

    What are the costs of production per gram and the gold per gram?
    14K or 24K?

    Hope you can help us further.

    Posted by Dilan on 20 December 18 at 12:02am [Comment]

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