Silvia Furmanovich, When Craftsmanship Elevates Nature

With a great-grandfather who worked as a goldsmith in Tuscany and her father also a goldsmith and jeweller in her native Sao Paolo, it seems Silvia Furmanovich was destined to work with jewellery. Yet, the Brazilian designer came to it later than may have been expected. “I spent 20 years doing something completely unrelated. I studied advertising, worked with aromatherapy and essential oils, nothing to do with jewellery,” she recalls.

 Having taken up goldsmithing as a hobby in the ‘90s, she was quickly hooked, rediscovering her roots and links with her heritage: “The moment I touched that melted gold, I felt a strong connection to my father, who’d passed away when I was 17. It was quite extraordinary. I’d never really valued the craft until then,” she recalls.

 The hobby turned into a business once her best friends sported a porcelain bead bracelet she had fastened with a beautiful gold clasp, and wanted the same. Today, Furmanovich has made a name for herself amongst connoisseurs who appreciate her ability to ennoble materials like wood and bamboo with the use of craftsmanship techniques such as marquetry, miniature painting, and knot weaving to create wearable works of art that stand out for their uniqueness.


Is there a common thread amongst your collections?

Flowers, nature, the use of wood; craftsmanship. Over time the collections have evolved but they are always referencing each other. Everything repeats in a new way. For example, even today, I still always have a few pieces that use porcelain beads, because they remain very special to me; and I often use seashells because I first learned to do those in silver.


How did you develop your signature wood marquetry jewellery?

Five years ago I met an artisan who creates huge wooden screens representing the amazon forest in marquetry using salvaged wood. He’s quite well known in Brazil and I actually pursued him to the jungles of Acre in the north, where he lives, which was a real expedition because I had to take two planes, a car and a boat… I had to convince him to make the pieces for my jewellery collections and it was a challenge to create pieces on such a small scale but today he has about 25 apprentices who are learning the techniques. Last year, we evolved our designs from flat-surface marquetry to a 3D volume, which was another big challenge. But the collection has proven a big success, particularly in the US.


Where do you find your inspiration?

Everything comes from either a trip I’ve done abroad or from the specific material or stones I’m interested in working with. I’ve done an entire collection with Brazilian opal after I discovered a little-known mine that has those most beautiful milky opals, quite different from the Australian ones.


There are quite a few Japanese influences in your jewellery.

I used to visit antique shops in New York and Europe and I would often see those tiny carved buttons, netsukes (once won in Japan to suspend articles from the sash of a kimono). I used to think they are so small they would get lost in the house, and then I thought, ‘Why not use them to create a piece of jewellery?’ I ended up buying a Brazilian collector’s entire collection of small animal netsuke and I did a lot of rings and bracelets (and still create some pieces with those).


I’ve also been to Japan several times to study Japanese craftsmanship, which I find fascinating. The first time, in 2012, I went to Wajima, which has one of the most sophisticated lacquerwares in the world. It was a fishermen’s place, but you push a curtain and there is this amazing atelier selling a teapot for $10,000. What a contrast! I did a small collection inspired by fragments I had bought in that place.


I was in Japan three months ago and one of my next collections will be based on ceramics, which I’ve now been researching for some time. I’ve also met this very young lady who creates knots out of bamboo that she first let dry for three years. She cuts the bamboo very thinly to create her pieces and frankly the amount of patience, work, and skill… I think it’s more valuable than diamonds or gold! I’ve bought a few pieces from her which I’m adding to the next collection.


Why do you continue to seek out new craftsmanship?

I like the change and I do like the research process. In 2016, I saw a small exhibition of Indian miniature paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, while I was visiting one of my sons. You had to use a magnifying glass to see the detail and I was very impressed. I started researching and found an art school in Udaipur that is preserving this ancient technique. I visited it and saw how they were still using natural pigments from stones like malachite, lapis lazuli, and they painted with brushes made with camel eyelashes or squirrel tales. Now I’m working with them to create jewellery with miniature paintings on small slivers of camel bone.


A Version of this article first appear in ADORE magazine (December 2018)