Colored gemstones are very popular in jewelry today. They feature in exquisite fashion jewelry, bridal sets and even in men's pieces. One designer has gone beyond his beautiful jewelry to create fashion from his gems.
Cynthia Unninayar reports....
Kyoto-based Dreamtime has certainly deserved its international reputation for creating some of the world's most alluring opal jewelry. Founded more than thirty years ago by Australian-born Bruce Harding, the brand translates some of its most illustrious opals into some very illustrious fashion and home decor.
“Dreamtime is all about Nature,” Bruce Harding muses. “It’s about taking very important stones from places all over the world and transposing them into a thing of beauty, an heirloom to enhance your life.” But Harding has gone even further. He extrapolates the spiritual essence of these extraordinary opals and colored gemstones into the creation of magnificent scarves, ties, vests, dresses, furniture and the unexpected linings for jackets and coats that exemplify and complement Nature’s majesty.
While not the first to do this, the process and design format of actually utilizing the intrinsic characteristics of the stones is a fresh departure from the norm. In doing so, Harding’s fashion line promotes his jewelry line, and the jewelry promotes his fashion line. “From the very early days in my jewelry world,” Harding explains, “I had a vision that the wonder and brilliance of gemstones could also be used in fashion and art. Thirty years later, I’m still creating fashion and art from jewelry—especially men’s fashion, which is usually very plain and stereotyped.”
Designing fashion for both men and women using vibrant natural colors is something of a challenge. But, as the designer says, “When I sell a very important opal for several hundred thousand dollars, and that person is one of the very few who will ever see that stone again, then nobody will believe that such a stone could even exist. By transposing it into fashion, every-body can understand that there are wondrous gemstones in the world and, although you may never own one, you can wear them.”
To understand just how wonder-filled Harding’s world has become, one needs to take a step back in time… “My life began in the outback of Australia,” he reminisces, as his mind drifts back to his childhood. “The closest house was 50 kilometers away and I rode a horse to school. Even the doctor had to visit by plane. My father was a driller for oil and then later dug for opals, diamonds and sapphires. It was fascinating to watch the miners digging into the earth and coming up with the most beautiful, but elusive opals and other gems.”
Some years later, Harding moved with his mother to the United Kingdom, “Where I was shown the civilized world,” he smiles. His mother and grandfather were both artists and instilled in him the importance of art to the human race. The memories of the wilds of Australia, however, were always with this inquisitive young man who continually searched for answers—about himself and about the world around him.
He could not forget or ignore the difficulties that gemstone miners endure to bring their stones to the luxury market—to the women and men who eagerly display them on their fingers, necks or wrists. This
juxtaposition formed an eternal bond that is embedded in everything Harding creates.
“After the adventures of university,” Harding adds, “I headed to the North Sea and then later to New Zealand to work in the oil business. I soon realized, though, that this was not the life for me and began contemplating a new direction.” Out of the blue, one of his close friends—whose destiny was to become a famous gardener—moved to Japan to study Zen gardens. He invited Harding to join him.
“My first Zen experience was with my teacher, Okuda Sensei, a seventh-degree black-belt karate master. He taught me how to go beyond one’s limits, how to persevere and maneuver to win.”
Then, a Kimono artist took Harding’s knowledge of opals and color to create a new kind of Obi—the sash around the waist—that sold very well. “This made me realize that my talent would lie in color and design.”
Harding then returned to his Australian roots and brought important opals into his adopted country of Japan to create unique jewelry. Today, he melds the timeless qualities of luxury jewelry and expert craftsmanship with transcendent designs that symbolize the sophisticated aesthetic principals that are intrinsic to all aspects of our being—both on the conscious and subconscious level.
For the name of his new company, Harding chose Dreamtime. “In traditional Australian aboriginal culture, Dreamtime is the spiritual awareness that all time—past, present and future—exist at once. In the Dreamtime, human beings are always at one with their ancestors. Fine jewelry also has this kind of timelessness, for its quality and value never diminish. As heirlooms, jewelry passes from generation to generation, connecting people with their ancestry: past, present and future.
Bruce Harding’s philosophy of connecting the past, present and future, not just in design, but also on a Zen-like level, drives the inspiration for every jewel. Instead of forcing the stones to fit the design, he enables the individual character of each gem to radiate with its own sense of individuality and meaning.
For some, Harding’s remarkable opal jewelry has a far deeper significance. Twenty years ago, he created a magnificent 76-carat opal piece for a Japanese client. At that time, she learned that she had only six months to live. She loved the piece and wore it close to her heart, next to her skin. Soon, she threw away all her medicine. Today, 20 years later, “the woman is still alive, and insists that it was the opal that gave her life back, that it is a God-Stone,” says Harding. “And, for her, it is.”
While most jewelry designers live in Tokyo and employ others to craft their designs, the Dreamtime studio is in Kyoto, in the heart of traditional Japan, where craftspeople create original designs much like the ancient artisans did so many years before. Kyoto’s Zen spirit drives their creativity and craft, which is inseparable from the source of its inspiration.
“All the jewelry we make,” Harding says, “contains stones that take a long time to find. It has taken me years to build connections with many people, most of whom are the miners themselves. The opals we use are sourced directly from a very important mine in Lightning Ridge, Australia.” With his connection to the mine, Harding has been able to source some very exceptional opals that are no longer available on the market.
The unique color patterns and magical qualities of these Australian black and boulder opals make each piece one-of-a-kind. The stones, themselves, are ever-changing and extraordinary. Harding’s designs captivate even further by adding sprays of diamonds for energy and intrigue. When asked why he surrounds the exceptional opals with diamonds, the designer replies, “A Monet should not be framed at Walmart. And, when you turn the lights off, the opal is lit by the perfect crystals around it—a totally unbelievable experience.”
This experience is also reflected in Dreamtime's unwavering commitment to quality and goes far beyond its magnificent collections. Each new piece, be it jewelry or fashion, provides non-stop exploration into wonder and enchantment, combined with beauty and luxury. Just as Zen melds our thinking on both a conscious and sub-conscious level, so do Bruce Harding’s original and fashion-forward gemstones and gemstone-inspired silks. (brucekyoto.com)