Developing a Collection: My Process

     I've talked about the intricacies of how our jewelry is made, but I haven't yet touched on the process of developing a collection. It's more than just simply sketching out a design and handing it to our artisans. No, my process from research to product development is just as complex and intricate as how our pieces are made. To give you an idea, the Pintados collection is a culmination of nearly two years worth of research and development before it finally became a cohesive collection. Here's a look at my process.

(Left) The Mayari and Urduja cuffs; (right) my sketches of the final designs for Pintados.

     I usually start a collection by doing research. I've slowly been steering the brand to focus more on Filipino culture and history as I find that's what inspires me the most. I won't go into much detail about this stage because I've already covered that in a previous post about the making of Pintados, but typically this phase in product development requires extensive reading of books and other reliable sources, as well as research trips to museums. I don't claim to be an expert in culture or history, far from it, but it's important to be as well-informed as possible on such sensitive topics to show respect and to avoid cultural appropriation.

     When I've finally decided on a theme to explore, that's when I move on to sketching out my initial ideas. I'm pretty old-school and prefer to draw them in a sketchbook. There's just something about not being able to hit undo and leaving your raw ideas as they are, to revisit any time and refine in the future.

(Left) The Hiraya ring; (right) my sketchbooks with the first scribblings of what would become the Pintados collection.

     Once I've settled on a few designs and the initial sketches are done, I fine-tune them on AutoCAD. This gives me a better idea of proportion and sizing. After that it's on to SketchUp where I create 3D models of the designs. These help me visualize how a piece might look IRL, so I can keep tweaking the design until I'm satisfied with it. Doing all this is a lot of work, but having all the specifications, down to the minute details, saves so much time and confusion when I hand over the designs to our artisans to be produced.

(Left) The designs and their measurements are finalized on AutoCAD; (right) 3D models of the jewelry pieces.

     Next up is prototyping. I always start with the shell inlay, since that's really the star of the show. For Pintados it was pretty straight-forward: a black and white color scheme to evoke the look of traditional tattoos. I chose the matte, stark white of the kabebe shell to contrast with the iridescence of the blacklip (more on that here). Check out this post for a more comprehensive look at how our inlays are made.

(Left) Our shellcraft artisan sampling the inlay for the Mayari earrings; (right) the final inlays ready to be attached to the metal frames.

     I also experimented with a silver and abalone colorway for the collection. The pieces were beautiful, but didn't really make sense in the context of the theme of traditional tattoos.

(Left) A silver and paua abalone version of the Mayari choker; (right) a prototype of a knuckleduster ring design. I don't remember what frame of mind I was in when I designed it, I guess I just thought it was cool. *shrugs*

     Sometimes a design just doesn't work out the way I think it will– that's why it's important to prototype. I originally had a pattern in mind based on a crocodile scale motif, but the design was too small for my shellcraft artisan to do, so we took it out and were left with... a hashtag. Eventually I scrapped that design and reworked it to become the Malaya pieces of the Pintados collection.

(Left) The Malaya earrings and their early design; (right) prototypes of a link bracelet and choker. #howdidinotnoticethatwasahashtag

     The sampling and prototyping phase is definitely the most costly of the design process. You'd think finishing the samples would be it, but I would never let a design go into production unless I was completely satisfied with it myself. And so we revise and re-sample until I and the artisans are happy with it. Apart from making sure the design adheres to my vision, I also have to be sure there won't be any technical issues when the pieces go into production, so there's a lot of compromising done between me and the artisans. Once everything's approved, then we can move on to production.

     Seeing my drawings come to life is one of the most exciting moments of being a designer. To be able to hold my ideas in my hands is nothing short of amazing and something I'll never get tired of. I'm incredibly lucky to be able to work with skilled artisans who can help me translate my ideas into tangible reality.

(Above) The final designs of the Pintados collection.

     Ultimately a lasting piece has to be well-thought out as well as well-crafted. As a creative, the amount of work you put into creating your pieces will always show. I believe you owe it to yourself as the creator, as well as to your clients, to do the best you can to create something you and others can be proud of.

     This is a very condensed look at my design process, but I hope it gives you a better idea of the work that goes into our jewelry. From conception to crafting to the finished piece, each step is a labor of love.

– Susanne


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