This genderless jewelry collection spotlights Philippines’ heritage and age-old artisanal works

Published October 26, 2021, 1:21 PM

by John Legaspi

Homegrown jewelry brand Amami presents its ‘Basilio’ collection with pieces designed to be worn by anyone.

Starting out as a passion project in 2017, Amami became a full-blown social enterprise when founders Danielle Tan and Christine Tiu “met an artisan who happened to be one of the last remaining goldsmiths in his town—and in the country even.” At the center of his craft is the local filigree tambourine work on jewelry, a craft that stretches way back to the days before colonization, in the form of amulets and talismans. These are then used by the Spaniards to create rosary beads, which eventually influenced the brand’s name, Amami, short for “Ama Namin.”

“We decided to create Amami as a platform that would really create livelihood opportunities for local craftsmen, allow them to hone their skills and talents, and at the same time ensure that this special craft—one so important to our country’s cultural heritage—lives on for future generations of Filipinos,” the two women say.

Pieces from the “Basilio” collection

Creating something beyond wearable art has been at the core of the mission of the homegrown jewelry brand as it revives the endangered jewelry traditions. But this time, it takes its mission to a whole new level with its first gender-inclusive line “Basilio.”

In a conversation with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle, the women behind Amami talk more about the six-piece line, from its historical references to the importance of genderless fashion, how the pandemic has affected its operations, and why keeping the age-old artisanal jewelry work from dying is a huge deal for us Filipinos.

How was the business during the onset of the pandemic?

It’s definitely been challenging especially since our products are considered non-essential. We thought: “We sell jewelry, who would buy jewelry in the middle of a pandemic?” We honestly thought we would not get through 2020 and 2021, that we would not have a single sale. As a social enterprise, we have a commitment to our artisans. At the end of the day, we will do anything to keep providing them with livelihood. Even when it’s difficult, we have to continue to pivot, be resourceful, stay creative, innovate on designs, and find better ways to reach our customers. One important factor for why we’re still here is really our community of advocates. We really wouldn’t be here today without our amazing community of Filipinos from all over the world who believes in our work and continue to support us from near and far.

Let’s talk about your latest collection. Why did you call it ‘Basilio’?

The collection name “Basilio” is based on a popular fictional character introduced by Jose Rizal in his novels “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo.” We wanted a name that Filipinos could instantly recognize and whose story/experiences relating to him and his family many Filipinos could relate to as well.

Narra and Patak rings

The Benedicto necklace

The collection draws “inspiration from the natural and supernatural world.’ Can you tell us more about it?

We drew inspiration from a combination of the natural and supernatural worlds for our “Basilio” collection. For example, our Narra Wood ring was inspired by the Narra, the Philippine national tree. The Narra is known for its strength and durability, a symbol of the Filipino people’s indomitable spirit and strength of character. The Patak Granulated ring was inspired by pensive afternoons spent watching raindrops flowing down tree bark, a reminder of the life-giving rhythm of nature. Our necklaces, on the other hand, are rooted in how Catholicism is deeply embedded in Philippine culture and society. We came up with a Golden Flower Cross we call the Krisanto and the Benedicto Necklace which was inspired by the St. Benedict’s Medallion, a popular devotion for special protection against curses and evil. Apart from the Catholic motifs, we also drew inspiration from the moon and goddesses through our Buwan Beaded Bracelets. It was about taking all these elements and harnessing their beauty in the form of jewelry.

Why did you decide to put out a unisex collection now?

We envisioned creating a genderless collection to make our Filipino heritage jewelry more accessible and inclusive to a wider audience. We also wanted to continuously reimagine our heritage jewelry through design innovation.

The “Basilio” collection is a result of a 10-month collaboration between Amami and upcoming designer Adam Pereyra, a member and advocate of the LGBTQ+ community, making it even more special. We share the same vision for the future of Filipino fashion and decided to simply let the creative energy flow between us. We’re very proud to share with everyone what we’ve been working hard on together for the past months.

Adam Pereyra with Christine Tiu

What are the pieces made of and who are the artisans you’ve worked with in making it?

Pieces from the “Basilio” collection are made of 24-karat gold plated pure silver. (They are hypoallergenic as well!) We work with fifth and sixth-generation goldsmiths and silversmiths (or plateros) from around the Philippines who specialize in making gold filigree tambourine jewelry which is basically a highly meticulous jewelry making technique where a platero expertly twists and molds fine metal wire to form intricate designs.

What is your goal in releasing this collection?

We realized that through the years, the jewelry designs we put out have catered to mostly women. Tambourine jewelry is also more commonly seen worn by women in the past. By releasing our first gender-neutral collection, we hope that Filipino heritage jewelry will be worn by and enjoyed by anybody. We believe our Filipino heritage is meant to be celebrated by all and, hopefully, this collection will enable more people to do so.

See more of the collection at amamiph.com.

Photo credits:

Art direction @makieph

Photography @nacariodaryl

Styling @xxxcarlisle

Grooming @chaysabelle

In frame @aldrinperio