Being a jewelry journalist has its hazard especially if you’re a jewelry junkie as I am. At the elegant Taj Bengal Hotel in Kolkata, one of my first stops is always to Khazana, the hotel’s own chic, in-house shop. The jewelry vitrine where rose cut diamonds dazzle from their often enameled settings are unique. In India, it’s difficult not to notice that the affluent women love their gems and wear them with dashing pride. It’s a bit of show and tell of one’s status and it’s their tradition.
Sitting outdoors sipping tea on the terrace overlooking the Himalaya Mountains at the century old heritage Windamere Hotel in Darjeeling India, I couldn’t help but notice two sophisticated looking and stylish women wearing a few wonderful pieces of jewelry. Not too long afterwards, as with many isolated hotels where guests eventually get to chatting about their lives and where they are from and feeling more familiar, I asked about the their jewelry sensing that the use of gold and styling might very well be by the same designer. In fact, they were designed by a London- based; forty-ish year old woman who happened to be related to one of these women, the other a family friend, both guests at the hotel was designer Amanda Brighton. All of us celebrating the Christmas holidays in this far off land with an extraordinary vista. What great fate to meet the designer, thinking that in India; fate is an important aspect of life.
Soon I was interviewing Brighton who was born and grew up in Bangkok, Thailand but spent two or three months a year at Windamere Hotel owned by her uncle. The child of a Tibetan mother and English father, Brighton, a former financier in London, decided a few years ago, to leave the money market arena and do what she had always felt was her destiny. – to be a jewelry designer. She took her GIA course in 2001, graduated in 2002 and started her own business 2005.
It was a gutsy move to this new career but slowly in London, she developed a word- of -mouth following. Now, as a well known designer with a posh, private clientele stretching to Europe and Asia, Brighton is invited to take part in various important jewelry shows. She was featured last years as “Up and coming designer, New Heroes of the jewelry industry”’ at Coutts London jewelry Week. She was also a presence at the show at the Tower of London. “It’s one of the main events of jewelry week. It’s a showcase for jewellers, their designs and the differences that exist in London.”
“I come from a family of jewelry enthusiasts,” she says fingering one of her stunning new ring designs in a matte gold finish. ”I was also a mad consumer,” laughs the exotic dark haired beauty. It was a lucky coincidence that she actually had a huge portion of her jewelry with her so over a coffee table in my suite, Princess of Siam, I was given a most wonderful showing of a modern and dynamic collection.
A dedicated woman who prioritizes and is totally focused on whatever she pursues and with no formal jewelry training, after her first successful but small collection, she enrolled in several jewelry courses, learned about precious and semi precious stone.
“I felt I needed to be able to talk the jargon with complete knowledge.” She also wanted to know firsthand about stones and whether they had been treated or were natural, recognizing stones by their gemological properties.
“It was absolutely fascinating,” says Brighton talking about her year learning the trade. She emphasizes that she’s not a goldsmith and leaves that entirely to the experts in Bangkok.
“I have a strange way of making my designs. I play with ideas in my head and imagine them from every aspect. Then I put it on paper. Sometimes I’m inspired by the stones but often, when I see something beautiful I imagine something beautiful and I begin to think how it would look as a how it would look as a ring or earrings.”
I sit fingering some of the most original rings I’ve seen in a long while. Shimmer, one of her new collections seems to be the mother lode for mother of pearl based rings with detailing that includes pink sapphires, aquamarine and diamonds.
With her incredible connections in Bangkok and fluency in the language, Brighton now draws sketches which are then made in Thailand, the Mecca for coloured stones, coloured stone cutting and polishing and great craftsmanship.
“I tend to go for 6 weeks at a time and usually do the bulk of my work then. However, I never show any sign of annoyance if it isn’t right. They would just lose face,” says Brighton fully aware of the cultural differences that exist in that part of the world. I always try to be in Bangkok to oversee the execution of my designs. If I don’t go it has to be a design that I’m confident that could be done without my being there. ”
She sometimes has had to tell the craft people that this or that isn’t what she had envisioned. “There have been times when we’ve had to start all over again but I actually think its part of any process. It’s fine tuning like any product.” She admits she has a critical eye for detail which at times flusters the goldsmiths. “I’ve always been fussy and I just apply that to my work. Anything that I have made has to be up to my standard”, says the self proclaimed perfectionist. “The pave work is all done by hand and is perfection.
Her other collection Lace has stunning unique pieces, especially her detachable earrings, some combined with pink sapphires and onyx others with emeralds and black diamonds and then there are the dramatic amethysts and diamond pair. All the work is smooth and perfectly finished.
“It’s also a very easy place for me to work since I can speak Thai. It’s amazing for a designer to see the amount of different materials that are available to work with.” She still finds it amazing for a designer to see all the stones in Bangkok from the rough to the finished gem.
We then discuss the orange sapphires available in Thailand. “They’re really quite common but had a bit of bad press,” she says with conviction. “It was one of the first coloured stone on which they used diffusion treatment to alter the colour but and thee wee initial problems with disclosure. As a result, that market collapsed. It has since recovered and disclosure is now widely practiced. In that colour range that colour range, the pink orange sapphires from Sri Lanka are exquisite and are my favourites which I try to integrate in many of my designs”
Her knowledge about gemstones, inclusions and imperfections makes her very credible.
It may seem like light years ago from her first small collection and the careful, limited production. But now she’s expanded her design skills and her latest groupings include ‘Lace’ and ‘Shimmer’, both beautifully crafted, often featuring curved pave work with use of colour combinations and intricate design and both in a very different price range. In Lace, micro-sapphire and amethyst are worked over chrysocolla and sugilite oval cabochons in dramatic sweeping shapes.
Brighton is the perfect showcase for her own jewelry and one of the first pieces I saw when we met were the plate-round pink pave sapphire earrings with drops of pearls that dangled at the top another from the middle and then one at the end certainly making a discreet but impressive statement. They were the perfect colouring for this exotic looking woman. But then I realized just about anyone could look terrific with these baubles as parenthesis for the face. And the design was the perfect merging of Western and Eastern cultures.
When I ask about what inspires her, Brighton’s answer was unusual. “I’m a huge day dreamer and always have been,” she states with her very upper crust English accent. “I think about royalty but my designs are really a blend of everything I’ve been exposed to. I’ve been lucky since I have lived in and visited the most beautiful places and have seen many rich cultures. “
She admits that her jewelry is ‘very romantic’ but I suspect she will be bolder in the near future. As for the size of stones she prefers, she states.”I go through phases. Recently I’ve been using a lot of small pave work, now I’m going to bigger stones.”
However, her colour choices veer to the very vibrant and exuberant. As for her own favouite stone, it’s pink sapphires which are seen often throughout her new collections. However, heat treated small pink sapphires, she admits are very easily found and she does ingrate them in some of her work. “However, larger size pink sapphires are now very expensive and have become harder to find. But I have such good contacts in Thailand that I usually get what I want”.
Up to date she has sold privately, but now there have been a lot of inquiries from important exclusive retailers from Hong Kong and the US. “I haven’t reacted to any yet but I am thinking a lot about Hong Kong,” she admits.
As for the future, “more of the same but larger”.
“I’m excited about my work and the entire industry all the time. It’s so different day to day,” she says with youthful enthusiasm. But one of her selling opportunities is rare and unexpected. It’s house parties, a Tupperware take -off but with gems galore. “I have friends who invite about 8 women for a private showing at their homes and it’s great fun and I do have most successful sales.”