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Stories in diamonds and gold

Caryll and Jose Benitez.

Caryll and Jose Benitez.

Husband and wife team Jose Benitez and Caryll Martinez-Benitez invite six Filipino artists in different fields to create a line of wearable art

Not so long ago Jose Benitez and Caryll Martinez-Benitez were busy running their own businesses. Successful in their respective fields, it had always been the couple's dream to do something together. Now the proud owners of Denovo, they are working together to bring a distinctly Filipino touch to the world of jewellery.

Caryll is not new to the jewellery business - her family has been involved in it for more than 30 years - but wants to move away from "old school" designs and instead capitalise on non-traditional Filipino concepts and styles that will set them apart.

To realise their vision of producing "different stories" that cater to various market segments, they collaborated with six guest designers from various fields: writer Cheryl Tiu, sculptor and painter Jinggoy Buensuceso, fashion designer Maureen Disini, sculptor and installation artist Leeroy New, accessories designer Neil Felipp and sculptor Olivia d'Aboville.

A number of the pieces, particularly those designed by Buensuceso and New, are unisex. While Tiu's intricate and feminine-looking pieces are culled from memories of her many travels, D'Aboville's collection is composed of huge, organic pieces that mimic twigs, branches and various natural formations.

The couple also tapped experienced accessories designer Georgina Ong to translate and fine-tune a number of the artists' designs, such as rings, necklaces, pendants, bracelets, brooches, cufflinks and even a money clip into workable jewellery pieces.

"Their pieces are what we call wearable art," says Jose. "There's nothing quite like them in the market today."

Prices of these limited-edition designer pieces range from 20,000 pesos to 2 million pesos (Bt49,000 to Bt4.9 million), depending on their size and make.

Unlike other jewellery companies where what you see is what you get, Denovo is open to collaborating with clients in the choice of materials.

Apart from high-grade black and white diamonds and other precious stones, Denovo only uses gold (14 and 18 karats) and gold-plated silver. Each centre stone comes with a certificate from the Gemological Institute of America to assure customers that they're getting their money's worth, says Caryll.

Denovo's boutique is located at the newly opened Century City Mall on Kalayaan Avenue, Makati. The husband-and-wife team plans to open three more outlets in Metro Manila within the next year or so.

For Jose, Denovo isn't only about making unique pieces of jewellery, it is also about making jewellery pieces, particularly diamonds, "more accessible" to the many.

Many people find diamonds intimidating," he says. "With the help of these artists, we hope to encourage new customers to start their own stories by buying and gifting themselves and their loved ones with jewellery for every milestone in their lives."

There are a number of reasons why the couple chose this initial batch of designers. Apart from bringing with them varying aesthetics, each talent has been tasked to tap into a specific market.

Tiu, for instance, was asked to come up with designs that would hopefully appeal to independent women, while Disini's directive was to appeal to future brides with her collection of diamond-studded engagement and wedding rings.

New and D'Aboville were asked to cater to present-day urbanites, while Felipp was assigned to take care of millennials. This left Buensuceso to fashion precious and semiprecious gift items mostly for men.

"Apart from their individual directive," says Jose, "each artist was free to do whatever he or she wanted."

Tiu's five-piece "Global" collection, composed of rings, bracelets, earrings and a cuff, was inspired by such historic and iconic structures as Istanbul's Blue Mosque, Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock, Budapest's Fisherman's Bastion and Rio de Janeiro's Metropolitan Cathedral.

Instead of going solid and linear, the first-time jewellery designer opted for soft, curved patterns and latticework for a lighter, more intricate feel. A pair of stackable bracelets even had touches of colour to represent the stained glass windows of the Rio cathedral.

"Every piece in my collection represents a country or city I was drawn to," she says. "But my representation of the Philippines is totally different."

It's not that Tiu didn't find any appealing tourist spot in the Philippines. But after seeing how her countrymen rose with renewed hope and energy in the wake of Super Typhoon Yolanda, she decided to draw inspiration instead from the Filipino character.

She appropriated the sun and stars on the Philippine flag, which she reinterpreted and interspersed with a cross, to form an eye-catching statement cuff.

Because of his background in fashion, New produced fluid gold and rhodium-plated pieces that borrowed heavily from religious iconography. But you need not be Catholic to appreciate and even wear one of his creations.

In lieu of crosses, he drew inspiration from angel's wings to produce the "Seraph" collection.

Felipp chose Abu, Aladdin's tailed sidekick, as his muse for his "Simian Collection" of monkey-shaped necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings.

"My pieces are a reflection of Abu, a mischievous monkey who's drawn to anything shiny, shimmery and splendid," he says. "I want the wearer to have fun because even though our outer shell changes, our inner child remains."

Finally, Buensuceso's "Equilibrium Collection" celebrates balance and is designed to appeal to individuals who favour simplicity and linear details over frilly carvings.

The artist took inspiration from leaders and achievers who live intense, even punishing, lives. The collection is his way of reminding them of the importance of living a "balanced" life.

"With our country's booming economy, we felt that it was high time we introduce a line of home-grown jewellery," says Caryll. "Since almost everything imported is now available in the country, local is the way to go. With the right designs and materials, it has become the new premium."






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