Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Having the namesake of American architect Daniel Hudson Burnham, Burnham Park in Baguio, Philippines is a lovely area with Mount Kabuyao serving as a looming picturesque backdrop. The Philippines is also the home of featured jewelry designer Michelline Syjuco.

According to the country's historical records, evidence of 16th century jewelry items have been unearthed in the Philippines.

Currently gold and silver jewelry are primarily manufactured in Manila, Cavao, Bulacan, and Cebu; and the country is among the worlds' leading producers of gold.

In the midst of this, Filipino jewelry designers like Syjuco, are coming to the forefront shining a light on the country's growing jewelry industry.

The offspring of artists/poets Cesare and Jean-Marie Syjuco, the junior Syjuco nurtured her own creative traits.

Blessed with a lucid imagination, she wrote fanciful stories and painted as a child; she became a voracious movie buff; and helmed a rock band named Faust in her late teens for which she designed "all the outfits and accessories."

A sculptor by profession, Syjuco's first piece of jewelry was an oxidized bracelet made from an empty, Nestlé cream can; an item she still has. Viewing jewelry design as a by-product of sculpture, Syjuco learned the art of metalwork on her own through trial-and-error.

Her next jewelry piece, cultivated from gold-dipped brass and sterling silver specks would become the foundation of an assemblage of items she called the Armadillon Collection.

The bulky, distressed, and misshapen items are shrouded with a murky veil of hard-edged rock n' roll encompass Syjuco's lively and somewhat dark imagination. Her love for the illusory aspect of films like Solaris and Mad Max add to her work's visual depth.

The gnarled, blackened forms capture an uneasy sense of calamity in their grim, gritty proportions. Armadillon was also the subject of Syjuco's mural exhibition featured at the Philippines' Ateneo Art Gallery.

The dramatic aesthetic for the exhibit is born from the designer's vision of a devastated world called Armadillon, in which the remnants of its existence are aging and decaying jewelry.

"Being a sculptor has helped me to quickly learn new techniques and processes," she says. "I go through a series of processes with each piece, and that includes beating the metal, burning it, sanding it down, dipping it in gold or silver, oxidizing it, etc. It is a long and tedious process where some pieces can take as long as one to one-and-a-half years to make."

Apocalyptic themes do not always provide the fuel for Syjuco's work, and her Summer 2010 Collection pays homage to the Earth's life sustaining force, the Sun.

"The sun is our main source of energy and it has also become the symbol of summer. I imagined that these pieces would be worn by a sun goddess," she explains. "I plated the brass and silver pieces in a bright gold hue to reference the glow of a sun goddess."

Syjuco's sun items with their luminous 18-karat gold-plated metals and large amethyst stones are an exuberant contrast to the Armadillon Collection.

It is always fascinating to see so much personality imbued within cold and lifeless metal. It speaks to a seemingly spiritual bond between a designer and his or her materials whereby the designer somehow imparts an intangible energy into a creation.

"I love doing wearable jewelry sculptures because I am able to create with my bare hands, what I see in my mind. Each of my pieces is handmade and unique. They each have a different name, and I'd like to think, a soul."

Along with fellow Filipino designers Kristine Dee, and Paul Syjuco, in October 2009 Michelline Syjuco participated in an exhibition entitled Triad: An Approach to Futurism. Last year she was the first jewelry designer to be short-listed for the Ateneo Art Awards for her foreboding Armadillon Collection.

For 2010, she is currently working on collections for upcoming exhibitions, and at some future point hopes to accessorize such entertainers as Madonna, Adam Lambert and Lady Gaga.

For more on Syjuco, check out Talk News TV video interview with the designer at

Part 1

Part 2
Photo 1 (top right): Spiked, Oxidized Medallion from Armadillon Collection
Photo 2 (bottom left): 18-Karat Yellow Gold-Plated Cuff from Summer 2010 Collection
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