Art/Style/Travel DiariesStyle

Celia Molano: ‘You don’t look at them as just objects’

The celebrated designer of exquisite jewelry using excavated materials returns to exhibit at Salcedo Private View after a decade

Celia Molano
Gold “boar’s teeth” necklace–Celia Molano’s favorite and used as the cover image of her book catalogue The Jewelry Art of Celia Molano: A Glimpse of Asian and Philippine Jewelry Traditions. Many people have expressed their interest in this piece, but Celia refused to part with it until now.
Celia Molano

Celia Molano with her creations

The Art Vault features the second solo exhibition of Celia Molano, one of the Philippines most celebrated jewelry designers, whose last exhibit at Salcedo Private View, the private sale subsidiary of the country’s premier auction house, Salcedo Auctions, took place exactly a decade ago, in July 2013.

Molano continues to showcase her impeccable craftsmanship in creating jewelry from pre-colonial ornamental pieces, and precious and semi-precious stones. Her works are an intricate blend of originality and rich history expertly interwoven into every design, transforming already historically and culturally significant pieces into wearable art.

Celia Molano

Pearls and gold granulated rings and cameo flower design pendant set in gold—a necklace in what Celia calls a ‘sinampaguita’ design, similar to flowers strung together.

Celia Molano sits down with the in this exclusive interview:

You took up painting at university. Could you tell us more about it, and how you found yourself doing jewelry?

I wanted to do painting, but I also wanted to do jewelry. Since I was a little girl, I would play with the jewelry of my mother. I’ve always liked jewelry, so I would always string something together. I would always be doing something about art: studying art, reading, going to school, private studies with artists—like I did in India and Indonesia. And everywhere I went, I would learn something about art.

I collected beads and excavated gold as early as the ’70s. I would go with collectors and we would look for nice stuff and found objects, and I would put them together. One day, I went to a party and I met Arturo Luz. I was wearing the neckpiece that I made. He said, “That’s a very beautiful piece. Where did you get them?” So I told him I made them, and he said, “Well, can I ask you to exhibit in my gallery?” At that time, when you are invited by Arturo Luz and especially Luz Gallery, it’s something. So I said yes. I was still living in Indonesia, and I did all my works there by myself—stringing, doing all that—and I brought them to the Philippines. He gave me a chance to exhibit in his gallery, and it was a very successful one. And that’s how it started.

Celia Molano

A necklace of excavated orange terracotta beads and gold links from the Philippines—one of the pieces that Celia kept from her first exhibit at Salcedo Private View, titled Enchanted Ornaments, in 2013

Was that your first exhibit? What year was that?

It was my first exhibit, yes. Early 1980s.

Do you have any influences when it comes to your designs?

Oh, yes. Artists are always inspired. I would look at beautiful jewelry shops in New York, in Paris, and here in Manila. Then you just sort of get a good imagination of what you can do. I got inspired by places that I’ve been to, like India—you know, we lived in India for quite a long time. And also Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan—all those places that we’ve been stationed in. I would go to museums and look at the jewelry pieces and all the art that we could look at.

Also, there’s a lot of semi-precious stones there.

Celia Molano

An excavated gold chastity cover with mesh chain, predominantly found in Mindanao and Indonesia

Sri Lanka has a lot. India has a lot of beautiful pieces also. I also had a lot of inspiration from Indonesia, and the Philippines, for me, had the best. We had so many beautiful found objects from Butuan, from Surigao, from Cebu—all those places where you could find excavated gold, excavated beads!

When you look at things, you don’t look at them as just objects. I would start finding out where they come from. How did they come about, the history of a piece. And then I would learn from books. I would research on them. I would ask people who are knowledgeable.

Can you tell us more about your inspiration for using excavated objects in your designs?

They have history, and a lot of my friends were collectors. They were older than me during that time when we started collecting in the early ’70s. I learned a lot from them, too.

Celia Molano

A necklace of excavated gold ‘pipa’ beads and clear quartz crystals

What is your thought process when you create your jewelry?

The only thing in my mind is to make them beautiful, and for me to wear them. I would go to parties sometimes, I would wear them, and people would say, “Hey, that’s very nice. Where did you get them?” At least I’m proud to say, “Oh I made it. I designed it.” It started like that.

When did you start selling these pieces?

Only after I had an exhibit at the Luz Gallery. They were bought in the gallery. They were not my first buyers, because I think some friends asked me to string some pieces for them even before, and I would tell them, “Hey, you pay for the clasp. You pay for the materials put in there.” That’s about it. During that time with the exhibit at Luz Gallery, the gallery started selling it. It started that way. Since then, I would be invited by museums—the Metropolitan Museum, the Vargas Museum—and I would normally exhibit in galleries and museums.

What do you think your clients like about your pieces?

The originality. The color combination. With my background as a painter, as an art student and art graduate, I know how to combine colors. I know how to put them together. A certain bead would come from a certain era. I have to study these things. I bought books. My pastime was always reading books and learning. Because I know the period these beads came from—the found objects that came from this time or era—then I would know how to combine them. Then my background in art is also applied in putting these together.

What is your design philosophy?

My design philosophy is to do what you feel is right. Even with my life, I do that. I do what I think is right. I also do what I think is beautiful.

How would you describe the spirit of a Celia Molano piece?

A Celia Molano piece is an original. I’m never scared that someone will copy it. Sometimes, they would want to copy my works, but I don’t really mind it because they cannot get the spirit of a Celia Molano piece. So it’s okay, and I’m flattered that they liked my works. And I don’t stress about it. I just let it be.

Necklace with gold dangle charms from India, with excavated beads Celia put together to match the red pendants

Do you think your style has evolved from your first exhibit to your current one?

The exhibit pieces now are more on metals, gold and silver. So there’s a lot of metalwork now. In the past, in my last exhibit with Salcedo Auctions through Salcedo Private View, I had a lot of beads. So it’s really not much of a difference, because I also have some beads here—but it’s more of metal now.

Would you say the same about your craft from when you started back in the 1970s?

The materials that I use and the technology that I use, now it’s a little more advanced. Not only the tools, because the tools were already there even before, but it’s the way I put things together. My clasps are different now. In the beginning, it was a simpler design because I did it myself. Now, I have some help. Like, I have girls who string them for me. You know my eyes cannot handle it anymore. In the past, I would work until 3 or 4 am, and I would still be awake during the day and do a lot of work, but now I noticed that I cannot do that anymore. I have to rest.

Can you tell us about some of your pieces in this exhibition?

Most of the pieces I make are all my favorites. There are some that are special because the materials are more expensive and hard to find. I combine them. Of course, I tell the collectors that these are pieces that I combine. There are also many pieces that I decided, maybe it’s time for me to share and let it go. When you reach a certain age, you say, “Well, share na with everyone, and just keep a few things for yourself.”

A playful Celia Molano modern design of strewn amethysts, peridot, and rubies

Why exhibit at Salcedo?

Well, because I love Salcedo. When I had my exhibit in Australia, Richie Lerma curated it. Because at that time, he was a student there. He was taking his master’s degree. He was asked by the ambassador to help me, so he curated my exhibit. Then we lost track of each other. He became the Ateneo Gallery curator. He soon put up Salcedo Auctions, and we were one of the very first clients who saw him. And we were happy to see each other. And of course, I have sentimental reasons for exhibiting in Salcedo—and there’s a lot of trust in the auction house. Richie and Karen are my friends.


The Art Vault epitomizes the private sale experience at Salcedo Private View, the private sale and exhibition division of premier auction house Salcedo Auctions, the arbiter and barometer of the Philippine art and collectibles market. This event presents a meticulously curated collection of important Philippine art, exquisite jewelry, and other extraordinary rarities. It also serves as a prelude to “The Well-Appointed Life,” the country’s longest-running prestige purveyor of the best and the finest at auction.

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