Hans Brumann: The master jeweler looks to other artists

On the block at Salcedo Auctions are Brumann's pieces inspired by Pablo Picasso, Gustav Klimt, Arturo Luz, Impy Pilapil

Hans Brumann photographed before the cocktails that opened the preview for Salcedo Auctions’ The Well-Appointed Life sale. (Photo from Salcedo Auctions)

On Saturday, March 18, starting at 2 pm, a selection from Hans Brumann’s After The Masters collection will go on the block at Salcedo Auctions’ The Well-Appointed Life sale, now held biannually. The series includes rings and pendants that evoke the spirit of great artists from all over the world, like Filipinos Arturo Luz, Impy Pilapil, and J. Elizalde Navarro, along with European greats Gustav Klimt, Georges Braque, and Pablo Picasso.

Prior to the cocktails that opened the auction’s preview, Brumann sat down for a tete-a-tete with The Diarist, to recall highlights from his journey of over 50 years as a jeweler to Manila’s fabulous set.

You’re 81 years old, and it’s amazing that you are still busy creating jewelry. You seem so inspired, still.

Hans Brumann: That’s true. It comes with my profession and my love of what I’m doing. That’s very important.

Having lived, studied and worked in Europe, weren’t you scared of leaving for Manila to work, as a young man?

HB:  No. I wanted to go out of Switzerland. Because it was boring. And I had a cousin who was always traveling around the world. He was a travel agent and he knew, he was here before in the Philippines. He said, ‘You should go.’”

Brumann (right) photographed with his friend, the late artist Arturo Luz, wearing the same shirt he wore to the cocktails (“bought in Bangkok years ago“), the graphic design of which appealed to Brumann’s modernist taste (Photo from Hans Brumann)

Brumann with artists Impy Pilapil and Arturo Luz (Photo from Hans Brumann)

When you arrived in Manila, as you said you were 27 years old, you were already married?

HB: No. It was not until after two years.

But you and your wife already knew each other before?

HB: Yeah. Two months before I came to the Philippines, we met. And then we had to talk to each other through the phone, once in a while because it was very expensive at that time to call. Or write letters.

Oh wow! Did you preserve the letters?

HB: I did, but she threw them away.


HB: She said, “You don’t need them anymore.” So, it’s okay.

Ring inspired by Pablo Picasso

Ring inspired by Gustav Klimt

Pendant inspired by Georges Braque

What was your first impression upon arriving in Asia?

HB: At that time, I remembered we landed in India first. I mean, from Switzerland to another country and then to India. That was the first stop. My first impression of the far east: You step out of the plane—wow, the heat hits you. You know it’s like that, coming from the cold of Switzerland. It was in February when I came.

You came here and worked for La Estrella del Norte, and then after a few years, Ding Velayo. How was your work experience?

HB: With Estrella del Norte (EDN), I was assistant to Rudy Gloor, and he was my boss. EDN always had a foreigner to manage their jewelry section. Before, it was the French people who did that, then it was Rudy, and I was his assistant.

Rudy is from where?

HB:  Switzerland. And he helped me a lot to like the Philippines, and also the job. When I arrived, he gave me calamansi juice—I remember that—in his garden.

By that time you were already practicing jewelry making?

HB: Not anymore. I was more in the management part, because we had in EDN about 30 goldsmiths at that time. That company was probably the number one company when it comes to modern jewelry making in Asia, because Rudy Gloor introduced that style of making jewelry. And then I learned from him.

Earrings inspired by Arturo Luz

Pendant inspired by J. Elizalde Navarro

Bangle inspired by Impy PIlapil

After that, you started your own company. But you were already a modernist even then?

HB: Yeah. Because of the training—you know in Switzerland, as a goldsmith you have to go to art school once a week. They teach you how to portray the jewelry in watercolor, or whatever. And then also, I went to trade school in Germany, one year. There I learned a lot of other techniques: enameling, stone setting, and designing.  That’s my background, actually, from that school.

Then when I came here, Rudy gave me the customers he did not like. From the difficult ones, you learn a lot.

Can you name one?

HB: They’re all dead, haha!

At the time you opened, 1978, the trend in Philippine art and architecture also was modern.

HB: Yeah, we had very good people here. Very good artists, in all the different fields.

So your designs were received very well?

HB: Yes. We were catering to the very rich also, at that time. Because you know how they are. If one buys something, the other rich one has to buy also. Up to now, it’s the same.

I want to know about some of your special clients, haha! It’s common to have women clients who have great taste in jewelry, but about men with great taste?

HB: You said “men with great taste,” that was Lindy Locsin. I made all the jewelry for his wife. But he’s the one who gave me all the stones. And he approved the design and everything. We were quite close in that way.

How is the jewelry business these days?

HB Today is different. Now, the gold price is so high in Meycauayan, for instance, where all the plateros are coming from, they all have to close down. Because of the gold price. They cannot afford to buy gold.

Do you train people also?

HB: Yeah, we did. That was already the case with EDN. In Ding Velayo, as well. And then I started my own. Usually, you take the good plateros with you for the next job. Paeng is one of them.

Your assistant said Paeng was with you when he was in his 20s. Now he is 65 years old and still with you. Your staff is very loyal.

HB  All of them. Even in the house, same. We have helpers in the kitchen who have been with us for about 35 years.

Are you strict?

HB:  Yes, in a way, when it comes to the quality—I’m really after that—and the design also, whether they can interpret my design or not. Sometimes it’s not good or we have to change, or make a new one.

I’ve seen the designs of the After The Masters series. They’re like little sculptures.

HB That’s true. The jewelry is like architecture in miniature. That’s how I discovered how to use the mother of pearl. I’m the first one who did this here in the Philippines. And now I also do sculptures. Big ones.

For a guy that makes jewelry, you don’t wear any.

HB: I don’t.

But you make for your wife?

HB: Yes.

She enjoys wearing them?

HB: Of course. (Laughs) She has no choice!

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