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My visit with Hans Brumann—and those cinnamon sticks (!)

After 55 years as the country’s foremost jeweler, he shows the same intense —fearless—passion for new design and material

Seen on TheDiarist.ph’s recent visit to Hans Brumann atelier, turquoise ring on 18K gold with cinnamon-like texture, produced in 'lost wax mould process' (Photo by T. Sioson)


Credits: Shaun David for TheDiarist.ph

Hans Brumann in his atelier, before his wood wall sculpture: At 81, he says he’s never been more creative than he is now. (Photo by T. Sioson)

Hans Brumann brooch of 18K yellow gold, platinum diamond set, produced in lost wax moulding process (Photo by T. Sioson)

“I’M more creative now than ever in my life,” says Hans Brumann, 81, as he settles down to our chat one morning in his office/workshop that has already become like a landmark in Makati—that’s how long he’s maintained this atelier/store in Legazpi Village, Makati.

Earlier that morning, I watch him arrive, get off from his car, to start another day at work. His gait is slower, as expected of an octogenarian who has stopped playing tennis, the sport he once ruled at Polo Club. But his presence in the workplace is something else—not only has it remained dynamic, it is also still dominating.

Brumann rules his atelier the same way he has ruled Philippine modern jewelry for 55 years.

For more than half a century, Brumann has blazed the trail in jewelry design, craftsmanship, and technology. His art has earned renown and following for its sculptural design which, at some point, could turn fanciful and whimsical.

“You need a discerning eye, if not some level of intelligence, to appreciate his designs,” I wrote in a feature on Brumann some years back, which was quoted in his book published in 2021, HANS BRUMANN: 55 YEARS OF DESIGN AND CRAFTSMANSHIP. “His jewelry was—and still is—like sculpture you can wear, with its highly defined line, evocative shape, and subtle interplay of texture.”

The book, written by Ana Kalaw, put in context this sculptural quality: “But there is also a degree of softness to Hans’ smooth surfaces and precise settings. Each piece he designs manifests a voluminous fluidity and rhythmic flow that reflects the innate femininity of its wearer….”

In the local jewelry design scape that has a surfeit of the decorative and the flamboyant, indeed Brumann couldn’t but stand out the past decades, mainly because his brand DNA has proven to be a fusion of the masculine and the feminine, the abstract and the figurative, the minimalist and the visually rich. Other than that, he’s shown such fearlessness in his choice of material—his 55 years have been nothing less than an adventure in the way he experimented with material, going beyond the traditional metals, diamonds, stones, and gems, into tanzanite, wood like kamagong, nacre, mother-of-pearl.

In Philippine jewelry making, there’s no jeweler like Brumann, given the way his design and technique have spanned the classic, the innovative, the cutting-edge

In contemporary Philippine jewelry making, there’s no jeweler like Brumann, given the way his design and technique have spanned the classic, the innovative, the cutting-edge. And in craftmanship, Brumann is undisputedly uncompromising. This is why a piece of Hans Brumann jewelry is handed down through generations.

This morning we’re in his office/workshop because he wants to show us the process of jewelry-making he’s been working on—the “lost wax mould process”. I got curious when, at lunch early this year, he said that he had been using cinnamon sticks—cinnamon?—in his latest jewelry collection.

The lost wax mould process uses cinnamon sticks and melt gold which hews to the texture of cinnamon. We watch his staff do the process in his workshop. The gold retains the rugged surface of a cinnamon stick, its color either a complement or a contrast to the stone. It is yet another design statement.

Cast gold pieces are extracted in the lost wax mould procedure, then rinsed to remove the residues of the satin cast mould.

Brumann’s design-statement jewelry, I once found out, also makes for a good conversation piece. How can I forget the small talk at the Immigration counter (not the Philippines), as the officer was scanning my passport and spotted my Brumann ring of kamagong wood and tanzanite? She simply had to ask what it was made of, and couldn’t hide her surprise when I said, “kamagong.” In the Philippines? She asked. I never thought I’d talk jewelry at the Immigration counter.

It is noteworthy that Brumann’s workshop has been even busier in the pandemic, and his store at Rockwell has also been doing well, with a younger clientele to add to his loyal following. Except in full lockdowns, Brumann and his staff didn’t miss a day in the workshop. Brumann has been busy working on his collections—he unveils two every year; the next is in December 2022. He will also have a sculpture exhibit in November at Leon Gallery.

Brumann has been busy working on his collections—he unveils two every year; the next is in December 2022

“Life is organized,” he tells us the upside of the pandemic. “It’s a convenient routine.”

He keeps his staff close to him. He has mentored them tenaciously through the years and has sent his next-in-line, goldsmith Angelino Gabon, to Switzerland to study and train in goldsmithing and gemology for a year and a half under his Swiss jeweler colleague. Quite well known is the generosity of Brumann and his wife Maria to his staff, starting with how he shares his life-long knowledge and skills. The Philippines has been their home for five decades.

“My workshop is like a school,” he tells us about the training and hands-on work given his staff. The goldsmithing that Brumann learned in Switzerland as a young adult has been a significant force in his jewelry making. That and his design aesthetic have assured him a solid clientele.

It is interesting how the Brumann jewelry sold well even during the pandemic.

His design today, 55 years later, has changed and yet hasn’t, in a way. “Change? Yes and no,” he says. “I always look for material—stone, metal. I usually start with the stone, then do the sketches.”

Brumann is known to source exquisite stones. “Filipinos, even the young ones, prefer diamonds, unlike in Europe,” he says.

I love listening to him talk about rubies, sapphires, or how the price of gold is now as high as platinum. This morning he talks about the rarest of sapphires that has the hardness of a diamond—the padparadscha sapphire, a special gemstone with a dazzling blend of orange, pink, and yellow hues.

Given the Brumann treasure trove, it is no surprise that his clientele looks forward to his collection twice a year. “Very good people are around me. I’ve had good opportunities,” he says.

A significant opportunity came when he was hired by the famous jeweler Andrew Grima in London

It is interesting how Brumann made a choice early in life back in the historic town of Bremgarten in Switzerland, where his family owned a small bakery. After secondary education, he was told by his professor that he could do well as either a baker, dental technician, or goldsmith. As the book narrates, since he didn’t want to look at teeth all his life “and being a baker was out of the question because I knew from seeing my family how hard it was having to work early in the morning,” he opted to train as a goldsmith since he liked to work with “his imagination as much as his hands.”

At 16, Brumann started a rigorous apprenticeship with a famous atelier in Zurich that would span four years—he learned to work with metals starting with brass; it would be only on his fourth year that he was finally allowed to work with gold. After apprenticeship, he went back to school—a one-year trade course in Germany where, as he said in his book, “I gained a lot of insights into different techniques besides goldsmithing. I also learned how to develop a design idea into a finished piece of jewelry.”

A significant opportunity came to this budding jeweler when he was hired by the famous jeweler Andrew Grima in London. It was in Grima’s atelier where, the book narrates, “the young goldsmith learned to experiment with jewelry forms of greater compositional freedom: jewelry that departed dramatically from the exacting standards of traditional Swiss and German aesthetics.”

Not only did Brumann have an enviable training under the “Father of Modern Jewellery,” but here he was also in London in the Swinging ’60s when Britain was the epicenter of the so-called Youthquake, from music (Beatles) to fashion (Op Art). Hans was 21, being sucked into the cauldron of youth energy and culture. From Wimbledon to the Royal Ascot, he relished the taste of it all, including an evening of performance by the legendary Marlene Dietrich at Royal Albert Hall.

His stint at Grima over, he returned to Switzerland to work with leading jewelers (Binder, then Weber & Co) where he honed his eye and skills in design. It was the late ’60s and Brumann was also ready for adventure beyond his country. It was then that he spotted an ad in a German magazine, for a goldsmith/jeweler, in a firm that sold jewelry, watches, and silverware, La Estrella del Norte—in the Philippines, a far-flung country which, to Brumann, was only a dot on the map.

He spotted an ad in a German magazine, for a goldsmith/jeweler—in the Philippines, a far-flung country which, to Brumann, was only a dot on the map

He decided to settle down in the Philippines, but not before getting married to a 22-year-old compatriot, Maria Hagenbuch. The newlyweds fell in love with the Philippines where Brumann’s jewelry making would thrive at La Estrella and gain a following of prominent clientele, who included the ruling First Family (the Marcoses), heads of state (notably Japan, Australia), and high society.

In 1975, Brumann acquired natural citizenship. It was also in this decade that the brand Hans Brumann began to take hold in the country, his jewelry becoming a prized acquisition of many a prominent and style-forward Filipina. As the brand became the leader in Philippine jewelry, Brumann became bolder in experimenting with design, material, and technique, from diamonds and precious stones to unconventional wood, from the sculptural to the elaborate, whimsical, figurative images (who’d think of cartoon characters and bugs? He did.) In 2019, he had A Touch of Whimsy Collection that included a jellyfish pendant of baroque pearl, blue sapphires, moonstones, seed pearls. The Cross also became his iconic design. Color—with a nearly infinite range of gemstones—also became his signature.

2019, A Touch of Whimsy Collection — jellyfish pendant with baroque pearls, blue sapphires, moonstones, seed pearls (From book ‘HANS BRUMANN’)

In 2022, past the half-century mark of his profession, Brumann continues to push the boundaries of jewelry design and technique. He still has the energy of mind and body (thanks to regular gym work-outs and games of chess), but most important, the Hans Brumann passion burns.

“I still have lots of opportunities,” he tells us. As usual, this Filipino-Swiss says it like it is. No embellishment—like his jewelry.

About author

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After devoting more than 30 years to daily newspaper editing (as Lifestyle editor) and a decade to magazine publishing (as editorial director and general manager), she now wants to focus on writing—she hopes.

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