South Korea has been making news. Hosting the 2018 Winter Olympics for the first time ever—Seoul saw the 1988 Summer Olympics—it gave us a glimpse at its culture and landscape (though the events were overshadowed with news of the North–South Korean relations, which we won’t get into here).
Then, the South Korean men’s national team sent my German men packing in the first round of the World Cup, a first for Die Mannschaft in 80 years (they weren’t looking their best and arguably didn’t deserve to advance, anyway).
We’ve been getting pretty cozy with a number of elements of Korean culture here in the states. There are the obvious pop culture references: K-pop and that boy band everyone seems gaga for, which I know nothing about (and don’t forget “Gangnam Style”!); cuisine like kimchi, the official dish of South Korea—a major hipster food trend, alongside Korean barbecue; and the intensive routine of Korean skin care has been taking the beauty industry by storm.
And then there’s Ugly Delicious, a show on Netflix from the mind of chef and entrepreneur David Chang, who explores the cultural links between certain foods, often citing his Korean upbringing in the discussion (he’s pissed that kimchi is “cool” now, understandably). I love this show so much, and if you haven’t yet seen it, you must.
But what about jewelry? So often we encounter Italian goldsmithing and enamel, and, if you attended LUXURY by JCK this year, you were met with a whole pavilion dedicated to the masterful artisans of Greece. Many countries have a certain historical method that gets added to the design equation, and for Korea, it’s keum-boo.
Its name describes the technique of applying 24k gold foil to silver through the use of heat and pressure. The end result is a beautiful style that to me makes it look as if the silver has been painted in gold, with everything as one fluid surface. (There is a lot of material online about how to achieve this, I suggest googling it and selecting the source of your choice.)
One designer who makes use of this ancient Korean technique is Lesley Aine McKeown, an independent jeweler who began her apprenticeship in jewelry by learning Native American silversmithing techniques. She continues to enjoy the technical challenge of varying jewelry design.
A collector of vintage tools, McKeown brings history to all of her creations, partial to techniques like keum-boo for its hand-wrought process (which sounds quite therapeutic, really).
“I began using keum-boo in my work after taking a masters workshop with Komelia Okim in 1995,” says McKeown. “I am influenced by the Asian aesthetic and was attracted to the use of 24k gold in Korean utensils and other food-serving objects as a health enhancement, but ultimately I really love the rich color and contrast the high-karat gold lends to my work. Also fascinating to me from a technical standpoint is the very appealing idea of using an ancient technique much as it has been done for centuries.”
To see more of McKeown’s work, visit lesleyainemckeown.com.
Top: Totem pendant in sterling silver and 24k yellow gold keum-boo, $450