My Favorite Book About the Jewelry Industry

Unexpected Creations showcases the work of Bangkok’s Lotus Arts de Vivre (and oh, I wrote it!)

A decade ago, I wrote a story for the International Herald Tribune (later renamed the International New York Times) about an emerging taste for raw diamonds and nature-inspired jewelry featuring organic materials. At the suggestion of a friend, I included a mention of Lotus Arts de Vivre. The Bangkok-based company creates spectacular jewels, handbags, and home items pairing gold and top-quality gemstones with natural materials such as wood, snakeskin, and the iridescent blue-green wings of scarab beetles. I was instantly enchanted by their over-the-top oeuvre.

The owner of the company, Rolf von Bueren, read my story and sent me an email. It was the beginning of a professional relationship and friendship that culminated last week with the debut of a weighty coffee-table book about the company that I wrote over the course of several years—and several trips to Bangkok—starting in 2010.

Published by Assouline, Unexpected Creations is many things: the story of a multigenerational family with deep roots in Southeast Asia; a photographic homage to the company’s fantastical, one-of-a-kind designs; and a meditation on the true meaning of luxury.


Unexpected Creations by Assouline

It was a tremendous honor to work on the book and so special to finally see the giant tome come to print. It weighs at least 10 pounds! My twin sister, Julia, and my boyfriend, Jim, traveled all the way from Los Angeles to New York City to attend the book signing, which took place at the Fred Leighton salon on Madison Avenue. JCK managing editor Melissa Bernardo joined us at the shindig, where we ogled Lotus’s crazy, distinctive jewels, which were displayed in select showcases throughout the store.


Selfie time with my twin sister, Julia (photo courtesy of Julia Gomelsky)


Me and my boyfriend, Jim (photo courtesy of Julia Gomelsky)

Greg Kwiat, CEO of Fred Leighton, told me that relationship with Lotus Arts de Vivre dates back to when the actual Mr. Leighton, aka Murray Mondschein, ran the company.

“In either the late ’90s or early 2000s, Michael Jackson bought a Lotus elephant clutch at the Fred Leighton Las Vegas store and gave it to Elizabeth Taylor,” Kwiat said. “There was a hiatus, but we recently began working with them again to showcase their collection here. We have 20 to 25 pieces at a time, a nice representation to be sure. At Fred Leighton, we’re all about showcasing not just the beautiful, collectible pieces of the past but what we feel will be collectible in the future. We think Lotus jewelry is very much of that ilk.”


The crowd at the book party – that’s JCK‘s managing editor Melissa Bernardo and my boyfriend Jim chatting in the foreground (photo courtesy of Julia Gomelsky)

As he spoke, a well-coiffed blonde in her late 50s or early 60s walked up to a showcase of Lotus Arts de Vive jewels directly across from where we stood. Pinned to her simple black jacket was a Blackamoor brooch topped with a bunch of glossy black feathers; it was the size of a parrot. On her wrist, she wore a massive dragon bracelet and on her finger an oversized ring that reminded me of a gem-set armadillo.

It took an inordinate amount of confidence to wear just one of these enormous and strange pieces, but all of them? Clearly, this wasn’t your average woman.

Her name, as I’d learned earlier, was Susan Krysiewicz. She told me that she fell in love with Lotus’s designs 20 years ago while she and her husband were guests of the Oriental Hotel (now the Mandarin Oriental) in Bangkok. All these years later, she was still an avid collector.


Jewelry lover Susan Krysiewicz in all her Lotus Arts de Vivre finery

“When you see the jewelry in the wild, it’s very impressive, especially with the Lotus pieces, which are so dramatic,” Kwiat joked as we admired Krysiewicz’s unapologetic embrace of Lotus’s more outré pieces.

Lotus Arts de Vivre makes fantastical, larger-than-life jewelry that can border on the surreal. Everything is produced in the company’s workshop in Bangkok. Von Bueren’s wife, Helen, founded the company 35 years ago when her sons, Sri and Nicki, left Bangkok to go to boarding school in the United Kingdom. To fill her time, she began to make small, well-crafted luxuries for the high-society women in her social circle: gem-set toothpicks, hairpins made of seashells and the finest Japanese pearls; jewelry featuring Burmese rubies, Colombian emeralds, and Golconda diamonds.


That’s me with with Nicki, Helen, and Rolf von Bueren (photo courtesy of Julia Gomelsky)

You’ll have to buy the book to fully appreciate how the Von Buerens were able to grow the company from a hobby pursuit into a luxury brand with a global community of collectors obsessed with its unique and, yes, unexpected creations. But know that the read doesn’t come cheap: The book retails for $195. When you hold a copy in your hands, and get a good look at the moody, sensual photos by Japanese photographer Yuriko Takagi, you’ll understand why.

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