For 15 years, I’ve been besotted with Bangkok. I first visited the city in 1997 when I backpacked around Southeast Asia and relied on it as a transport and supply hub. Despite the gridlocked traffic, severe language barrier, and preponderance of shady tuk-tuk drivers, I knew instantly: This was my kind of town.
I loved the redolent air near the Chao Phraya river, and the street food carts selling 30-cent plates of pad thai heaped with crushed peanuts and limes. On a deeper level, I fell in love with the people, who seemed to me—quite rightly—the friendliest, kindest, and least judgmental on earth.
These beguiling recollections of Bangkok were reinforced in November, when I paid my sixth visit to see my friends Rolf and Helen von Bueren, owners of the jewelry and home accessories brand Lotus Arts de Vivre. They live in the heart of Sukhumvit, the city’s most exclusive neighborhood, in a compound filled with tropical gardens and traditional Thai houses, where they regularly host dinner parties for an eclectic mix of artists, writers, and captains of industry.
Rolf and Helen von Bueren’s Bangkok home
I know the von Buerens through their jewelry, which sells for thousands of dollars at five-star hotels. The original Lotus Arts de Vivre flagship, at the Four Seasons Bangkok, opened in 1983 and still sells the handmade jewels and home decor items that earned Lotus a worldwide reputation for producing inventive, one-of-a-kind designs combining precious metals and gems with offbeat natural materials from shells to scarab wings. Lotus, however, is among a dying breed of jeweler. If we believe the pundits, the future belongs to a different kind of maker.
A hand-crafted Lotus Arts de Vivre octupus brooch
In this issue, our annual paean to the ideas and issues that will shape the industry in the coming year, the cover feature, “Extended Outlook,” includes an item on the maker movement. The term refers to the rising tide of people who, enabled by open-source technology and the ubiquity of digital tools, have embraced a DIY ethos when it comes to manufacturing—whether they’re making drones, LED circuits, or necklaces. The advent of 3-D printing has played a major role in the movement, particularly in the United States, where consumers are falling for American-made goods all over again (also on our 2013 list).
But it’s not just domestic production that’s trending. In “Jewelry That’s Coming to America,” contributor Jennifer Henricus details the foreign brands that are again eyeing American consumers as bulwarks to uncertainties in overseas markets.
Speaking of overseas demand, contributor Kristin Young provides a country-by-country analysis of the global fine jewelry market in “Around the World in Jewelry Sales” that confirms at least one thing: Don’t count out the Chinese. Their spending power—both in China and in foreign markets like the United States, where their tourist dollars are significant—is not to be underestimated.
Nor, for that matter, is the value of a good story. On my trip to Bangkok, I came away from my visit, which included a tour of the Lotus factory, with a firm belief that no matter how efficiently jewelry can be made using 3-D printing and other high-tech innovations, there’s no skimping on the larger narrative behind its production—and here, producers of handmade, bespoke luxuries have the edge.
I wish you all a happy and healthy new year. May 2013 be your best ever!