Bali baby Polly Purser talks to Stephanie Mee about her role as director of heritage and design at jewelry outfit John Hardy.
Hi Polly. So let’s start at the beginning. Where were you born and how did you spend your childhood years?
I spent my childhood here in Bali, first in Batu Jimbar, Sanur, then in Ubud. My parents came to Bali in the ’60s on a two-week honeymoon that never ended. I remember life with no electricity, just oil lamps lit at sunset, water carried in buckets from the river to bathe in, catching dragonflies with tree sap in the rice fields, and collecting giant shells on the beach. I moved to Australia when I was eight years old, then moved back to Indonesia, first to Java where my father lives and then to Bali to work for John Hardy 16 years ago.
At what point in your life did jewellery design become a passion?
I’ve always loved beautiful things. As a child I remember looking at my mother’s jewellery collection with awe. She never took her jewellery very seriously – ruby earrings lost in the frenzy of a Balinese ceremony or diamonds left in fruit bowls in our open-bale home in Ubud. I was also fascinated with the Balinese sense of adornment and decoration. I studied Jewellery and Object Design at Sydney University before life took a very different course and I did a double major in Social Work and Community Development, working mainly in Australia and Southeast Asia focusing on women and empowerment. Coming to John Hardy as Design Director and now working in Heritage has been an experience that has come full circle. Creating beauty with a sense of consciousness and social responsibility here in Bali where I began is a blessing.
What exactly does the job of Director of Heritage and Design entail?
It’s a relatively new position for John Hardy and myself and it is ever evolving. To me it entails identifying and preserving what is so unique and special about what we do here and especially in Bali. It’s about the heritage of the brand and its history and relationship with local culture, tradition and community. My role is to share this rich heritage with people visiting John Hardy on the island and globally.
Can you tell us a bit about what makes the brand so special?
Each and every piece of John Hardy jewellery is still created by hand. We work with master artisans harnessing traditional techniques intrinsic to Balinese culture. For example, the designs are rendered in the tradition of artists from Batuan and the 3D wax models are carved by talent from villages like Batubulan or Mas where there are long lineages of carvers. We have women whose nimble fingers can move swiftly from weaving traditional offerings to weaving strands of gold and silver link by link, creating our iconic chain bracelets and necklaces. Using this unique craft, it takes four days to create one John Hardy bracelet, and it will be woven almost entirely by Balinese women.
What makes Balinese craftsmanship unique compared to other jewellery-making traditions?
The Balinese have a collective spirit, so there is less individual ego and ownership of a piece or project and more openness to work together to get the best result. A designer can work on an idea then hand it to a wax carver who interprets the design in his own way, adding his spirit and personality, and then a jeweler will assemble and finish the piece. We have 750 artisans at John Hardy working together to create the jewellery, and most of them have been with us for over 10 years. People feel a sense of community and belonging as well as pride to be part of the process.
John Hardy aims to be a sustainable company. What green initiatives do you have in place?
Our founders John and Cynthia were both, and still are, inspirational eco-warriors way ahead of their time. Our company was founded on principles of sustainability and we remain committed to that from the use of recycled silver in our production, ethical sourcing of all our stones and diamonds, and offsetting carbon emissions by planting bamboo in Bali. This year we celebrated the planting of our one-millionth bamboo. Our next chapter is working with Arief Rabik, son of the late Linda Garland, on an exciting program called 1,000 Bamboo Villages, which takes bamboo planting to the next step by providing economic benefits directly to the communities involved.
Although there are John Hardy boutiques in Houston, L.A., New York and Bali, all the magic happens in Mambal. Can you tell us a bit about the workshop?
Seeing is believing and feeling is knowing. I invite you to come and experience it yourself. There are not many companies in the world that open their doors to customers to see first-hand how their jewellery is made and then invite you to join the team for a delicious organic farmer’s lunch. The John Hardy boutique, Kapal Bamboo, is like a cathedral of bamboo housing the newest collections. The workshop and boutique are the ultimate expression of the brand’s values of artisanship and community.
What new and exciting things are happening at John Hardy that we should know about?
We just launched ‘Made for Legends’, a fabulous new ad campaign celebrating the personal power of femininity through the bold philosophy of wearing jewellery to express, empower, and most of all to honour the unstoppable potential of the self. Made for Legends is a call for women to live on their own terms and build their legend, and is embodied by modern day icons Julianne Moore and Adwoa Aboah. Secondly, we are about to launch the John Hardy Master classes here at the Ubud workshop. Guests will have the rare chance to work in tandem with master artisans and customise their own piece of John Hardy jewellery. This intimate experience will include learning about the unique eight-step process, an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the workshop, and an organic on-site lunch alongside the design team and artisans.