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Samuel Behnam: A Bali State of Mind

| 10 min read

Samuel Behnam is an award-winning and highly acclaimed New York-based jewelry designer. The Balinese Artisan Jewelry Collection by Samuel B showcases stunning, intricate designs that take their inspiration from the phenomenal legacy of traditional Balinese jewelry. Each piece is hand-crafted by artisans using traditional skills passed down from generation to generation on the utopian island of Bali, Indonesia. Only the most beautiful gemstones are crafted into the intricate designs of this unparalleled collection. Here, in his own words, Samuel B takes us on his own personal journey to Bali, and how the people, traditions and spirituality of the island changed the course of his life.

Samuel B began his remarkable career over four decades ago, as an importer and exporter of precious and semi-precious gemstones. During this time, he developed an extraordinary eye for spotting the very finest of Mother Nature’s natural wonders. It also allowed him to explore many different styles of jewelry from all across the globe. When he began to design his own jewelry, Samuel was keen to find a very different style for his inspiration.

“I’ve been doing this for 40-plus years. As soon as I was 18, I started travelling the world, and I have travelled across 80-plus countries. I started originally as a gemstone importer and collector, and then once I discovered Bali in the early 1990s, it was a game-changer. Originally, when I got to Bali, I travelled extensively for a month throughout the whole island. I collected every single handmade piece that I liked. As soon as I got back to my office in New York, I opened my suitcase with all the treasures inside, and they didn’t even meet my safe. By the end of the day, every single piece was sold out or spoken for. I immediately realized I’d made a discovery.”

Samuel B Design Process

Samuel was particularly inspired by the care and time taken to craft each piece. He was moved by not only the artisanal skill but the spiritual significance of the jewelry crafting process in Bali.

“Not many designers and manufacturers choose Bali as their destination because it’s not about deadlines over there. Every one of these pieces is incredibly labour intensive. This is jewelry made the way jewelry was made hundreds of years ago. It’s the kind of jewelry that, within our lifetime, is not going to be around anymore, because every little detail is added by hand - one granulation bead at a time, one piece of scrollwork at a time. It all starts with the finest pure silver that you can find on the surface of the Earth, and the rest of the magic is done by hand. Once you own one of these pieces, you’re going to form an emotional attachment to it. Every single piece that they finish, they put it in an offering basket. An offering basket is made by the lady of the village at the beginning of the day. Every day, she weaves a new offering basket. She gets up early in the morning and weaves it with banana leaves and bamboo leaves. Then they do their rituals and ceremonies, and even have departing ceremonies with singing and chanting and burning incense. Once you own one of these pieces, you’re going to form an emotional attachment to it. I truly believe this is the end of an era.”

While the time taken for these exquisite pieces to be created has deterred a lot of other design houses from working with artisanal jewelry, to Samuel is was more like his calling. In Bali, art is life and life is art. The creative cultural traditions of this remarkable Indonesian island can be seen everywhere, and this spirit is immortalized in their jewelry. Each design showcases the outstanding skills of the many talented silversmiths needed to create them. The culture, heritage and traditions of the region are carefully imbued and preserved in every piece.

“Everything is so limited. It’s not that I don’t want to make more, but this type of jewelry is not about mass production, it’s not about an assembly line. These are small workshops with four generations of artisans. By four generations, I mean you see grandpa and grandma at the top, working on the little details, then father and mother, son and daughter, the little kids running around… you see the roosters, and you go to the back of the workshop, and you see the rice paddies.”

Samuel B Bali Inspiration

Bali is a stunning, beautiful island full of natural wonder. These organic surroundings are often mirrored in the metalwork of the jewelry, from the grand principle down to the intricate filigree decoration that adorns each design. Bali is a small island. It would fit into the United Kingdom over 40 times, and into the United States over 1,700 times. Because of its diminutive size, any of the population of 4.3 million are within easy reach of the coastline, which might explain why Samuel’s designs feature so many beautiful ocean-inspired details. From dolphins and seahorses to turtles and shells, the sea is very close to Samuel’s heart. He even confesses that he’s inspired by the colors of the sky and ocean, and that blue is his favourite color. Dragonflies, owls and even our celestial neighbour the Moon all feature in Samuel’s designs, to name just a few other natural sources of inspiration. The spirit of Bali is evidenced in every creation - the centuries of skill and tradition, the vibrancy, culture and way of life on the island are all captured. Crafting jewelry this intricate and beautiful leaves an emotional connection between the wearer and the skilled artisans that created it. Samuel talks of the human energy captured in each piece.

“When you own one of these pieces, you feel the energy, and you feel the culture, and you feel what they put into each piece. I go to my Bali workshop (I have my own workshop, and I work with many other workshops) and in the middle of the day, everybody disappears because they’re at the temple. Maybe it’s a new Moon or the crescent of the Moon, maybe there’s a new-born, and there’s a ceremony. It’s such a small island, but it has 80,000 temples. Every street corner, every workshop, every house has multiple little temples because that’s part of their culture. You will own a piece of their culture, a piece of their ceremony. Every piece that’s finished is put in the offering basket. At times I stand in my workshop behind my artisans, and as they carve and chisel and hammer, and use fire to fuse the details, they sing, and chant and they craft the way jewelry was crafted hundreds of years ago.”

Samuel B Gemstones

Samuel Behnam’s design philosophy fuses these traditional, ancient crafting techniques with only the most beautiful gemstones. Each piece is carefully hand-crafted to an exceedingly high standard. Many of the stones are bezel set, which holds the gem much more securely than the more common claw settings used today. Stones such as Turquoise, Pearl, Abalone, Coral and Lapis Lazuli then work seamlessly with their respective designs to create balanced, striking ageless looks.

“In many cases, the details are added one element, one granulation bead at a time. They’re built up layer over layer of silver, with basic primitive tools that have been handed down from generation to generation. Many of the stones you see in these pieces are rare, exotic gemstones, such as Sleeping Beauty Turquoise. This mine was inactive from 2010, and then the closed sign went up in 2012. It’s one of the most talked-about gemstones at Tucson, which is one of the biggest gemstone trade shows. The first time I went to Arizona, where the Sleeping Beauty mine is, was 1985. Back then, there were barrels of rough sitting unattended - no guards, no nothing - because they took it for granted. It was just coming out of the ground. Now, there’s not even a parcel. And if there is, there’s a guard with it! They haven’t found another Turquoise mine anywhere in the world to have that pure, robin egg blue color, a pure sky blue color and no matrix. That’s so important.”

Samuel B Design Process

This combination of the most exquisite gemstones and the unmatched skills of the island creates something exceptional. Samuel’s designs are carefully balanced between the old and the new, fusing the time-honoured skills of the Balinese artisans, silversmiths and craftspeople with contemporary jewelry design sensibilities. But tradition is never sidelined for the sake of modernity.

“I don’t rhodium plate my silver, my artisans don’t rhodium plate their silver, because they start with the finest pure silver that you can find on the surface of the Earth. The workshops that I work with and the majority of the workshops on the island of Bali use recycled silver because it goes through their ceremonies, and for these ceremonies, the pieces need to be pure.”

As a keen traveller and an accomplished painter who loves to work with color, designing gemstone jewelry in the Balinese tradition is the perfect vocation for Samuel. Helping the hitherto unseen artisans of this island paradise bring their designs to a broader audience is something which Samuel is understandably proud of.

“With every single purchase, you make a family halfway around the world able to create, craft and make these pieces as they have done for hundreds of years. Many of these pieces are from my Royal Bali collection. I named it Royal Bali because many of my master artisans and artisans make jewelry for the Royal Court of Bali. Four kings and four queens run different regions of the island of Bali. It’s a small island, but there’s so much history, so much culture, and everything is infused into making and crafting every piece. For Balinese artisans, the closer they make any one of their creations to perfection, it spiritually gets them closer to higher beings. That’s why they strive for perfection; that’s why they put their heart into everything they craft. It’s so much more than gemstones and precious metals.”

Samuel B Scarcity

The Balinese Artisan Jewelry Collection by Samuel B represents the very best of nature’s treasures and humankind’s artistry - a timeless collection created by hand, one at a time. We are very honoured to be working with Samuel to bring these incredibly limited pieces to your jewelry boxes.

“I’ve done many TV appearances, but I tell you, I’m so excited to be working with this organisation. The Balinese are world-renowned in the world of silver. You cannot ask for anyone better to make and craft your handmade piece of jewelry. The reason you don’t hear about them often is because there are not enough artisans left to make this type and calibre of jewelry. That’s why the big-name stores and big-name brands stay away because once they get to Bali, it’s going to be trouble for them. They’ll place their order, they’ll wait six months, and it’s not done, not even half of the quantity. They prefer to go to other places in the world to make their jewelry. These pieces are crafted like one-of-a-kinds, one at a time, each by hand. When you hold your piece, you feel the whole energy and the whole world spin around your head. The design is timeless. The design is classic. Once you look at your piece up close, you will fall in love.”

Each piece in the collection comes with a Samuel B cleaning cloth and a soft pouch in which to keep your new treasure. On the Samuel B authenticity tag that is attached to every piece, it simply reads, “An intricate, exotic, hand-crafted work of art with all genuine gemstones and precious metals.” We look forward to welcoming Samuel Behnam back to Gemporia soon so that a small number of connoisseurs can add a cultural masterpiece to their trove. Explore the very limited number of Samuel B pieces that we currently have available by clicking the below button.

EXPLORE THE DESIGNS OF SAMUEL B