Last of The Samurais: An Interview with Jaume Labro
No exaggeration: You could write a history book about Jaume Labro. Designer, jewellery maker, founder of Labro Jewellery and not to say the least a traveller come historical arts and paraphernalic enthusiast fuelled by passion and wonder for life. Jaume Labro, a Spanish native come citizen of the world has lived on many continents, been a champion in rock climbing, moved on to become a globetrotting Arts history student, take up ‘casual’ sports like surfing, diving, and parachuting, and then immerse himself in the studies of GIA gemmology, more travelling and kicking ass, and then finally plunging himself into mastering the art of Mokume Gane (the art of combining metals used in ancient Samurai sword making) and setting up Jaume Labro Jewellery in Japan specifically crafting all his pieces in this particular method. Phew- thats just about the basics covered!
There is so much more to tell you about this multi facetted, multi dimensional craftsman. If there’s anything we can learn from Juame besides his beautiful Mokume Gane jewellery, its that we should do what we love, whatever it is and make the most of life!
Check out our interview below.
To read the full Jaume Labro story and see his beautiful pieces that we also stock in store visit: www.jlabro.com
Tell us about yourself- your background, places you’ve lived and where you are based.
I graduated in Arts History and GIA (Gemological Institute of America), also I learn cutting under Jerry Call (Elizabeth Taylor Collection, Smithsonian, etc…). I use to be also a professional rock climber and as a climber I travel around the world,living in North and Central America, Spain (Barcelona), Bangkok (for gems and diamonds), Hawaii and finally Japan.
What started your long lasting passion for gems and jewellery making?
My father was dealing with antiques and he use to be specialized in guns from the XVI and XVII century that have a lot of silver and gold inlay and everything is hand engraved. Those pieces were truly art pieces for collectors. When I was going to the mountains I use to collect fossils and crystal specimens hunting use to be a nice adventure as a child. After when I was in my middle twenties I decide to enroll into gemological studies and one thing bring me to another until now that I’m traveling to select my own gems, cut them and create a piece of jewelry (totally handmade) in Mokume Gane. I’m a bit romantic and I like the story behind the piece. For me this is very important as I can join in my work the passion for travel, gastronomy, cultures, gemology, photography, nature, art, cutting gems and being goldsmith, all in one. This is a perfect job for a person like me, I want to spend my lifetime doing something I like as I beleive is the only way to fulfill my life.
When was Labro founded?
I was interested to learn Mokume Gane longtime ago, but the problem was to find some teacher open to show me all he knows without hide any secret. For me the most difficult part was to find the proper teachers. I learn in Switzerland and then in Japan under a what they call (“living national treasure” when someone is a famous master). After that I start to do myself alone with nobody around as I want to face the challenges alone, because the teachers can give me advice but not experience. So, the best for me was to get that experience alone. Labro, started in that period, where I decide to create my own style with what I learn through the years with my teachers. I want Labro, to have its own identity. I try to look many designers works but not too much as it may not allow my own creativity to flow freely, if there are too much influences from others.
Tell us a little about your Wedding and Engagement collections.
Have the chance to create engagement and wedding rings are already gift for me. Most of jewelry sold around the world has a reason behind, that normally is related to love and affection. When I start the creation of an engagement or wedding ring, I know the importance of the piece I will create for them. Because my piece is a symbol of love and commitment between two persons. Mokume gane is the fusion and bonding of different metals, each piece is unique and singular, making mokume gane a perfect choice for an engagement and wedding ring as the pieces are the reflection of two unique persons bonding together.
They will wear those pieces during their life, and me being part of their lives somehow… I feel very proud that something I create reach that level of importance in someones life. Is for that reason I give always my best for their pieces and I want to make them with happiness and love.
Explain the techniques you use to make your rings.
I use only mokume gane for make my jewelry. Mokume gane is the old japanese technique used for create parts of the samurai swords (katana) I like to combine tradition with design, I like Japanese culture but also Mediterranean cultures (Spain, South France, Italy…) and I want to be a bridge and create a fusion between both through my jewellery.
Do you have a particular piece that you love?
I love to make objects also (bowls, chopsticks, fountain pens, etc…). I made several years ago a bowl for ikebana flower arrangement, in mokume gane handraised that I like it a lot. Finally one day I decide that bowl will never be sold, but I was feeling that it was not for me…I gave as a present for a wedding of a friend that arrive Japan as the same time than me and we went through many things together in Japan at the beginning when we didn’t speak the language or know many people. It was a real present as it was very hard to gave it to him, hahaha….I guess those are the real presents!!! Other than that I also like a lot a mokume gane necklace I made last year for a collector in Russia.
What makes Mokume Gane rings so special?
Well, Mokume gane is handmade and the combination of different metals without using any soldering is nearly magic. Each piece is unique and not two patterns are equal. Actually, I’m able to create to equal patterns but I never did because is not my idea about mokume gane. The patterns also show the path of our lives and we can see as many things we want in those rings, just leaving ourselves mind fly totally free. I don’t think many other styles can offer those possibilities.
Who has inspired you and what is your drive?
In artistic terms I will say Dali and Gaudi, maybe because they were from my area. In jewelry I will mention again Dali (as his collection is great) and then also the old designs of Verdura and Dreamtime (best jewelry made in Opal and diamonds by Bruce Harding). I’m not much into brands that are only based on the size of the stone and not into the design or the craftmanship behind, even some of them can be very big and famous.
You have traveled and lived all over the world. Which place is your favorite and where do you call ‘home’?
I like a lot Japan and especially Kyoto, even the weather is though (cold in winter and hot in summer), Pyrenees (Catalunya), West of US (Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, California, etc..), Hawaii (each island has different atmosphere) and I wish to make an special mention to Pakistan and its mountains, because is a great place and the people are wonderful, maybe Pakistan is one of the best places I ever been, even it may be a complicated country to travel on those days.
Any future projects for us to look out for?
Since last November I start to move also into fashion and modern jewelry, I want to create jewelry with more attention to the design and fashion is the perfect field to develop my ideas. Always will be with mokume gane and this is were my efforts will focus. I want also travel to new gemstones deposits in Africa and Brazil. I’m an Spinel lover and if time allows me I wish to visit also Tajikistan because is a source of some of the best Spinel around the world.
Places you recommend going to in Kyoto, Japan
In Kyoto you can get lost and still enjoy the place because there are many things to discover. I will recommend you some places like Nanzen Ji (very famous, but nice temple with a great walk) and then more small but nice and with a good atmosphere I recommend you to visit Honami Koetsu temple, the location is on the north, a bit far…but he was a great craftsman and the most important thing he did as he was a wealthy person, was to bring artists, theater and many other disciplines to Kyoto and sponsor them with education for the child, house for the families and some amount of money to help the artists, that later become financially independent and help to grow the arts tradition in Kyoto that later will be the most famous in Japan. Last thing: For eat delicious Japanese traditional seasonal food the best place is Giro-Giro, they change the menu every month and never repeat again the same dishes even 10 years after. You only need to order the drink, price is really affordable and I highly recommend you to eat in the counter, as you can see them cooking and the atmosphere is totally different than the second floor. Since appear not long ago in New York Times, reservation is recommended.