Photographer: Juanito Vinluan
A warm, welcoming smile and the numerous native artifacts surrounding the walls of Natalya Lagdameo’s creative abode are the first things that greet me as she walks me through the cozy confines of her Mandaluyong office one Friday afternoon.
As a child growing up, Natalya recounts how she had always been drawn towards building and creating things. Her love for making and constructing led to her seeking out a career in architecture, before moving on and settling into the exciting world of interior design, eventually finishing her studies at the Philippine School of Interior Design. She fondly recalls her luck of landing her first project just two weeks after graduating — designing a unit in Rockwell — a stepping stone she would forever be thankful for, one which helped her discover that her passion for designing and creating could also extend to different facets and mediums, most notably in the field of jewelry design.
But what really gave her the final push to start her namesake jewelry line was that after years and years of frustration, of not being able to find the right bangles and bracelets to fit her delicate frame and slim wrists, she finally decided to make her own. As she reminisces on this, I take a quick glance at her right wrist where she has infamously worn 30-plus gold, stacked bangles for the last 14 years. More on that later, I promise, but for now, I am suddenly distracted by Natalya opening box upon box of her unique jewelry range: bracelets, earrings, rings, and necklaces, mostly styled in a Philippine pre-colonial and colonial design, added with her uniquely personalized touch and subtle, modern details that come alive right before your eyes. I stare at the beautiful details of her work. I can’t help it. I’ve fallen in love.
Natalya says it wasn’t really difficult for her to find her signature style, which could be described as a vintage-inspired blend of old traditions mixed with modern lines and aesthetics. She remembers always being interested in Philippine history and culture, having collected colonial Philippine jewelry since she was a teenager. Her father, furniture maker and antiques dealer, Buddy Lagdameo, used to travel a lot to the Mountain Provinces when she was a child, bringing back with him artifacts, heirlooms, and precious native finds, all with a unique story about the people, history, environment, and symbolisms that come with these pieces. All these and more greatly influenced her present design style and made her appreciate the artistry and attention to detail hardly found in other jewelry designs today.
She loves working with a wide range of local materials and compositions such as brass, bronze, silver, and gold. Her favorite is utilizing brass and gold, which she says upholds the local traditions up north where most of the jewelry is done in brass. She then creates her own designs by adding other components such as pearls, stones, and shells. She also likes to experiment with antique elements such as tamburin beads, old relicario bits, and crosses while also making use of traditional tribal pieces of wood, bone, and mother of pearl. Restoration is also a big part of her work as she feels pride in putting together antique chain patterns and earrings from as far back as the mid-1800s. Most of the time, she fixes the chain locks and bits and pieces that have gone missing, all the while getting the satisfaction of learning about the different styles from a bygone era, together with the stories and symbolisms attached to these precious heirlooms.
Learning the intricacies, details, patterns and unique history of the pieces she comes across, Natalya learned to appreciate the dedication, work, and skill that often accompany local jewelry traditions. Her interior design training also helped mold her design style of building slowly around a base. And through knowledge of basic geometry, she then later adds layers of accessories and ornamentation to the basic structure format, resulting in a completely new and surprising design. She is also partial to experimenting with shapes, forms, and patterns that are unusual and unexpected.
I ask if there is a certain material she would like to work with more in the future and she says, “white diamonds.” But not just any white diamonds. “I like them rough cut, in their most natural state. They are called diamante,” she informs me. This way, she says, you see the light reflecting off the stones in the way it was naturally intended, without artificial barriers. To show me, she holds up a 12K white gold diamante pendant necklace with a 20-inch 14K white gold chain. She holds it up to the light and lets me eye the difference myself. The light shines on the rare stones plainly and with a subtle sparkle, softly highlighting the rough-cut surfaces in waves and brief flashes of white. She states, “I always like to highlight the flaw in something. I love that rough, earthy quality.”
She slowly unveils her Alfajor Collection, wonderfully designed around an antique lace-like chain called “alfajor”, originally brought by the Spanish to our shores in the 1600s and traditionally worn back then with crosses at the end of the chains.These elaborately detailed chains are a sight to behold as she unwraps the necklace, bracelet, and earrings of the collection before me. The jewelry, in finely made silver dipped in gold, tells a story with every piece of chain through its tiny details running through the vintage pattern like a fine weave.
Finally, I can’t help but ask about the 30-plus gold, oval-shaped bangles stacked on her wrist. She smiles and says they have simply become a part of her life, as she never removes them, not even to shower or sleep. “I can’t imagine removing them. That would probably feel very weird,” she laughs, lamenting at the fact that she had already gotten used to the weight and feel of the bangles on her wrist. “These are called “giniling”, traditionally worn as a status symbol by women in the north.” She further tells me that the women use them to protect their arms from knife blades while hacking through farm crops, and so, they are also a symbol of strength and protection. These rare, tribal bangles are hardly in production anymore and with that thought, the bangles have become not only symbolic but also even more precious to her over the years.
“Natalya says it wasn’t really difficult for her to find her signature style, which could be described as a vintage-inspired blend of old traditions mixed with modern lines and aesthetics.”
Jewelry however, I soon discover, is not Natalya’s only passion. She also finds joy in designing made-to-order wooden furniture alongside her father. These contemporary and unique bespoke pieces are specially customized and carved according to a client’s specific needs. She brings me outside briefly to take a peek at their wooden works in a wide manufacturing area and I am amazed by the artistry and finely sculpted details of each piece.
It seems that creativity and designing naturally flow through Natalya Lagdameo’s veins, much like her jewelry line, always evolving and infinite. With that thought in mind, I bid her goodbye and smile to myself as I can only look forward to what she’ll come up with next.