Tulola Jewelery a mirror of Nusantara, the Indonesian archipelago…

The Nusantara collection necklace depicts the major islands of Indonesia. (Photo courtesy of Tulola)

IO – At the opening of the Tulola Nu­santara Exhibition on the 22nd of No­vember 2019 at the Bimasena Club in Jakarta the first thing to greet the eye was art­ist Joko Avianto’s mammoth rattan sculpture containing special spaces exhibiting pieces of Tulola’s unique and eye-catchingly eloquent jewelry. The centre piece of the exhibition is a gold-plated necklace from which hang the major islands of Indonesia. A piece fit to quicken the heartbeat of any true blooded patriot.

Sri Luce (left) and Franka Makarim (right) stand with a guest in front of Joko Avianto’s rattan installation art inspired by the Cirebon megamendung motif. Photo courtesy of Tulola.

Joko Avianto describes his creation as inspired by the traditional Cirebon megamendung (thundering clouds) motif whose curving lines lead away and then back again to the place of origin – a very fitting metaphor for Tu­lola jewelry.

A necklace with the major islands of Indonesia will delight patriots and aesthetes alike. Photo by IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana

“At Tulola the past becomes the present. That is the essence of Tulola jewelry in its creative sense. We use the old jewelry traditions of Indone­sia. You know, art in its most pure sense has no single creator. It is the community that has produced it. We see that in the form or design of the Balinese traditional gold earrings known as subeng. In the past such earrings were used for traditional cer­emonies or in the adat. In helping to build the future of Indonesia we are looking at the base or essence of our past traditions, knowledge and beliefs so that these will become part of the Indonesia we are building,” expounded celebrated Indonesian actress, writ­er, producer and director, Happy Salma. Indeed her Titimangsa Foundation was established to promote and re­vive interest in earlier works of modern Indonesian literature.

The three founders of Tulola Happy Salma (centre), Franka Makarim (left) and Sri Luce (standing). Photo courtesy of Tulola.

This theme of looking to Indone­sian culture as well as Indonesia’s past for inspiration, when producing new creations in a globalized world is one that also appears both in Salma’s plays and books. It is typical of Salma and is one that President Jokowi would be delighted with. The new government cultural policy announced last year demands just that: creating and pro­moting an Indonesian culture that is a mixture of past traditions, knowl­edge and beliefs mixed with influenc­es from both East and West and in tune with the modern digital age – and yet still uniquely Indonesian.

The opening of the exhibition began with a per­formance choreographed by Happy Salma and poetry reading. It was attended by celebrities such as Indy Barends, Marsha Timothy and Dira Sugandi. The business communi­ty was also visible with the appearance of Putri Bunga Soediono of Pubumesu and Dewi Moran. Franka’s husband Nadiem Makarim accompanied Tri Suswati, wife of the Minister of the In­terior and Renita Sari of the Djarum Foundation was representative of non-governmental institutions.

The piece on the left is part of the Puspita collection whereas the hair pin with pearls is also from the Puspita collection. Photo by IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana.

The designer of Tulola jewelry is Sri Luce an Indonesian American lady who comes from a rather distinguished back­ground. The renowned Clare Boothe Luce is her great aunt via her father’s side of the family. Clare was an America author and congresswoman as well as the first American woman to receive a major ambassadorial post. Time magazine called her Renaissance Woman of the Century. She was mar­ried to Henry Luce the founder and publisher of Time and Life magazines, popularly known as Mr Time-Life.

On her mother’s side, Sri is the daughter of Desak Nyoman Suwarti, a remarkable dancer, painter and jew­eler from Ubud. Sri’s father Peter Luce came to Bali in the 1970s looking for painters and dancers for a cultural ex­change program when he met his fu­ture wife. Later Suwarti became a very successful jeweler who sold her cre­ations on QVC, a free-to-air American television network, and flagship shop­ping channel specializing in televised home shopping. Franka Makarim the third member of Tulola commented, “This lady from Bali was doing amaz­ing silver work and was even selling it via television. She was the biggest jewelry supplier there for 15 years.”

Displays at the Tulola Nusantara Exhibition. Photo by IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana.

After 15 years Suwarti decided to retire and Sri who had returned to Bali after being sent to a Quaker boarding school in Pennsylvania followed by a stint at New York University, thought it would be a shame for her family to simply let go all the highly skilled Balinese craftsmen who had been working for and trained by her moth­er to produce contemporary jewelry. So, gradually Sri began to immerse herself into designing and creating fabulous modern jewelry but with a very Indonesian flavor.

In this necklace Tulola uses both bun, the Balinese common metal smithing technique in the chain and tata which is traditional Balinese carving or relief work as can be seen in the orchid pendant. (Photo credit: IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana)

Sri learnt jewelry design from her mother. Her passion had always been history especially ancient histo­ry and she found herself fascinated with ancient Balinese jewelry tech­niques such as for example bun the Balinese common metal smithing technique. Sri wanted to accentuate that technique and design around it. Another old technique she employs is tata which is carving or relief work using clay as a holder for the piece being produced. This Sri uses for example in carving flowers on the jewelry. In the past such techniques were passed down from generation to generation but now this is no lon­ger so frequently the case so Sri also trains craftsmen in these old tech­niques in her workshops. In 2007 she created a company called Tulola, an abbreviation of her little daugh­ter’s name Putu Lola.

Elegant earrings from the Puspita collection to nestle the dainty ears of some lucky lady. Photo by IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana

In 2010 Happy Salma married a Balinese, the son of the Cokorda of Ubud. Happy moved from Java to Bali and one of the first projects she undertook was writing a book about Sri’s mother Desak Nyoman Suwarti as a Balinese dancer, painter, jeweler and handicraft expert. Sri who was already friends with Happy’s hus­band, Tjokorda Bagus Dwi Santana Kertayasa helped Happy with the book by photographing and compil­ing Suwarti’s work. It was Sri who went through her mother’s archive and organized it for the book which was entitled The Warrior Daughter for her mother who is of the Balinese warrior cast likes to say, “We are from a warrior caste and I am the warrior daughter”.

At Tulola the traditional Balinese gold earrings known as subeng are reworked into a modern design. Photo by IO/ Tamalia Alisjahbana

In the meantime, Sri and Happy not only developed a strong friend­ship but realized that they also worked together very well and both shared an appreciation for Indonesian cul­ture especially the traditional arts and crafts as well as myths and sto­ry-telling. They also found that they shared a passion to protect not only the environment and traditional Indonesian heritage but also had a desire to empower women and the impoverished. It began with Hap­py bringing silver and gold-plated jewelry to Jakarta to sell and telling Sri to feel free to be as crazy as she liked with her designs which proved highly successful. Gradually, the two ladies began to establish a partner­ship through Tulola. They did shows and produced limited edition one of a kind jewelry. In 2015 they opened a store in Bali and in 2018 they opened an office in Jakarta where since this year they are selling Tulola jewelry in Kemang, Plaza Senayan and Grand Indonesia.

From the Dewi Sri, harvest goddess collection: padi stalks with a diamond drop of water for subak.
Photo by IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana

Both are extremely creative people and the approach they favoured was through a story telling theme for each piece of jewelry that they produced. In this Sri says, “I tell a story through the product and its design while Hap­py tells a story through how a piece is presented and seen by the public. My work pertains to the product’s visu­al content. I am the graphic design­er. Meanwhile, Happy collaborates with people and events. She sets up the stage for how the product will be viewed. She is like the artistic produc­er. I suppose our collaboration falls under a sort of branding but we have a very multi-dimensional concept of branding. Usually you get a luxury brand with designer and logo where­as we want to create a multi-sensory branding of story-telling with people, relationships and the community in­volved.”

And what about the story itself?
“The story is a collaboration be­tween Happy and myself. We brain­storm together… and it is a very similar process to preparing a stage performance. We decide on the theme or subject to be performed and then Happy is in charge of the stage, how the performance is presented, the collaboration with other artists, set designers, who the actors will be, the timing and the purpose of the perfor­mance.”

Franka Makarim with her husband Gojek founder and curret Minsiter of Education and Culture, Nadiem Makarim. Photo courtesy of Tulola.

In 2016 Tulola received another partner, Franka Makarim, the wife of Nadiem Makarim, founder of Go­jek and current Indonesian Minister of Education and Culture. Franka whose father passed away when she was still a child was very much influ­enced by her mother. Franka’s moth­er, a strong woman who had to be­come sole provider and parent taught her that as a woman she needed to be independent and able to take care of herself.

Franka’s career took her into in­tegrated marketing, branding, adver­tising, retail, digital and e-commerce. Before becoming a part of Tulola Franka took a year off to have a baby. It was then that she began to look for something new to do. She had known Sri since 2007. They were friends and she loved her designs. Franka re­marks, “I also saw so much potential and strength in the Tulola brand.

Part of the Puspita collection. Photo: IO/ Tamalia Alisjahbana

It was very distinct with a deep mean­ing behind everything they created and the thread that tied everything together was Indonesia in the form of literature, myths, songs, motifs, traditions and Indonesian nature.

They also never compro­mised on the quality of their work either with the mate­rials they used or their pro­duction process. They used export level machinery from Italy and their quality is con­sistently high. It’s all export level.

And then as a potential investor, most important for me was whether their business could scale. In oth­er words, how fast could I make it bigger? I studied it and found it completely scal­able. I think investing in Tulola is the best decision I ever made! I find a real partnership with Sri and Happy and the relationship between us three is one of the best and most important in my life.”

Tulola collaborated with the 5 Jogjakarta princess to create the Puspita Collection in which each of the Sultan of Jogjakarta’s daughters is represented by a flower and a characteristic.
Photo by IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana.

Sri sees herself and Happy mar­rying the tangible and the intangible aspects of branding whereas Franka executes it on a business level. Fran­ka says that she looks after the retail strategy and operational business growth. The three ladies each have a different approach and sometimes disagree but they have the same vi­sion and because they each have dif­ferent skills they respect each others’ views. Franka says that next year they will be trying to make the busi­ness more sustainable in the sense of what material they use, what kind of waste they produce and how they can run Tulola as sustainable both from a business as well as an environmental perspective. In 2020 they will also be producing the pure gold jewelry that so many of their customers are asking for.

Heart throb actor Reza Rahadian with jazz singer Andini Aisyah Haryadi and actress Eva Celia Latjuba collaborated with several Tulola jewelry collections.
Photo courtesy of Tulola

Three celebrities collaborated in the Tulola collections for opening night. Perhaps it’s no surprise that heart throb and Citra Award win­ning actor Reza Rahadian Matulessy who often works in stage produc­tions with Happy was involved in the collection called Suku Umbu which represents Indonesia’s diverse tribes and ethnic groups as Reza himself is the creation of a Moluccan-Javanese marriage and a Muslim-Christian family. Well-known jazz singer And­ini Aisyah Haryadi who has released 4 albums and won numerous music awards collaborated in the Rekah collection which consists of wild and asymmetric floral motifs representing natural beauty in the wilderness of a Nusantara landscape. As a great musician and a young mother she is transitioning into a more mature woman and represents for Tulola the feminine power of Nusantara whose inhabitants show 74% Austronesian DNA. In the Austronesian world wom­en have a comparatively higher status than in other regions.

The gold-plated choker is part of the Story in the Tone collection created in collaboration with singer Eva Celia Latjuba. Photo credit: IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana.

The music and language collection entitled The Story in the Tone has a choker style necklace with bars sim­ilar to the base of bamboo weaves with musical notes denoting not just music but also sound. This was pro­duced in collaboration with actress and singer Eva Celia Latjuba after long discussions not only about mu­sic but also the development of Indonesian as well as the many local languages of Nusantara.

The Kupu-Kupu Barong collection. Photo by IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana

Meanwhile nature lovers will adore the collection named after Indonesia’s harvest goddess, Dewi Sri. Stalks of rice decorate the jewelry and a tiny diamond on them is a tribute to su­bak, Bali’s ancient communal irriga­tion system. The charmingly themed Kupu-Kupu Barong collection is full of butterflies and named after the large butterfly which Balinese legend has it brings luck and visitors to houses that it enters. There is also the collec­tion inspired by nature in Ubud; the wind and the rain.

As Nusantara or the islands of the Indonesian Archipelago has always been the central theme of all of Tulo­la’s jewelry collections they wanted to hold an exhibition this year to present past as well as present Tulola collec­tions. The idea was to hold an end of year celebration of artisan craftsman­ship and the Indonesian fine arts leg­acy in jewelry. The intrinsic message is that Tulola is not standing alone in regenerating traditional crafts­manship but that many others are involved. “It’s a joint passion,” says Sri, “and Tulola is just one of many that have the DNA for this sort of work in Indonesia.”. (Tamalia Alisjahbana)

For those who love the works of Pramoedya Ananta Toer, this brooch consists of a quote of his regarding love. Photo by IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana.