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Angsa Jewelry

A legendary Lanna jewelry house

      Filigree is a sophisticated jewelry-making technique dating back more than 5,000 years. Known as Ngan Yad Lai in Thai, the complicated technique to make a finished piece requires as many as 35 delicate and meticulous steps. The art was on the verge of fading away when, 50 years ago, it was reinvigorated by Chinese migrants in the Ban Kad area of Chiang Mai province who taught this ancient jewelry-making technique to the Upanan family. Recognizing the need to preserve this technique of jewelry making, Master Craftsman Pongmit Upanan and his son Angkan Upanan have been committed to honing their craft and expertise, producing unique jewelry that represents the identity of the Ban Kad community. 

Timeless elegance and eternal value

      Inspired by nature, Pongmit’s designs ranged from animals such as peacocks and dragonflies to flowers like widow’s thrill, peony, hibiscus and sunflowers. His jewelry designs also found inspiration in the heritage and culture of Chiang Mai by capturing auspicious and ethereal symbols associated with Lanna culture. Be it dragonflies that signify origins or star gooseberries that represent popularity, Pongmit would work wonders tapping into natural elements to fashion exquisite creations. It was this knowledge that he passed on to his son Angkan.

     “Filigee and Ban Kad have been inseparable since my parents’ time. I am the third generation to inherit this work, which used to be much more closely connected to the community,” said Angkan, who was recognized with a Craftsmanship Descendant award in 2016. “Local people now resort to other kinds of work that can more quickly generate income using new technologies. Besides, the materials costs are becoming too high for many, who are abandoning the art and letting traditional skills atrophy. However, my family still understand its value and have kept this heritage alive.” 

Out with the new, in with the old

      Angkan went searching for his dreams only to discover that what he had been looking for had been right in front of him all along. He returned to the home where he had learned the art of filigree from his father in his childhood. Having been immersed in an environment of jewelry-making had given him experience that he himself hadn’t understood until he started working on it. The basic knowledge he had accumulated throughout his early years made it much easier for him.

     “I graduated with a degree in painting and had some experience with oil painting,” he said. “My works sold reasonably well at night markets and malls, but that was until industrialization started producing mass art. I could barely sell my artwork; and when I did, I got little for it. It was my girlfriend, Hong, who suggested I try working with the filigree art in jewelry that I had been familiar with since childhood. And so, we decided to go back to my roots, and that was the beginning of Angsa Jewelry.”

Bonding with a brand of long-lasting love

      It was Hongsara “Hong” Chandraphat, Angkan’s life partner, who helped Angkan see the value of what he had once taken for granted. Hong explained that the name Angsa came from both their names. The name translates to “swan” in the ancient Malayu language, which is also the meaning of “hong” in Thai.

     “This year marks the 13th year of Angsa Jewelry. In our parents’ early days, designs mainly concentrated on traditional Lanna patterns consisting of mostly natural motifs. Today, while those traditional designs and the typical 35-step filigree process are still used, other techniques have been added like plating with white gold, which raises the value and makes delicate pieces more durable. Other techniques include gold imprinting to add texture, and features like bearings and hinges. Our contemporary designs bring variety and yet reflect a connection to the past, creating refined contemporary elegance,” said Angkan.

Keeping filigree alive

      Angkan stressed how delicate and elaborate the process of filigree art is, saying that his family are the only filigree experts who remain in the Baan Kad community and hope to keep the art alive in Thailand. 

     “Actually, there are more than 35 steps in the process, which can involve as many as 60 steps altogether. However, mainly it involves 35 processes,” he said.Instead of neglecting the traditional art, Angsa jewelry proudly incorporates traditional skills and elements to bring out the best in each piece.  Techniques such as gold imprinting, soldering, oxidizing and white gold plating improve product quality and prevent the tarnishing that results when pure silver is used.”

     “Each step and every single tool we use requires a high degree of skill. You cannot buy these tools in the market. We have to make them ourselves. Filigree entails working with pure silver and gold. White gold is not a usable material other than for plating since its hardness makes it impossible to twist into fine thread-like wires,” Angkan said. 

Keep calm and craft on

“อังซาเป็นงานศิลปะ ลูกค้าต้องได้เห็นความละเอียด ได้สัมผัส
ได้เห็นความตั้งใจ และอะไรอีกหลายอย่าง ที่โลกออนไลน์ไม่สามารถสื่อสารตรงนี้ได้”

      Art takes time, and Angkan sets a timeline for making each piece when he plans his work. For example, when working on peonies, he would make 20 pieces each time and they would take around a month to finish. Each peony, however, would require different amounts of time depending on the level of sophistication in the design. A masterpiece, he said, would take around half a year to complete, adding that his customers are normally prepared to wait.

     “Jewelry with floral motifs or individual interpretations are our two best selling products,” said Angkan. “The floral motif pieces portray the beauty of five signature flowers: sunflowers, peonies, millingtonia, white cheesewood and crown imperials. These have been popular since my father’s time and have become even more so with the use of the additional five techniques. Our collections of individual interpretations, on the other hand, have no fixed patterns as the name suggests. They integrate filigree art with the feelings of whoever the artisan is who creates them. This makes each piece unique in the distinctive way they reflect the identity of their maker.”

      According to Angkan, technology cannot be used, and marketing their work on online platforms is not necessarily suitable for all types of products, especially high value jewelry from Angsa.

     “The value of handicrafts is timeless, although the longer it takes to create a piece, the higher its value in the market. Potential customers need to see and feel Angsa artworks, so I mainly concentrate on offline events, displaying my creations at trade fairs and shows run by organizations like the Royal Projects Foundation, OTOP, and Identity of Siam. I want people to see the effort and dedication put in to each exquisite and delicate piece. Online platforms just cannot convey this sense,” Angkan said.

Slowly but surely

      Angkan was awarded Best Designer of the Year in 2015 for his abstract collection in the Chiang Mai Design Awards by SACICT Concept, and he has also been awarded by the Department of Export for four years. This year, Angkan is to be awarded the prestigious Craft Master accolade by the Royal Project Foundation. His ultimate dream is to be recognized as a national artist and to see Angsa Jewelry creations displayed in museums and become a subject of study as part of the national heritage.”

     “Although I have been working on the brand for almost 25 years, I still have a lot to learn. There is no end to improvement. New challenges will arise and there are always new things to be discovered. It is something I can’t leave to other people because the process requires both passion and a great amount of patience and effort. Passion is the first and foremost key to jewelry making; rewards in terms of income come later. Before you know it, jewelry creation becomes a part of you. This is what has kept me going,” said Angkhan.

      Angkan has three goals he wants to achieve in life. He has successfully created his own brand and set up his own studio, but he also intends to build a museum and a learning center at Ban Kad, where his filigree art originated in Thailand.

     “I have been collecting crafts for over 10 years. I want to build a museum where people can both admire and learn about this work. I want it to be a place where those who are interested can immerse themselves in the experience of skilled artisans and gain an all-round perspective on their lives. All visitors are welcome as we already have accommodation available. Currently, the museum project is only about 20 percent completed though. We already have the land but are in no rush and want to take it slowly. Hopefully, it will have been completed by the time I retire.”

Angsa Jewelry

Address : 90/19 In Nature Moo 5, Suk Samran, Tambon Nong Khwai, Hangdong District, Chiang Mai 50230

Tel : 081 854 7336

Facebook :  Angsa Jewelry

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