Architect Melvyn Kanny on applying his design skills to jewelry with his own brand, Zikurat

Melvyn Kanny thought his wife was joking when she asked him to design a ring to set the blue topaz he bought for her in Nepal a few years ago. The request, while unusual, was not without merit. “You’re a designer,” Jeyamalar Sinniah reminded him.

He is, but of houses, not of jewelry. The architect has won awards for designing eco-friendly, sustainable and tropically relevant bungalows. Jeya was serious, so he decided to give it a shot.

Kanny bought jewelry books, signed up for online jewelry design courses, and got into it. But the more he delved into the subject, the more he failed. The problem was the gemstone itself, he soon realized. “It has a form, a design that dictates everything. You can’t do anything really different.

Kanny wanted to design something contemporary and found the stone “a distraction in itself”. So he put it aside, started doing his own stuff, and the designs started flowing.

This was the seed that led to the eventual birth of Zikurat, sterling silver jewelry fashioned in the tradition of scale, proportion and spatial simplicity. Geometric volume and clean, abstract, clean lines give his pieces their signature look – simple elegance, with form that meets function minus awkward exuberance. Hence the slogan “It’s not all in the carat”.

The brand name is derived from the word “ziggurat”, which means an ancient Mesopotamian temple. The ziggurat was one of the first forms of architecture built with function and design in mind, the designer explains. It was also the symbol of human ingenuity, with the progress of the Bronze Age, when jewelry made of gold, silver and other metals was first used.

“What I’m trying to say with our branding is that we’re going back to the origins and rethinking jewelry redesign without the influences of business trends. We’re going back to basics and starting from scratch,” Kanny explains.

For him, jewelry is a new baby that took a long time to gesticulate. “It was a struggle,” he recalls. Before the pandemic, more as a hobby than seriously, he sketched ideas on his cell phone and developed them in his office, where designers scanned the drawings. For fun, they made cardboard models.

With spare time during the various iterations of the Motion Control Order (MCO), Kanny soon had 10 models and began to think he could find someone to turn them into jewelry. All the local jewelers he approached said they couldn’t because his designs looked very thin and flimsy and the jewelry might not come out well. In Malaysia, jewelers use the traditional casting method: they reproduce pieces with a rubber or silicone mould. Or they are mass-produced in China and then assembled here.

After a long search, he meets a guy whose factory in Kuala Lumpur makes jewelry for big names. “He looked at my designs and said, ‘I can do this. We have the equipment but it is too complicated”. He wasn’t interested. I begged him, ‘Make a piece lah’. He made our first prototypes, then told me I had to find someone else. Guess I was a little fried.

The guy’s reluctance lay in the challenge of having to use 3D technology to create his delicate props. “It took time – the thinner they are, the harder they are to produce,” Kanny explains. In addition, straight lines are very difficult to create. This is the reason why jewelers prefer to make curves.

Zikurat prototypes are created locally. Once completed, they are sent to Guangzhou, China, where Kanny has found a business to make his jewelry.

There, too, there were teething problems. “They used the casting method initially and the parts came out twisted. I had to teach them how to do it in 3D. We went through the processes and it took about a year. Discussions about what works best are still ongoing today, which is why an item can take a few months.

During the MCO, Kanny also learned about social media and online marketing to promote his label. It launched in December but has been selling parts to friends for six months.

“I wanted to focus on a niche market – professional women who want to look good, especially when attending functions, but without overdressing or wearing expensive diamonds.

“What we’re trying to say is maybe you don’t have to go for all the bling. Maybe if you focus on one key piece, you’ll look even more stylish, more unique. You don’t have to worry about security either.

Each Zikurat creation begins with a simple idea based on geometric shapes expressing man-made structures, says Kanny, who views jewelry from an architectural perspective to bring out the beauty in each piece. The design itself creates its own interesting characteristics, he adds.

The Spiral, designed as a spring, however, gave him a lot of headaches. “When the builder first did it, he thought there had been a mistake. ‘How come this one can bend? Do you want me to weld it together? No, I wanted it to be like this. It’s faceted, with each piece capturing the light in a different way to shine. Because silver is soft, it’s malleable, you can play with it.

Another reason he chooses to work with silver, an elegant material in itself, is that Zikurat pieces – prices range from RM350 to RM450 – are large and would have cost a lot more if they were made of silver. gold. Sterling silver, the purest form of the metal, guarantees that there will be no rusting or discoloration. Some models have gold-plated highlights that are rustproof and hypoallergenic.

This year, he plans to extend the brand’s range – there are now 12 models of rings and earrings – to bracelets, necklaces, necklaces, pendants and chains.

Imitations, apparently common in China, are not his concern at the moment. “They all have my drawings. If they copy, good for me – that means they can really sell lah. I just want to do what I do and bring it to market.

Kanny says he never imagined making jewelry, but the process isn’t much different from building a physical structure. “The principles and the disciplines are very similar: understanding the material and what it can or cannot do is very important. You design around those perimeters. Also, proportion and scale.

Has designing jewelry for women changed him in any way?

“He probably looks at women more now…and he’s very judgmental,” jokes Jeya.

“I’m more aware of what they’re wearing and I’m like, ‘This one’s nice. Maybe I should do something based on that.’ Lest someone get the wrong idea , Kanny is just checking out their jewelry, “I’m definitely a lot more fashion conscious and trying to understand the trends.”

Styles are moving in new directions, with designers using recycled materials and different colors. Jewelry is no longer just about precious materials like gold, silver and diamonds. But he does not intend to follow the crowd because “I want my creations to remain timeless”.

As for Jeya, gemstones still have a place in her heart. “My love for them won’t change just because he makes jewelry.”

Well, the man who bought the blue topaz at Everest Base Camp has the final say. “After I started designing, I forgot about the topaz. One day my wife came back and wore it as a pendant. When I heard how much she paid for it, I thought, ‘Oh, I better to start doing it”.

Zikurat is among the brands exhibiting at “Recrafting Stories: A Decolonial Pursuit”, at Small Shifting Space (141, Jalan Petaling, KL) until March 20. Organized by Dia Guild, the fair aims to honor the “decolonial journeys” of Southeast Asian artists and creators, within the framework of crafts, music and literature. See here for more.

This article was first published on March 14, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.

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