Interview with Nicole Hana Kim
Nicole Hana Kim’s recently launched brand is a small but mighty force to be reckoned with; the pieces are delicate, and subtly accent any ensemble. An appreciation for the Korean aesthetic manifests itself in Kim’s designs, where her influences from her childhood permeate each new work. Combining Korean heritage and Swiss techniques, Kim creates handmade minimalist jewellery in her studio in Zurich (pictured above). Despite the rapid digitalisation of the craft of the Goldsmith, Kim’s process remains entirely hand-made. We discussed her art and the role jewellery plays in the eco-conscious movement.
When did you first think about starting your own brand?
I started practising as a goldsmith about 5 years ago and was fascinated by the craft from the beginning. Working with my hands and doing something so precisely really got me in a kind of mesmerised state every time I sat down at the bench - I knew I wanted to do this full time. In 2016 I quit my job as a project manager in a branding agency and went travelling for 8 months. After I came back I decided to slowly focus on working as an illustrator and on the jewellery. It wasn’t exactly an awakening moment but I needed to find a new focus upon my return so why not kick off your own business.
Why did you decide to fuse Korean design and Swiss influences?
I’m half Korean so my heritage influences me all the time. My Korean cultural background is present in everything that I’m doing. For anyone growing up with two cultures the thinking is different and influences you in many ways in your life.
For example the current Yaksok-Link Collection, derives from the Korean word for promise. The Yaksok ritual is very similar to the American pinky swear and is very much linked to my childhood, since it was the ritual between me and my mother every time we made up after a quarrel. Many elements and also Korean aesthetics fascinate me, so it was obvious to me, that I wanted to reflect this relationship of the two cultures in my doing. In terms of the Swiss influence, I live in Switzerland it is also a way of keeping this culture present in my everyday life.
How you want your brand to be different from existing jewellery designers out there?
The initial justification was quite simple: I was amazed by all these techniques and was really motivated to learn new things and get better. Designing is a constant process of prototyping - I don’t usually draw I work with the material from the get-go. So for me it’s always about the material and not very conceptual as is the case with other design processes.
I also came to the realisation that the jewellery industry uses materials which are not very sustainable, particularly gold is often found in emerging countries with a weak regulatory system or economically poor parts of the world. The mining has a serious environmental and health impact for the people working within the supply chains. About 50% of all the mined gold ends up in the jewellery industry, so it is very important to acknowledge one’s responsibility when buying jewellery. For me it was a necessity to work with certified gold (LBMA) to make sure human rights due diligence processes are followed.
For the jewellery I use only recycled silver, also components are either from Swiss or German recycled silver. For me, being able to provide jewellery made using sustainably sourced materials was crucial. There’s no point in doing anything really, if you are hurting other people or damaging their environment.
Do you feel limited by anything when choosing to create responsibly?
At the beginning I wasn’t very patient, I really wanted to start producing after the designs were set. Producing sustainably threw me a bit back, it just takes time to do the research on the suppliers and often even the suppliers don’t really know the standards of their suppliers, so it needs a lot of digging. The other thing is, sustainably sourced resources can be more expensive, which can lead to prices that are too high. But I was diligent in finding certified suppliers with reasonable prices.
Recently I started working with stones. At the beginning I was doing research on natural stones but quickly became a significant obstacle since often you’re not really sure how the stones were mined. So instead I’ve decided to work with synthetically made stones from Austria, because with those I really know where they come from and under what circumstances the are made. It can be limiting, but since I’ve decided I wanted to work with synthetic stones I’ve came up with a technique of casting which wouldn’t have been possible with the natural minerals. So in a sense the limitation was part of the creative process and opening up another way, rather than just limiting the possibilities.
How do you see the future of sustainability within the jewellery industry?
It is hard to tell which direction it will go. But since all the different industries – as in fashion and Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) – are moving into sustainable production it will hopefully apply for the fine jewellery industry as well. I think in general people are more sensitive to sustainable products in other areas, clothes and food in particular so I think it’s important to raise awareness in the jewellery sphere. However, in the last 15 years also numerous certifications in the jewellery industry came up, so they are aware of their responsibility.
Looking towards the future, what are your plans for Hana Kim?
I’d love to focus on more custom made jewellery and work on my second collection in the near future. I’m learning engraving right now and look forward to integrating this technique into my work.