Founded at the request of HRH Prince Charles and Hamid Karzai, The Turquoise Mountain foundation was originally set up in 2006 in Kabul with the aim to revive the country’s traditional crafts. In 2014 Turquoise Mountain partnered with the Suu Foundation, a humanitarian organization, and began their dedicated mission in Myanmar. Starting with restoring historic areas of the country, they hope to contribute advancement of health and education of the Burmese people through reviving traditional arts and crafts.
Whilst jewellery making has always been a huge part of Myanmar’s society, people are increasingly favouring poor quality, machine-made imported designs and as a result, the jewellery industry is rapidly declining. As Myanmar itself is one of Southeast Asia’s poorest countries, it was crucial to help this ailing industry and the suffering craftsmen to preserve the traditions of their ancestors.
Turquoise Mountain found goldsmiths, many from Ramree in the recently troubled Rakhine state who were looking for work and opportunity and they soon set up a workshop to produce designs to draw from the rich heritage but also to engage consumers all over the world. Young men and women apprentices are learning these ancient skills and ensuring the survival of this tradition.
My first collection was inspired by the gentle chiming of bells which followed behind me in the distance. The temples were like a chorus, calling the spirits to listen to the prayers being offered. Elephants and other animals each had a bell made especially for them so their sound was distinct. Mesmerized and enamoured I began incorporating sound into my designs, allowing each piece to have its own voice.
I worked with Aung Chay a goldsmith in Rakhine to create the collection and sourced the stones from women ‘pickers’ and dealers in Mogok (an ancient source of the best rubies and sapphires in the world). Outside the gemstone mines, women gather at the end of each day to take home waste rock. They are free to sort through the rubble and search for Spinels, Tourmalines and Peridots, before selling them at an all-female market nearby. They may go without finding anything, yet the prospect of discovering just one substantial stone could change their lives overnight.
I have since created 2 collections a year which we show in international fashion weeks to buyers from around the world. I continue to be inspired by ancient Pyu designs but also the many extraordinary designs of the different ethnic groups around this diverse and fascinating country.
Like many of the most renowned goldsmiths in Myanmar, Tin Win comes from Ramree Island, Rakhine State. He grew up immersed in the goldsmith life, with a thin line between the workshop and the playground. It was the wish of his parents that he became a goldsmith, and he moved to Yangon in 1996 to study under the master U Kyaw Than.