Winner of the Prix Liliane Bettencourt pour l'intelligence de la main® (Liliane Bettencourt prize for the intelligence of hands) awarded by the Fondation Bettencourt Schueller. The jeweller Karl Mazlo wants to modernise the world of jewellery through a constant dialogue with Japan and other artistic professions.
Updated on 06/01/2022
Could we talk about your career? How did you discover jewellery?
My father is a jeweller, and after graduating from the Boulle school, I trained with him for seven years. Even as a child, I spent a lot of time in his workshop with my brothers and sisters.
Many people see jewellery as something prestigious or as a source of wonder. How do you see it? What does jewellery really mean to you?
Seen through my eyes as a child, it was wonderful, magical, a sort of treasure that could give people special powers. Today, it is mainly a means of expression and a way of sharing a message. It is also an invitation to dream and contemplate. The time I spent in Japan, at villa Kujoyama, in fact strongly encouraged me to develop this view of my practice. For me, jewellery serves to revive memories, to pass on a history, skills. For example, I was strongly influenced by the Egyptian jewels that belonged to the Pharaohs, where we find extremely original techniques, like filigree or granulation. For me, every piece of jewellery is a book that tells us about the period during which it was made.
Do you have an obsession, or a key theme that has guided your practice since the beginning?
When I was a child, communicating was very difficult: it still is today when I speak before an audience. So, I was fascinated by language, writing, and signs in general. That is another reason why I was already attracted by Japanese culture, at that time, and by the writing I could not understand. I identified with this language. In a way, Japan was my guiding principle from the outset: beyond the writing, I’m thinking of the obsession with traditional skills, like forging swords, or creating wood block prints. I am also strongly inspired by the wabi-sabi culture. What I like in Japanese culture is the unlikely marriage between technology and preserving traditional skills. This is also what I seek in my work: to combine excellence and the search for a universal language accessible to everyone.
How do you work on each unique piece? Does it depend on the stories your clients tell you?
When I work with clients, often they do not know yet what they are looking for. So, I mainly try to understand why they want this piece of jewellery, and what role it will play for them. I have noticed that memories and life trajectories often play an important role. I like to question them, and this gives me the keys to start creating the piece. Then I develop a mood board, by collecting materials that correspond to them. We use these elements to create the item together. Creating bespoke items, is a rigorous and demanding process, as I have to find the right proportions between what the person wants and my creative expression. So, ego has no place in this conversation.
Your career has led you to collaborate with calligraphers and craftsmen working with noble materials, like wood or feathers. Is it important to you to enrich your practice by interacting with other artistic professions?
This dialogue is very important, as it was completely lacking when I worked in the fine jewellery world, where each profession is extremely compartmentalized. We lose a lot in terms of spontaneity. So, I decided to assimilate as many techniques as possible myself and create a dialogue with professions that have no direct link to jewellery, to create something unexpected and innovative. I wanted to modernize the world of jewellery and benefit from a dialogue with other creative people. That’s how I won the Prix Liliane Bettencourt pour l'intelligence de la main® awarded by the Fondation Bettencourt Schueller.
You recently won the Prix Liliane Bettencourt pour l'intelligence de la main® awarded by the Fondation Bettencourt Schueller. What does it mean to you?
A huge encouragement for my research and all the work I have been able to begin since my trip to Japan. It is also an opportunity to continue it. Today, it is difficult for me to find the time for research, as it means I have to give up orders, which are very interesting but sometimes eat into my personal practice. It is also a beautiful way of highlighting my profession, which needs to be renewed and offer a more contemporary vision to sensitize new audiences. This award will also allow me to reinforce my relationship with Japan, as well as create new cultural ties with other countries.
Did your residency at Villa Kujoyama, in Kyoto, change the way you view your work?
It completely transformed the way I work. For once I had the time to take the time. I had four months to meet people and initiate research projects: it was a magical interlude. I also met a lot of people who influenced me: the team at the villa, the other residents. What is interesting in this residency, is the cohabitation of very different profiles: a jeweller, a designer, an architect, a female writer. Our exchanges were enthralling I was also able to meet a lot of Japanese craftsmen. To say nothing of the daily inspiration I received just walking in the street. Nature, Architecture, light – which is completely different there – played a very important role.
Karl Mazlo was laureate of the Villa Kujoyama, an establishment of the cultural cooperation network of the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs. Steered by the Institut français of Japan, the Villa Kujoyama operates in coordination with the Institut français and with the support of the Fondation Bettencourt Schueller, its main patron.
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