By Aisha Hassan on November 17th, 2021
It started with a stone from Kathmandu that held Melvyn Kanny back. Melvyn, a practicing architect, had bought the blue topaz for his wife, Jeya, who then asked him to design a piece of jewelry for it. But Melvyn felt limited during the creative process, and soon realized it was the gem. “It dominated everything else, and I couldn’t express myself in terms of the stone,” he says. So Melvyn looked through the lens of architecture and focused on the principle of simplicity. He emphasized design and form using metals only, rendering ideas in 3-D and building cardboard models. Soon, the designs kept coming, and Zikurat the jewelry brand was born.
“I’ve gone back to simple geometry and creating something impactful from just a minimal use of decorative elements,” Melvyn says. He points out that while many jewelry brands draw on natural elements, often mimicking the shapes of flowers and leaves, for instance, Zikurat is focused on finding the core of any inspirational material and manifesting it through smart design. “What we’re trying to do is find the essence behind it and come up with an abstraction of that idea,” Melvyn says.
The Kandinsky Earrings, for example, are named after Russian artist Wassily Kandisky, who is often referred to as the pioneer of abstract art. Melvyn was prompted by the circles in one of Kandinsky’s paintings and sought to recreate the concept in an earring. Similarly, the diamond-shaped Untameable Earrings were inspired by how the word “diamond” is derived from the Greek word for “untameable.” “It comes from an abstract idea,” Melvyn says.
Some of Zikurat’s pieces also capture the essence of specific manmade structures. The Solitaire Ring is based on an element from one of the building projects under Melvyn’s architecture firm, and stacking the rings atop one another recreates an office tower’s facade. Similarly, the Spiral Earrings are also an expression of an office building, from the most miniscule details to the way the earrings can move. “It’s a shape changer and all the little holes represent windows,” Melvyn says.
Even the brand name itself, Zikurat, is derived from “ziggurat,” an ancient Mesopotamian structure and, as Melvyn points out, “the first architectural building ever created.” Ziggurats emerged alongside the pyramids and were multipurpose buildings — “office complex, temple, shopping complex” — that often functioned as the town centre of a particular city. This happened during the Bronze Age, a period characterized by its use of copper and bronze, and given Zikurat’s emphasis on manipulating metal, Melvyn thought it an apt name.
The technical calibre of Zikurat jewelry designs, however, means that producing each item is difficult. Melvyn has struggled to find local Malaysian manufacturers to produce his designs as many are unwilling to deal with the structural complexities. Luckily, he was able to find a specialist in China who uses 3-D printers to print out the jewelry’s smaller parts before they are hand-assembled, solded together, plated, and hand-polished. This combination of sophisticated technology and the human touch means that creating Zikurat pieces is a laborious process and small batches are the only option. But that suits Melvyn, who is ultimately focused on designing high quality jewelry made to last.
And there are other ways that Zikurat aims to have a long-lasting effect: As a Rotarian, Melvyn wanted to give back, and so a portion of Zikurat’s proceeds go towards women’s empowerment NGOs. After all, Zikurat somewhat began with Melvyn’s wife Jeya, who currently heads the company’s marketing and sales.The first Zikurat pieces were also tested by Jeya’s friends. The brand currently works with Camfed, which supports education for vulnerable girls, and Dress For Success, which supports low-income women throughout the job-searching process. As Zikurat continues to grow, Melvyn hopes to not only bring more of his complex designs to life, but to contribute toward other meaningful causes too.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Aisha Hassan is a writer, journalist, and co-founder of Dia. Previously, Aisha worked for Quartz in New York and Harper’s Bazaar in Malaysia. Her fiction has been published in international literary magazines. She has a bachelor’s degree in English Language & Literature from the University of Oxford, and a master’s degree from Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism.