Patcharavipa Bodiratnangkura © Charlie Bibby/FT

When it comes to jewellery, Thailand may be best known as a go-to, business-friendly destination for manufacturing. But, recently, another type of export is shining a light on the country: the Thai designer Patcharavipa Bodiratnangkura.

Since setting up her brand in 2016, Patcharavipa has seen her textured gold jewellery on A-listers such as Gigi Hadid, Janet Jackson, and the award-winning actor Kodi Smit-McPhee. Rihanna, too, has worn an engraved, 1970s Rolex King Midas watch customised by Patcharavipa — one of three Patcharavipa watches that the singer purchased, says the Bangkok-born, London-based jeweller.

From scalloped Escargot hoop earrings to tactile, diamond-set chain necklaces and a Tiny collection of 1cm-sized Zodiac pendants, Bodiratnangkura’s designs are stamped with a soft, sculpted gold finish that looks almost hammered — but is not quite. The technique is something of a secret. “It’s not hammered — but I don’t say how I make it,” says Bodiratnangkura. “A lot of people are using organic shapes or textures right now, but with me, the finish is still very original.”

Clients are drawn to the bespoke-like, rugged finish, which reflects Patcharavipa’s various design influences: the architecture of London and Paris, where she has her headquarters and a showroom respectively, 1950s French artists such as Jean Dubuffet and Fernand Léger, not to mention Thailand itself. She cites the country’s seaside cliffs and caves where she spent holidays as a child, the coconut shells that inspired her debut collection, as well as her Thai jewellery family heirlooms and the delicate gold jewellery that is worn at Thai weddings and funerals, such as gold necklaces, hair pins and pearl pieces. “My designs are traditional but with an old soul,” says Bodiratnangkura.

Customised 1970s Rolex King Midas worn by Rihanna
Customised 1970s Rolex King Midas worn by Rihanna

Gold, by far, is her signature, which she calls Siam gold. “I came up with the name after seeing it on a silver pill box that my grandparents were given for their wedding,” recalls Bodiratnangkura. “On the bottom it said ‘Siam gold sterling silver’. It was so sweet — and a name we shouldn’t forget. Thailand used to be called Siam. There’s a sweet reminiscence to it.”

Siam gold exudes a hue that is typical of Thai gold jewellery, which Bodiratnangkura describes as “a little bit more shiny, more yellow than Italian gold”. The 18ct gold is specially plated in the Bangkok atelier that is attached to Patcharavipa’s boutique in the Thai capital. The workshop employs seven craftspeople who specialise in all areas of jewellery making, from goldsmithing and plating, to polishing, engraving and stone setting.

“We’re very lucky to have our own atelier and make our own decisions,” says Kenzi Harleman, Bodiratnangkura’s partner. “The team works only for us — otherwise we wouldn’t be able to do all these things. The workshop can spend days just working out a certain technique.”

18ct Siam gold Escargot earrings
18ct Siam gold Escargot earrings

According to Thomas Chauvet, head of luxury goods equity research at Citi, “Thailand has been a leading jewellery design and manufacturing hub for over two decades”.

“It all started with the opening of the Gemopolis tax-free zone in the early 1990s, which attracted a number of global and regional jewellery players,” he says. Among the most prominent is the Danish jeweller Pandora, which manufactures exclusively in Thailand and, in 2021, reported its highest revenues to date of DKr23.4bn (£2.8bn). The company cited its Thailand production as one of the factors that helped mitigate the impact of the pandemic — and no wonder the country is just as popular with small makers, too. “Thailand seems like a relatively easy choice as it offers a business-friendly environment and competitive costs, highly skilled workforce for the craft of jewellery, political stability and a number of financial incentives,” notes Chauvet.

The bulk of Patcharavipa’s designs are priced between £3,000 and £6,000. There is also a couture line featuring larger stones, the most expensive piece of which is £250,000. It is influenced by Bodiratnangkura’s studies at the Gemological Institute of America and the Asian Institute of Gemological Sciences.

Diamond Row 10 necklace
Diamond Row 10 necklace

Neither Bodiratnangkura nor Harleman wear watches themselves, but they like the idea of customising “forgotten treasures” — namely, 1970s gold watches from top marques like Rolex, Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin — and transforming them into the kinds of watches they would wear. Once again, this is where having a wholly-owned atelier comes in handy. For a customised 1957 Rolex Oyster Date, for example, each white gold-plated silver link in the bracelet was handmade before being assembled into a jewel-like piece.

The watches, Harleman says, introduced an entirely new customer base to the brand. Bodiratnangkura and Harleman say they are just having fun — making pieces more intricate and interesting. “It’s watches now, but could be something very different in the next few years,” suggests Harleman, who hinted at “retouching” the likes of old Cartier lipstick holders, or creating drinking glasses and salt and pepper shakers. “It could be a lot of different things,” he says.

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