John Hardy Jewelry is Big Business in Bali

I know what I expected. What I got was a jolt of reality.

I made the appointment the day before and my visit to the John Hardy Jewelry Compound was confirmed for 11:00 a.m.  I arrived, signed in, and a lovely Balinese woman introduced herself as my guide. We crossed a little thatched roof bridge and entered another world.

To clarify a few points, John Hardy sold the company in 2007. The two men who purchased the brand were his CEO, Damien Dernoncourt and his Senior Designer/Creative Director, Guy Bedarida. John Hardy himself went on to imagine, fund and build The Green School in Bali. (See my earlier post.) The jewelry compound at first glance appears green and serene.

I am standing on a bamboo path that leads to the huge boat-shaped showroom where the collections of John Hardy jewelry are displayed.

The interior is stunning. The jewelry cases are on bamboo pedestals. The two in the middle are single columns and the displays along the sides sit atop criss-crossed bamboo structures. The flooring is a woven bamboo material that has significant give to it. Since footware is removed upon entering, during the entire shopping experience my feet had a subtle massage. (It would never pass U.S. Building Codes!) This showroom houses the collections that are being discontinued, 30% off. There is another room slightly below this one, completely enclosed and air conditioned, where the new collections are displayed.  There are no discounts in that room but I was served a complimentary glass of amazing iced lemongrass tea with turmeric, ginger, and cane sugar syrup.

Leaving the surreal environment of the showrooms we entered the factory itself. I snapped one picture and was advised that photos would not be allowed in these areas. Gone were the bamboo fronds and breezes. I was in hot rooms with row upon row of men and women sitting at long tables, bent over their work. Some were cleaning the tiny pieces of wax that will be used for creating the molds for each miniscule part that makes up an exquisite John Hardy work of art. Some were applying those pieces to a cuff bracelet, an earring or a ring. Some were creating the beautiful woven silver chains, link by excruciating link, that become the bracelets and necklaces that are sold for hundreds, even thousands of dollars each. I was told that the workers can create up to 10 centimeters of chain per hour. Each piece of the link is about the size of the curved end of a paper clip. They do this for seven hours a day.

Approximately 700 people are employed here. The factory is immense. My guide led me through room after room and explained the process from beginning to end. A few of the orange shirted workers looked up as I passed, but most were focused diligently on their work. In the rooms where the molds are heated to melt the wax it was hot. In other areas the processes produced fumes. The people work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with an hour off for free lunch that is served cafeteria style under the huge banyan trees.

Management eats at this table after the workers have had their meal.

There are organic gardens where  vegetables are grown. The produce is used for meals at the compound. Here one small patch of ground is being prepared for planting.

What had I expected? I had a romantic notion that all of this took place outside in the fresh air under bamboo roofed pavilions. I imagined laughter and an atmosphere of creative energy. I pictured maybe 60 people…max! Silly me. This is BIG BUSINESS. This is capitalism. This is all about money with an attempt at maintaining the goodwill of the Balinese by planting bamboo trees with a percentage of the profits. So, hypothetically, a silver bracelet that may have cost $25 to make, sells for $900, and 16 baby bamboo trees get planted when someone purchases it. (It says so right inside the bracelet.)

As I rode back through the rice fields we passed an older Balinese woman walking along the side of the road, bare breasted with her sarong skirt and a huge basket of produce on her head. I didn’t photograph the woman, but I did take this shot of the field.

It’s a bit tough to integrate everything. Some of the most expensive, beautifully refined jewelry in the world is being created right here within steps of where the old woman walked.  Many of the workers are people who, themselves, are incredible artists. But they can make more money sitting elbow to elbow in a hot, smelly factory doing a single job day after day, than they can creating their own pieces. Is it any different than farming out jobs in the garment industry to countries where people work for little or nothing, or any industry for that matter? Seeing it first-hand gives me a completely different perspective. I feel thrown off-balance. But that’s what reality does when it catches me unprepared for truth.

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