Friday 13 July 2012

13 Lucky Monkey: Custom skull rings from the Philippines

This probably won’t come as much of a surprise to you, but I’ve never been much of a rock chick.

Sure, I’ve got perfect headbanging hair, laugh at my husband bouncing around the room to 80s metal and regularly impersonate Slash at fancy dress parties, but that’s about the extent of my dabbling in rock n’ roll.

While I find the biker culture cool, I’ve never been near a real hog (I don’t even know how to ride a bicycle) and I’ve never been into skulls – even when they were massively in fashion with the Swarovski set.

So why am I talking about skulls, bikers and metal? It’s because I’ve found something that has opened my eyes.

Custom silver skull rings from Manila's 13 lucky monkey
Give me a hell yeah! Philippine label 13 Lucky Monkey's awesome skull rings

The Filipino artisans of 13 Lucky Monkey don’t just rock the biker jewellery world, they practically own it. They came to my attention after erstwhile blogger Chubby Hubby told me he’d had a ring made and sent me a link.

I instantly fell in love with their work. It was stunning, probably the most beautiful skulls I’ve ever seen. Intricate, hand sculpted, raw silver bad boys which scream tough, functional and charming at the same time.

If they say there’s a dark side in every one of us, then this was the moment I discovered mine. The beauty of the rings they make is the amount of detail which is worked on in every piece and made to perfection.

It would probably look odd in my closet but I cannot but love and appreciate the artistry and imagination that goes into the softer flower-eyed skull or the more macabre rings (including a skull with a bullet hole).

Philippines silversmith 13 Lucky Monkey's bespoke skull jewellery
Brutal beauty in the form of this gorgeous 13 Lucky Monkey bullet hole skull ring

Raw silver flower skull ring from Manila's 13 Lucky Monkey
Skulls n Roses? Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous statement ring that
would look good on anyone

I know it sounds so not like me but that’s the beauty of art, that regardless your personal taste, you cannot but appreciate great art, done with passion. And the guys behind 13 Lucky Monkey aren’t designers, they’re pure artists.

Naturally I wanted to know more about the guys behind this Manila based label who craft these limited pieces of first class artisanal work. So here’s the Q&A I had with Dante (one of the designer duo), who told me all about their love for the craft… and of course bikes!

You’re not going to read much about bikers and skulls in this blog, so enjoy it while you can. You  can keep up with their latest news on the 13 Lucky Monkey blog.

Q: Who are you and what is 13 Lucky Monkey?
Dante Dizon: Biker and designer for 13 Lucky Monkey and Noli Coronado: Biker , designer and sculptor for 13 Lucky Monkey.13 Lucky Monkey is a design duo focusing mainly on handmade silver jewelry. 

Q: I'm curious, what does the name13 Lucky Monkey refer to?
13 is deemed bad luck, a lot of 13 imagery is inspired by Kustom Kar Kulture and Rockabilly 
And the monkey symbolizes how we choose to evolve from human to monkey. 

Q: How did you start it and what was your inspiration?
We started about 4 years ago, Noli and I have been friends for a long time. He was sculpting toys for Marvel and DC while I was at the crossroads. I wanted to crossover from advertising into making films. I was dead set on it but when I went to Japan I saw the scene and decided I wanted to make jewelry. 

I shared this with Noli when I got back and we immediately got to work to learn how to be silversmiths. We were always searching for the right skull ring, the proper ring with the right weight and feel. The search was in vain till we decided to make our own. The quest for the perfect skull ring was born and is one of the inspirations for us. 

We are also inspired by motorcycles, rock 'n' roll and tattoos… all these are part of how we live our lives. Everyday. We ride, listen or try to play rock ' n' roll. Noli has a band and I love tattoos.

raw silver skull jewelry from 13 lucky monkey in the philippines
OK...who used the blue background? This isn't very rock! Sack them now!

Dante and Noli from 13 Lucky Monkey
Dante and Noli: The duo behind 13 Lucky Monkey

Q: Who are your customers?
Right now it’s a mix of real rock stars and people who wish to make a statement subtly. There is also the executive who likes fine watches and has been looking for a manly ring with not too much bling. Our pieces are all dark and unpolished raw silver at its purest molded form. Raw, angry, aggressive and subtle at times. 

Q: With customers like real rock stars, have you ever thought about upping sticks and moving to California? Or is it important to stay in the Philippines?
We have had opportunities to move but we choose to stay. Staying here helps the local artisans get jobs and get noticed, we try to give back to the culture that raised us by staying here and trying to keep it alive.

What are the material/techniques you use and what makes your work special?
We mainly use silver, and brass at times, precious metals if need be and diamonds. Most of our work is handmade, no machining, just pure sculpting. We also limit the release of rings to 26 and move on to other designs. We craft each and every piece by hand. It’s like wearable sculpture as some people have called it. 

What was the strangest custom-made order you were asked to do?
Right now it’s the elephant skull. The client loved mammoths so we created a wearable mammoth interpretation of the ring. Nothing so strange yet by far.

Some of the pieces have very intricate design... how long do they take to make? 
Right now it takes a week to sketch out a design. Noli and I agree on the piece then sculpt it in wax, it is a slow laborious process but totally worth it.

We usually take our time because when we hurry, clients cannot get the best sculpting and design. We usually try the wax models on to see if it actually wears well 

Any near future plans or wishes?
We hope to reach further, though we have had orders from abroad. We also hope to make more stuff like chains jewellery for motorcycles and bicycles. 

If someone wants to place an order, how to contact you?
They can email us at We usually discuss the design we send them sketches and walk them through the process to final casting. We like to work together with our clients so they get exactly what they want. We also make new designs all the time and experiment a lot. We want people to see the difference of bespoke and it is actually a joy to see people wear our pieces to bits.

Other than custom-made orders, 13 Lucky Monkey is stocked in ac+632 in Greenbelt and Cura V in the Philippines and in Blackmarket no.2 at Orchard Central in Singapore.

Intricate detail on a silver skull ring from 13 lucky monkey
This 13 Lucky Monkey ring is understated and totally wearable every
day of the week

diamond embossed skull ring from manila's 13 lucky monkey
You want biker style bling? How about a diamond encrusted skull ring?

skull ring from manila's 13 lucky monkey
Whatever you want:13 Lucky Monkey specializes in bespoke
skull rings

silver skull ring from philippines' label 13 lucky monkey
The difference made by a bespoke ring is immense