Polly Purser of John Hardy on Sustainability and Her Love for Jewelry

John Hardy’s director of heritage Polly Purser Talks with Daman about the brand’s artisans, sustainability initiatives and her love for Jewelry.

The fact is, as a brand, John Hardy is, first and foremost, all about creating artisanal handcrafted jewelry that would last a lifetime. Since it was established back in 1975, the company also takes pride in the values of community, artisanship and sustainability—long before other brands started considering these important matters.

John Hardy’s iconic bracelets and necklaces are still handmade by artisans in Bali, not only because of the extraordinary skill of the artisans, but also to help the community thrive.

Polly Purser is the Director of Heritage at John Hardy, a role that she has held for five years now. Growing up in Bali, she immersed herself in the island’s culture and fell in love with the brand, the craftsmanship and its philosophy.

She started her career in the company as Design Director and, with this new role, Purser took her design background and everything that she believes in to maintain the heart of the brand and its heritage.

DAMAN: Hi Polly, thank you for having us. What’s keeping you busy these days?
Polly Purser: As you know, John Hardy is made in Bali with a workshop near Ubud that employs over 750 people. At the same location we also have the Kapal Bamboo boutique, which has been an important destination for our loyal John Hardy customers around the world. Well, now, we are building a new store in Seminyak, a contemporary sister to our Kapal Bamboo Boutique and a testament to our heritage and Bali roots in a modern environment.
“The island has given us so much but it is changing dramatically, hence the need to give back in a way that is real and meaningful.”

DA: For those who don’t know you, can you tell us about yourself and your background?
PP: I grew up here in Bali. My parents came to Bali in the ’60s on a two-week honeymoon that never ended. The ’70s and ’80s in Bali was a pretty special time and I find myself now drawn to the elements of magic and intense cultural exploration, discovery and beauty that I remember as a young child here. This has created an awareness in me that I carry today with a deep desire to respect and, wherever possible, preserve that culture that I grew up in. My mentors and muses were all my parents’ friends, both Indonesian and foreigners who lived and loved Bali. Architects like Kerry Hill and Peter Muller, designers and visionaries Linda Garland and Made Wijaya and incredible artists like Ida Bagus Tilim, Irwan Tita and Neka.

DA: How did you come to work for John Hardy?
PP: I’ve been with John Hardy for more than 16 years and was always fascinated with the Balinese sense of adornment and decoration. I studied Jewelry and Object Design at Sydney University before life took a very different course and I did a double major in Social Work and Community Development, working mainly in Australia and Southeast Asia focusing on women and empowerment. I was working on a book with Rio Helmi and my father Warwick Purser called “Made in Indonesia: A Tribute to the Country’s Craftspeople” when I visited the John Hardy workshop.

I sat at one of John Hardy’s long table lunches and my life changed forever. John and Cynthia introduced me to the Creative Director and Head Designer and I was hired as a Design Director. Fast forward 15 years and I’m still here working as Director of Heritage, and the experience has come full circle: Not only do I get to work for a company that is creating beautiful things, but it does so with a sense ofrespect for people, the process and the environment. It’s a full circle that has brought me back to my childhood home and brings together my background in design and also community development. It combines everything I love and believe in. My role is to share the rich heritage of John Hardy with people visiting us on the island and globally and it is a blessing and honor to do so.

DA: Have you always loved jewelry?
PP: I’ve always loved beautiful things. As a child I remember looking at my mother’s jewelry collection with awe. She never took her jewelry very seriously— ruby earrings lost in the frenzy of a Balinese ceremony or diamonds left in fruit bowls in our open bale home in Ubud.

DA: So what does the job of the Director of Heritage entail?
PP: The role entails identifying and preserving what is so unique and special about what we do here and especially in Bali. It’s about the heritage of the brand and its history and relationship with the local culture, tradition and community. My role covers everything from regional marketing and PR to managing the Corporate Social Responsibility Programs that the company engages in.

DA: What is it about John Hardy that you can proudly say is different than other jewelry brands?
PP: Our jewelry is still created by hand, making sure the local community thrives, not just economically but also in terms of culture and tradition.

We work with master artisans harnessing traditional techniques intrinsic to Balinese culture. For example, there are designs rendered in the tradition of artists from Batuan and the 3D wax models are carved by talent from villages like Batu Bulan or Mas where there exists a long lineage of carvers. We have women whose nimble fingers can move swiftly from weaving traditional offerings to weaving strands of gold and silver link by link, creating our iconic chain bracelets and necklaces. Using this unique craft, it takes four days to create one John Hardy bracelet. And it will be woven almost entirely by Balinese women.

And it doesn’t end there. John Hardy in not just about sustaining artisanship but it also cares deeply about the environment in which we work and live in. For example, all our 18K gold and Sterling silver is actually reclaimed/recycled. We don’t do any new mining for this material. Similarly, all our diamonds are ethically and sustainably sourced. We are accredited by the Responsible Jewelry Council (RJC) which looks at everything from our occupational health and safety standards to all the suppliers in our supply chain.

DA: Can you tell us about the process of making, let’s say, the iconic John Hardy chain? How long does it take for a piece to be made and how many people are involved in the making?
PP: Each one of the John Hardy Classic chain bracelets is completely woven by hand. It starts with cratering the silver or gold wire thread, then tiny links are created one by one. These are pinched and woven together taking over three days just to weave. Then the silver or gold rope is massaged and softened to create a chain that drapes beautifully over the body. It’s a lot of work and a lot of artisan hands that goes into each and every piece.

DA: John Hardy has been around for 44 years now. In your opinion, what was it that ensured John Hardy’s longevity?
PP: For over 40 years, our artisans have committed to making handcrafted jewelry with techniques passed down for generations, using vetted suppliers to ensure both diamonds and gemstones conform to our high ethical standards, as well as reclaimed silver and gold. Our passion for creating distinctive and meaningful jewelry is echoed by our dedication to building a sustainable future for our artisans and clients worldwide. Our designs are also very distinct and recognizable—especially in our men’s collection, you can really see a strong personality.

“My role is to share the rich heritage of John Hardy with the people visiting us on the island and globally and it is a blessing and honor to do so.”

DA: What is John Hardy’s primary market at the moment?
PP: The U.S.A., with an expansion into other markets such as Asia and Europe, with a special launch of our men’s collection in Australia.

“The island has given us so much, but it is changing dramatically and we want to give back in a way that is real and meaningful.”

DA: Can you tell us the concept behind the John Hardy showroom in Ubud?
PP: In our Kapal Bamboo Boutique and Workshop, you are invited to discover the source of our inspiration. Originally founded as an authentic collective that taps into the traditional talents of local carvers, weavers, and artists, John Hardy remains rooted in our essential values of community, artisanship and sustainability and as a guest you can experience this first hand.

DA: Speaking of sustainability, can you share about the initiatives that the brand supports?
For us sustainability doesn’t just exist in nature but also in our community. Our programs such as Jobs for Life, Bamboo Planting and 1000 Bamboo villages make sure that we don’t just preserve nature but the communities that reside in it as well.
All materials in production are sourced sustainably and ethically, with both diamonds and gemstones conforming to our high ethical standards, as well as reclaimed silver and gold.

DA: What makes sustainability such a big issue for John Hardy?
We began in Bali surrounded by a community and culture that is so connected to nature and the environment. We have learnt from that.
The island has given us so much but it is changing dramatically, hence the need to give back in a way that is real and meaningful

DA: Tell us about the latest collection from John Hardy…
Our Creative Director Hollie Bonneville Barden has been inspired by the dramatic and mythical beauty of Bali. The Fall 2019 collection is fueled by the transformative spirit of nature. She draws from our heritage that’s rich with bold and iconic jewelry and brings forth the untamed and elaborate side of John Hardy. She also delved into the wild genesis of Bali, an island shaped by powerful volcanic eruptions and designed Lahar. An homage to the raw dynamic between nature and art, Lahar features a wealth of wild diamonds. These icy stones are cut in unique shapes and boast natural inclusions—their elemental beauty is emphasized in John Hardy’s signature lava setting. Emulating the organic movement of lava, flowing waves of diamonds sweep across cuff bracelets, bold rings, and statement earrings.

DA: Does each of John Hardy’s jewelry pieces have a special meaning?
It’s made by hand and there is something of the person that made it that becomes part of the piece. One of our multi-generational John Hardy artisans says it best: “With the hand there is soul (taksu), so our skill and soul enter the piece we are making.”

DA: You have been working for John Hardy for quite some time now. Are there any particularly memorable moments you can share with us?
PP: There are so many amazing moments, but in the end it’s the simple things that make their mark. Like going to work every day in an office surrounded by rice fields, having my lunch at the long table with my team of artisans, managers, designers and visiting guests. It’s the team that have been with us from the beginning, taking pride and loving what they do. That I never forget.

DA: How do you see John Hardy evolving further in the future?
It’s been very interesting to see how we go back into our heritage and bring that forward in a new and contemporary way for the future.

DA: What aspects do you still want to develop for the brand?
The island has given us so much, but it’s changing dramatically and with that change we want to give back in a way that is real and meaningful. We’re very connected to our community in Ubud and beyond, and feel there is so much more in Bali that has yet to be explored and embraced in a way that we know is traditionally inherent to the people of Bali.

This brings us back to our new location in Seminyak that will be a one of a kind retail concept offering customers an opportunity to experience the “real” Bali in an elevated, immersive and ultimately beautiful environment. The retail space ultimately strives to celebrate traditional artisanship in a contemporary way that respects and honors the people and culture behind it.

“My role is to share the rich heritage of John Hardy with people visiting us on the island and globally and it is a blessing and honor to do so”

DA: Last question: Any exciting projects for the near future?
For the last two years we have focused on opening our own boutiques in the U.S.; starting with Soho, L.A., Houston, and Miami. And this year we are excited to get back to our roots by opening a new concept for retail in our home in Bali. A new store in Seminyak that you can look forward to very soon!