The phrase ‘handcrafted’ gets thrown around like a handball these days. What traditionally meant made from scratch has become a term used to signify the process of assembly, but buried deep within the heart of Sydney’s oldest suburb, the true notion lives on. In the shadow of the iconic Harbour Bridge, neighbourhood jeweller, AHW Studios is casting generations worth of knowledge into each ring, pendant and bracelet, reminding us all what the term ‘handcrafted’ really means.
“Our family comes from a long line of artists, and although our art forms and practices are different, we use that to complement each other,” brothers Aaron & Angus Zhao explain. “We’re all lovers of fine details, and the jewellery form actually allows you to wear an artwork.”
Employing years of artistic heritage into every unique piece, the duo remains inspired by those around them. As Aaron explains, AHW Studios believes “anything can spark anything”. Even something as simple as a glass of whisky.
Intention Through Craft
The AHW Studio founders believe their jewellery isn’t simply a statement of style. Intricately fashioned and presided over by hand, the sterling silver rings bear a certain weight to them, both metaphorically and physically. There’s a level of respect involved that can only be appreciated with time.
“Every piece of jewellery carries its own unique story, from the place it was created to the hands that crafted it, and as a wearer, you become a caretaker for the elements,” The Balvenie Scotch Whisky’s Ross Blainey explains. “These gemstones and minerals have been forged by nature over centuries, so it’s how you look after them that allows their story to continue. It’s the same with our whisky.”
As the brand ambassador for Speyside icon The Balvenie, Blainey has seen first-hand the importance of doing right by the materials. Almost 130 years, the Scottish distillery has crafted exceptional single-malts the way they should be made, by hand. From the way the barley is hand-turned on the malting floor to the specially-grown crops, there is an attention to detail in The Balvenie process that is truly inspiring. Just ask AHW Studios.
For months, the Sydney-based jeweller has been crafting a collection of stunning signet rings that capture the story of The Balvenie. Working alongside Blainey, the brothers forged a unique piece that takes cues from the Speyside distillery’s past, present and future. To Aaron and Angus, blending the centuries-old practice of whisky-making with the traditional art of silver-smithing has been a perfect harmony.
“Many of our ideas come from old folklore, concepts around watchmaking, astronomy, and ancient history and myths. Once we hone in on a particular story, it becomes about how the object could be materialised,” Aaron says. “We’re going all-out with this one. The ring band itself is crafted out of fine sterling silver, and the barley stalks on each of the shoulders are made of actual solid gold.”
For their collaboration with The Balvenie AHW intertwined more significant features than ever before, creating something truly unique and intentional. Seeking to connect everything that both brands embody, the final design is nothing short of perfect. In fact, you could say hints of The Balvenie’s Scottish heritage and AHW Studio’s generational knowledge have been set in stone.
Cairngorm – The National Gemstone of Scotland
Nonesuch connection is more clearly highlighted than in the application of the Cairngorm Quartz (or Smoky Quartz) stone that adorns the top of the ring. The national gemstone of Scotland, Smoky Quartz, was originally from The Cairngorms, which also happens to be the largest national park in the United Kingdom, and a mere 14 miles from The Balvenie distillery. The region is dramatic and rugged – just like the ring – and home to five out of six of Britain’s highest mountains. In 2012, National Geographic named it on the world’s 50 Last Great Places, describing the region as “the destination of a lifetime”.
“We created something quite unique for The Balvenie. If you look up the national gemstone of Scotland, you’ll find that it is a ‘Smoky Quartz’, which comes from the Scottish Highlands… This stone is a yellow-brown colour, we’ve worked with it before, and it actually reminded us of the colour of the whisky itself… We thought that connection was absolutely perfect, and decided to call it ‘The Heart of Scotland’, or ‘Made of Heart'”.
Like many artists at the top of their games, the only real challenge is knowing when to put the tools down, take a step back, and marvel at the work in all its glory. Going from ‘lost wax’ to a raw cast and finally, a soldered, filed, polished and set piece of wearable art is when the ring takes on a life of its own.
“It’s actually seemingly ‘easy’ to add on as many great elements as possible, and completely deck the ring out… but it’s about refinement, and knowing what actually represents the brand, the appreciation for it and what whisky means and ‘feels’ like. So we went with the golden barley stalk on each shoulder”.
Presenting The Balvenie DoubleWood 12YO Single Malt
On the outside, it’s not hard to see the shared passion for intentional craftsmanship between AHW Studios and The Balvenie. Utilising the knowledge they’ve gained while working at the peak of their craft, both brands seek inspiration and never shy away from challenges along their path to perfection – learning and growing along the way.
“We all have challenges in our journeys and honestly, it’s those challenges that really push you. It certainly takes a lot of effort to evolve and grow, yet also keeping to our character,” Aaron says. “For AHW Studios, a great challenge is resisting the temptation to outsource production in this globalised world”. It’s a sentiment shared by the whisky icon.
Raw and refined, The Balvenie stays true to its Five Rare Crafts. Making whisky the way they always have, at its core, the brand echoes AHW Studios definition of craftsmanship, “[craftsmanship] means creating a piece, a product that possesses a certain level of meaning and care that’s taken when being created”. Backed by knowledge and intention the AHW Studios x The Balvenie collaboration results in a wearable piece of art designed to take on a life of its own.