To understand how the artists of 13 Lucky Monkey work, one needs to be immersed in their environment.
At a simple concrete structure in a rough part of Manila, a black Filipino dog named Boogie and a pocket pit bull called Satanus Rex after a dinosaur in the Judge Dredd comic, stand guard against any thugs who might be interested in stealing what’s inside. A large bamboo gate also keeps thieves away.
Inside the 13 Lucky Monkey studio are remnants that inspire the owners who create sterling silver biker rings and other jewelry. The place is strewn with motorcycle parts and life-size sculptures created by Noli Coronado. Vintage Japanese school desks earn their spot in the mess, as does a re-purposed stool made from an old motorcycle rim and seat. There’s a glass tabletop held up by a mermaid statue.
Motorcycles and women are two of the main inspirations for the work of designer/sculptor Coronado and his partner designer Dante Dizon; and inspiration is key to their creative process. It might come to them in a dream, or in the lyric of a Black Sabbath song, or simply from something they see while riding their motorcycles together.
When the price of silver is favorable, they often journey to Baguio, where the precious metal is mined from the mountains.
It’s all part of the process of making authentic biker jewelry that has become a must-have accessory for many motorcyclists, individualists, collectors and renegades.
For Coronado, the mood determines when he will begin a piece.
“When I sculpt, I have to make sure my energy is up,” he says. “You can transfer your energy to the stuff that you do. When you’re feeling down, you give the ring a negative energy.”
“We like to sculpt outdoors where the light is good,” adds Dizon. “We ride our bikes looking for the perfect spot to sculpt and drink coffee.”
Each of the partners has a mobile sculpting kit, a small box containing the tools they need with enough space inside to carry about 10 models of rings that are fashioned first from jeweler’s wax.
“We craft each and every piece by hand,” says Dizon. “Our work is handmade, no machining, just pure sculpting.”
Once an idea has formed, the pair pores over reference materials—anatomy books and art books mostly—to draw references and ensure the form and scale are just right. Coronado sees his designs in his mind’s eye, while Dizon often sketches his, writing notes to help when the actual sculpting begins. Then the partners discuss the designs.
“It’s simple actually, not serious, just a chat,” says Dizon. “We always start by having coffee or going for a ride. We always have notebooks or cameras. We look at the old stuff we drew and if both agree we begin prototyping.”
“Noli sculpts the piece along with the drawing I supply—the references, the inspiration—we then go for another ride or coffee to check out the past week’s assignments. If we agree on a piece, we cast it. We don’t agree all the time, so sometimes the wax models sleep in our studio.”
Because they are designing wearable sculpture, the partners must keep in mind other factors—primarily size and comfort—and, especially for bikers, whether a ring will be worn under or over a leather glove when they are riding.
The creators make something that is going to mold to a client’s body over time, absorbing the personality and history of the wearer.
“It’s fitted so it’s comfortable to wear usually under the gloves and maybe when playing the guitar,” Coronado said. “We don’t want our customers to take off the rings. The more you take it off the more chances you have of losing it.”
The artists will try on the ring first during the wax stage and may wear it themselves for a day after it is cast in silver to be sure they have achieved the perfect fit.
They usually give a name to their designs. Often it’s taken from a woman who has had influence in their lives, such as Dizon’s wife Catherine and goddaughter Ysabelle, Coronado’s grandmother Elvira, or even historical figures such as Lady Godiva.
“Sometimes we’re inspired by women we dated and hated,” Coronado says, referring to one ring of a heart with the words “fuck you” across it in bold relief.
Once a design is perfected in wax, it is sent out to a silversmith to be cast in plaster of Paris with very specific instructions from the designers. Once the wax is melted, the molten silver is formulated and poured for optimal effect.
“The rings are constructed out of 92.5 percent sterling silver. We do our own mix because too much silver content makes the piece easy to dent,” Dizon says.
Once the finished piece is delivered to the 13 Lucky Monkey studio, the pair puts finishing touches on it for the client, cleaning it and refining it by hand—but not too much. The rings are intended to be delivered mostly black so that the wearer’s body can fade them over time, in just the right places as they conform to the body.
While the creators will continue to do custom designs for clients who commission them, they are branching out to offer their rings to a wider audience through the Internet. They will introduce several new rings per season that they will handcraft to order with the same painstaking attention to detail as their custom-designed rings. Once a new collection comes out, the previously released rings will be retired.
“There is so much emotion when our clients receive the pieces,” Dizon says. “Once they wear them, they send us a text to tell us how much they love them.”