Sculptor Noli Coronado likes to see a subtle trace of his own fingerprint in the jewelry he designs. What might be seen as an imperfection to some is a symbol of authenticity and fine craftsmanship to its creator and his satisfied customers.
His partner Dante Dizon appreciates the rough-hewn look of the biker rings made by their company 13 Lucky Monkey.
“This is the opposite of fine jewelry,” he says. “We ride really old bikes and we see beauty in these machines—dirty, greasy, noisy. We want our jewelry to have that same patina that only comes with use and with age.”
The partners aren’t just creating a line of biker rings and jewelry; they live the lifestyle. And out of their own need for something authentic to reflect that, they have created one-of-a-kind pieces for others who share their passion for motorcycles, weapons, music and, often, nature.
“It’s a man who knows what he wants and appreciates the finer things in life: knives, guns and high-end watches...” says Dizon, describing the type of rock star customer who seeks out, in particular, the hand-sculpted skull rings.
They’re made from 92.5 percent sterling silver obtained from Baguio, a densely populated mountain city in the Philippines known for its silver mines and master silversmiths. Obtaining the material for their work usually entails a road trip from Manila for 13 Lucky Monkey’s owners—a good excuse to mount their bikes.
“We are inspired by the motorcycles we ride, the culture that goes along with it—the rock ‘n’ roll music, tattoos, religious iconography—it all goes hand in hand.”
“The fascination with two wheels is pretty bad. Pretty much when it’s raining I take a truck; otherwise I’m always on two wheels,” Dizon continues, describing the pair’s reverence for everything from beach cruisers to Harley-Davidson Fat Boys. They own several bikes between them, including the Harley, a Triumph TR6C 1959, a Honda GB400 and a Yamaha XS650.
Coronado’s favorite bike, Elvira, named for the grandmother who inspired him, is a Kawasaki KZ750. It’s also the inspiration for much of his work as a sculptor and jeweler. And when he molds a ring, he wants it to look like a “rat bike”—trash.
“I don’t like my rings to be too clean, because then they don’t look like me,” he said. “I don’t want the bling—something too polished-looking, or shiny—I want the ring to have my fingerprints.”
To which his partner adds, “We are inspired by the motorcycles we ride, the culture that goes along with it—rock ‘n’ roll music, tattoos, religious iconography—it all goes hand in hand.”
The rings are far from being the discardable refuse humbly described by one of their creators. They are works of art—wearable sculpture—that incorporate medieval symbols, references to Kustom Kulture, and inspiration from superstitions, women in their lives, even insects.
Customers pay for a unique, sculptural piece that needs to be broken in like the dark, stiff denim of a new pair of jeans, eventually becoming a second skin molded to the wearer’s body—something that feels comfortable above a knuckle beneath a leather glove wrapped around a handlebar.
It was their own search for that sort of authenticity that drove the partners down the path of creating a line of biker rings. Dizon was inspired by skull rings he saw during a trip to Japan in 2007; but neither he nor Coronado liked the aesthetic.
None of the rings were quite right physically, says Coronado, who studied anatomy; and none of them bore scars of their creators—markings made with chisels, needle files and other tools of the craft. Since both partners have artistic backgrounds, they set out to make what they wanted for themselves, something much less pristine than what they found on the market.
Coronado, 34, came out of San Beda College and worked as a sculptor creating prototypes of action figures and statuettes for DC and Marvel comics. He also fashioned custom motorcycles for clients, embellishing them with bits and pieces of found objects and amulets that would later come to inspire his work as a jeweler.
Meanwhile, Dizon, 33, an artist with eyes set on filmmaking, graduated from De La Salle University in Malate with skills of drawing and writing, which he uses today as a creative director at a Manila advertising agency. The dynamic design duo met 13 years ago when Coronado was painting a mural and asked Dizon to help.
Becoming fast and furious biker companions, the two decided to teach themselves the art of silversmithing when their own search for a suitable skull ring proved fruitless.
They started by learning from inveterate artisans in Baguio, visiting the city nearly every weekend for a year and learning to perfect their technique; even when they ran out of money to make the trip to the Benguet province from Manila, they sold one of their bikes and continued their odyssey.
Within a few years, their rings were catching the attention of collectors, bikers and real rock stars, as well as Rogue magazine and Bonjour Singapore! They are crafted from silver, but also brass, and sometimes imbued with precious metals, diamonds and other stones. See How We Work.
Today, from a cluttered studio located in a rough Manila neighborhood, 13 Lucky Monkey crafts a whole line of jewelry for both men and women that goes far beyond the signature skull rings.
The partners also create chunky, architectural, geometrical rings from shards of jeweler’s wax that they call “shattered pieces.” They complement their rings with items such as cuff links, belt buckles, motorcycle jewelry and hooks for men; necklaces, bangles, earrings and other accessories for women.
“I don’t like my rings to be too clean, because then they don’t look like me. I don’t want the bling—something too polished-looking, or shiny—I want the ring to have my fingerprints.”
“We experiment a lot; we create things we wish we had,” Dizon says. “We also try these other permutations such as bracelets and key fobs. We make them for ourselves first and use them to see if they’re worth putting out there.”
While 13 Lucky Monkey jewelry is available in some boutique stores in the Philippines and Singapore, most of the work is commissioned by individual customers. With the 13 Lucky Monkey website, the partners are reaching out to a wider market: Customers will be able to get the same exquisite craftsmanship by purchasing a ring that is handmade to order online.
As they seek to broaden their customer base, the partners are feeling the luck of the number that is part of their company name.
“Thirteen is a universal number for being unlucky,” Dizon explains. “It’s a number that’s also famous with hotrods and Kustom Kulture. But we felt very lucky with the way everything fell into place so we could pursue our passion.”
Not to mention that the two motorcycle fanatics consider themselves grease monkeys who are living rock star lives. Even as they seek to build their business and explore new markets for their raw, aggressive and sometimes subtle creations, they still follow their free spirits.
“We still feel like we’re just playing,” Coronado says. “We’re just happy doing it.”