Telling stories through jewellery

Juliana Domenico Carr, founder of jewellery brand Ico & the Bird, tells us why it is important to her to make pieces with meaning and why she chose to work with Turquoise Mountain


Juliana Domenico Carr, founder of Ico & the Bird

Juliana Domenico Carr, the creative behind Ico and the Bird, came to Myanmar in 2018 to develop her first collection with Turquoise Mountain. While traveling through the country she was inspired by the images and significance of the Burmese zodiac. She designed a collection of pendants and charms based on the animals of the zodiac, handcrafted in 18k gold by artisans supported by Turquoise Mountain in Yangon. You can find the collection here.

Firstly, tell us a little more about your brand, Ico & the Bird.

I founded my company, Ico & the Bird, in 2016, to blend my passion for design with ancient, artisanal craftsmanship to create jewellery that tells stories; where does a stone come from, who made this, and what do these pieces mean. The world has become so computer-centric that hand craftsmanship is disappearing. I wanted to do something about that.

The name 'Ico' comes from my middle name, Dominico. ‘The Bird’ is both a reference to my travels and the jewellery I make, as well as to the beauty and inspiration I get from nature.

Pecockw Reflection

Peacock Pendant

How did you first get into jewellery design?

Gemstones have always been a passion for me since I was a kid. I spent the first five years of my life in Brazil, which happens to be a country with some of the world’s most beautiful gemstones. My mother collected loose aquamarines and would let me play with them in her jewellery boxes. I never imagined jewellery design as a career possibility until many years later. My background was in the performing arts; at sixteen I became a professional ballerina which segued into an acting career. As much as I loved performing, there was always something missing for me artistically. I have always loved sketching and am a classically trained pianist so doing something with my hands was important.

In 2015 my life completely changed course after a trip to India with a group from Doctors Without Borders. On a stop in Jaipur, one of the doctors introduced me to ninth-generation jewellers who saw my sketches and offered to make some of my designs. That serendipitous meeting and the jewellery that resulted was the catalyst for my 180-degree career change. When I returned to the US, I attended design school, received a graduate gemology degree from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), and began to focus full-time on jewellery.

Caption Turquoise Mountain Apprentice Ye Myo Aung Credit Turquoise Mountain

The Turquoise Mountain Jewellery Workshop, Yangon

As a jewellery designer, what inspires you?

My biggest inspirations come from music, ballet, art, literature, travel, and water; the ocean, a lake, a river, or even a swimming pool. There is something about a body of water that makes me dream. I am also inspired by some of the greats in the jewellery world like Rene Lalique, Suzanne Belperron, Verdura, David Webb, Rene Bovin, and Jean Schlumberger.

What are the biggest challenges you face?

Aside from settling on an idea for a new collection, it is finding master craftsmen whose aesthetic and taste is simpatico with mine. It is extremely difficult to find craftsmen who still work entirely by hand, from start to finish, using the ancient techniques I love.

TM Rat2 Charm Only Wht CROP

Rat Gold Charm

Tell us about your latest collection with Turquoise Mountain.

My latest collection with Turquoise Mountain Myanmar is based on the Burmese Zodiac, called ‘Mahabote,’ or ‘little keys.’ It was conceived by the monks of ancient Burma who believed the key to one’s fortunes lies in the day of the week they were born. There are eight animals representing each day of the week, with Wednesday divided in two.

I was inspired by the animal statues inside the Shwedagon Pagoda that represent the days of the week. According to lore, if you pray or make a wish to the animal that represents your day of the week, it will come true. I loved the idea of creating a personal talisman in the style of the monks of ancient Burma.

Caption Myanmar Credit Turquoise Mountain

Historic Myanmar

Why did you decide to work with jewellers in Myanmar?

When I read about Turquoise Mountain's efforts to restore and regenerate traditional artisanal jewellery in Yangon, I knew I had to visit the workshop. In the US, most jewellery is made with some sort of computer technology, and it has become next to impossible to find workshops that still use ancient techniques. So, I was thrilled to work with the master craftsmen in the Yangon workshop.

Why is sustainability important to you?

In a business where one gold ring can generate five tons of environmental waste, conserving energy and recycling metals is a crucial and necessary step.

We have a social, environmental and moral obligation to protect the earth and its people. So, sustainability is of paramount importance to me.

Elephantw Reflection

Elephant Gold Charm

What are you most excited about over the coming months?

I’m most excited about some ideas I have for a second collection with Turquoise Mountain Myanmar. Stay tuned...

To buy any of the pieces featured, and to browse the full collection, click here.