Isabel Gatuslao spells out a humble perspective to adornment.
isabel Gatuslao’s first encounter with jewelry was as a little girl accompanying her mother to jeweler appointments, so as she grew into a woman with an intact sense of self—honed as one of the country’s most sought-after graphic designers focused on logos and visual identity—she too looked around only to find that nothing in retail, it would appear, was made for her.
There has to be a feeling of affinity for fine jewelry, like the branding that introduces you. After all, they describe you and who you want to become. Jewelry is such a personal thing that even if you wear it for show, it is one with you; you wear it right next to your skin.
Then there are the pieces that are a little more upfront about establishing identity: alphabet jewelry. Isabel’s personal taste—low-key, clean, sensual (qualities that are consistent with everything she regards and does)—are lost on loud, squiggly typefaces. “Letterforms are so much more sophisticated than how it was being interpreted in the jewelry world,” she points out.
Being commissioned to do logo design for a jewelry brand five years ago challenged this. She later worked with them for her own jewelry, confessing, “Most of the time I’m a composed person, but when jewelry is involved, I allow myself to get a little weak in the knees.” It was only a matter of time.
Isabel is currently based in Barcelona, where she received her master’s degree in graphic design from EINA, which offers one of the best design programs in Europe. She is now finishing her second master’s degree in advanced typography, but education by inspiration presents itself everywhere. “This place is designed for pedestrians, for you to look straight ahead (the men are gorgeous) or look up (the buildings are so well-designed) or to look down (the floor tiles are a pattern-lover’s dream). And I love food, so to be in a city where food is obsessed upon makes me feel like I hit the jackpot every single day.”
“I chose to study here because I am aligned with the essential and humble Catalan approach toward design, and not just graphic design—industrial design and architecture as well. It does not submit to the wild mess that is the look-at-me hysteria, which I find I am highly allergic to,” she says. “Barcelona has unwavering design standards; it is not patient toward ego-driven design. Work has to be thought-provoking and stripped to its essence, which I love because it forces you to think hard, see sharply and reason properly.”
Half of the time she is doing graphic design; the other half, she is working with her toughest client yet: herself, designing for Lluc—the Catalan equivalent for the English name Luke, pronounced exactly the same way—her contemporary fine jewelry line.
She sums up the intersection between graphic design and jewelry design as visual amalgamation. “If a person has a designer’s mind, he will be sensitive to all forms of design,” she says. Quoting Massimo Vignelli: “If you can design one thing, you can design everything.”
Where the frivolous and ornamental connotations of jewelry are lost, Lluc draws understated shine in being designed to be “true to concept, without artifice and in harmony with the human body,” its website describes. A high regard for shape, space, scale and typography makes each piece timeless. Every millimeter is intentional as Isabel labors through paring and removing. “Nothing is left to chance. It’s a bit obsessive, but ironically my obsessiveness is out of my control and Barcelona just made it even more intense.”
The design is then sent to Manila to be custommade by fine jewelry artisans using adjustable Italian chains and 14-karat yellow gold, white gold and rose gold from the Philippines. “The jewelry experts I work with make suggestions outside of my ideas even when I don’t ask, and I love that,” she shares.
From studs and conches referencing paper clips and punchers for a collection called Oficina, there’s an intellectual elegance to Lluc. But Isabel is yet more punctilious in Capital, another collection of miniscule initial pendants set in a romantic 18th-century typeface. “Capital can also be quite feminine because its size is wildly miniature. Charming, really,” she observes. “Barcelona imposed on me the importance of simplicity and humility in life and in work. I’ve become extremely private and selective. It’s almost embarrassing for people to show off here,” she shares. “I once asked a cab driver why everyone is so humble in Barcelona and his response was, ‘Is there any other way to be?’”