“Many people start from an idea. I start from the stone. It will teach me which way to go, how to make the piece come alive, how to make the piece look like it’s something special.” – Bruce Harding
By Cynthia Unninayar
Spoken by the founder of Kyoto-based Dreamtime, these words evoke Bruce Harding’s philosophy when creating beautiful gemstone jewellery. But, another remarkable aspect of this artistic designer is that he has taken his remarkable gems into the world of fashion. “Dreamtime is about Nature. It’s about taking very important stones from many places all over the world and transforming them into a thing of beauty, an heirloom to enhance your life,” he says. And to complement this heirloom, Harding has extrapolated the spiritual essence of these extraordinary opals and coloured gems into magnificent scarves, ties, vests, suits, dresses, furniture, tableaux and other home décor as well as the unexpected linings for jackets and coats that exemplify and complement Nature’s majesty.
While not the first to do this, the process and design format of actually utilizing the intrinsic characteristics of the stones is a fresh departure from the norm. In doing so, Dreamtime’s fashion line promotes its jewellery line, and the jewellery promotes its fashion line. “From the very early days in my jewellery world,” Harding explains, “I had a vision that the wonder and brilliance of gemstones could also be used in fashion and art. Thirty years later, I’m still creating fashion and art from jewellery—especially men’s fashion, which is usually very stereotyped.”
Dreamtime broke the stereotype of men’s fashion with its recent introduction of opal-inspired suits with diamond-inspired linings, and more recently with suits that capture the image of colourful opals. “They are made from the finest silk and evoke some of the finest opals in the world,” he smiles. Creating fashion from the essence of gems is something of a challenge, but, as the designer says, “When I sell a very important opal for several hundred thousand dollars, and that person is one of the very few who will ever see that stone again, then nobody will believe that such a stone could even exist. By transposing it into fashion, everybody can understand that there are wondrous gemstones in the world and, although you may never own one, they can wear it.”
Residing in Japan for the last 30 years, Harding’s life began in the outback of Australia. “The closest house was 50 kilometres away and I rode a horse to school. Even the doctor had to visit by plane.” His father was an oil driller and then later searched for opals, diamonds, and sapphires. “It was fascinating to watch the miners digging into the earth and coming up with the most beautiful, but elusive opals and other gems,” he reminisces.
Some years later, Harding moved with his mother to the United Kingdom, “Where I was shown the civilized world,” he smiles. His mother and grandfather were both artists and instilled in him the importance of art. Yet, memories of the wilds of Australia were never far from the mind of the inquisitive young man. And, he could not forget the difficulties that gemstone miners endured to bring their stones to the luxury market—to the women and men who eagerly displayed them on their fingers, necks or wrists. This juxtaposition of difficulty leading to beauty formed an eternal bond that is embedded in everything Harding creates.
After university studies and a variety of jobs, Harding felt that something was missing in his life. One day, a close friend moved to Japan to study Zen gardens and invited Harding to join him. “My first Zen experience was with my teacher, Okuda Sensei, a seventh-degree black-belt karate master. He taught me how to go beyond one’s limits, how to persevere and manoeuvre to win.”
Soon after, a Kimono artist drew upon Harding’s knowledge of opals and their colourful patterns to create a new kind of Obi—the sash around the waist—that sold very well. “This made me realize that my talent would lie in colour and design,” says the designer, recalling the beautiful stones unearthed by Australian miners.
“I returned to Australia and bought many important opals to make unique jewellery back in Japan.” For the name of his new company, Harding chose DREAMTIME. “In traditional Australian aboriginal culture, ‘Dreamtime’ is the spiritual awareness that all time—past, present and future—exist at once. In the ‘Dreamtime,’ human beings are always at one with their ancestors. Fine jewellery also has this kind of timelessness, for its quality and value never diminish. As heirlooms, jewellery passes from generation to generation, connecting people with their ancestry: past, present and future.”
Bruce Harding’s philosophy of connecting the past, present and future, not just in design, but also on a Zen-like level, drives the inspiration for every jewel. Instead of forcing the stones to fit the design, he enables the individual character of each gem to radiate with its own sense of individuality and meaning—an individuality that can also be translated into fine fashion.
For some, Harding’s remarkable opal jewellery has a far deeper significance. Twenty years ago, he created a magnificent 76-carat opal piece for a Japanese client. At that time, she learned that she had only six months to live. She loved the piece and wore it close to her heart, next to her skin. Soon, she threw away all her medicine. Today, 20 years later, “the woman is still alive, and insists that it was the opal that gave her life back, that it is a God-Stone,” says Harding. “And, for her, it is.”
While most designers live in Tokyo and employ others to craft their pieces, the Dreamtime studio is in Kyoto, the heart of traditional Japan, where craftspeople create original designs much like the ancient artisans did so many years before. Kyoto’s Zen spirit drives their creativity and craft, which is inseparable from the source of its inspiration.
All Dreamtime jewellery contains stones that take a long time to find. “It has taken me years to build connections with many people, most of whom are the miners themselves. The opals we use are sourced directly from a very important mine in Lightning Ridge, Australia,” he explains. With his connection to the mine, Harding has been able to source very exceptional opals that are no longer available on the market. The unique colour patterns and magical qualities of these Australian black and boulder opals make each piece one-of-a-kind. “The stones are ever-changing and extraordinary, and are further enhanced by diamond accents,” Harding adds.
Why surround these exceptional opals with diamonds? “A Monet should not be framed at Walmart,” he answers. “And, when you turn the lights off, the opal is lit by the perfect crystals around it—a totally unbelievable experience.”
This experience is also reflected in Dreamtime’s unwavering commitment to quality, and goes beyond its magnificent collections. Each new piece provides non-stop exploration into wonder and enchantment, combined with beauty and luxury, whether original gemstone jewellery or innovative Gems of Fashion.