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Daisy Perry on the importance of doing work that resonates deeply

Jessica Kilbane

Have there been some moments where you have learned from the process of trying and not always succeeding in the way you imagined?

Born and raised in England, Daisy Perry first made her way to Sri Lanka sixteen years ago and now calls Colombo her home. A writer and jewelry designer, the iterative process of creation is central to everything she does. Originally inspired by the easy spirit of the island, her brand Ahasa presents jewelry that is a perfect blend of lovely bones cast in gold, fused together with delicate gem work to create pieces with an organic and earthy feel.  

The designer has strong views on the integrity of her work and the process behind it. "One of the challenges is the time it takes to make a piece –  the hand-making process is very time-consuming in comparison to machine-making jewelry," says Perry. She wants her jewelry to be a source of joy and renewal, and makes sure that every design has a special beginning.

We caught up with her to discuss the meticulous detailing that goes into every piece:

How did you transition from wearing and appreciating jewelry, to creating it?

From a young age, I loved jewelry. My passion started with looking through the jewelry boxes of my grandma, mum, eldest sister and aunts whenever I had a chance, and asking them questions about each piece – the type of stones, how old it was and where they got it from. Then I went through a stage of collecting beads – visiting the handicraft shop in Totnes, my local town, to buy them with my pocket money was a Saturday treat! With these I made my own pieces and would get into trouble for wearing them at school! For one birthday, I was given a drill set and I started making jewelry from shells. It’s amazing when I think of it now because I have just designed a shell collection. What I’ve realized is that often signs of our passions and purpose are there in our early lives and sometimes we forget about them. When you look back, the clues are apparent.

About a year ago, one of my friends encouraged me to begin my own jewelry business. I had just left my job at the think tank and was thinking of what to do next. I decided I had nothing to lose and that’s how Ahasa started.

Amrita Moonstone Hoops by Ahasa.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself, and how you began living and working in Sri Lanka?

I grew up in the middle of the countryside in Devon, in the south of England. In 2005, I visited Sri Lanka for the first time and volunteered with an NGO after the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. This is when my long love affair with the country began. After I completed my degree in English Literature from UCL, I moved to the island, set up a small publishing house in Galle Fort and co-wrote three guide books. At this time, I became friends with a wonderful jeweler called Yameen, and he made several pieces of jewelry which I designed including a sapphire eternity ring which is now one of my Ahasa pieces. After this I lived back in England for five years, working as an English teacher, but I kept dreaming about Sri Lanka and could feel that my soul was calling me back. I did a Masters in South Asian Studies at SOAS, and now here I am again!

When I arrived back, I worked at a think tank in Colombo as a media research manager, which I greatly enjoyed but I didn’t find it was satisfying me on a soul level. Since then, I have been embracing parts of myself which I shut out for years in pursuit of what I perceived at the time to be a ‘successful career’. Now I am designing jewelry, writing, tutoring, practicing reiki and kundalini yoga, and feel like I’m coming back to my authentic self. The past few years have been an amazing journey –  not always an easy one but worth it for everything I’m learning as I continue to grow.

What is a personal accessory that you hold dear, do you have a memory attached to any particular piece?

Good question… I have a necklace with a 'D' charm on it that I was given for my 31st birthday by a group of incredible girlfriends in Sri Lanka. I never take it off and it’s very special to me. It reminds me that I’m always supported.

Where did you learn the craft?

I haven’t had any formal training in jewelry design… I just sketch ideas that I like and discuss them with Yameen. Then an impressive team of goldsmiths and gem cutters make them a reality. Yameen has taught me a lot of practical knowledge about jewelry design – the durability of different styles and which stones are suitable.

What is the production process and what are the challenges?

I tend to have days when my creative energies flow and I feel particularly inspired. At these times, I listen to music and sketch designs before sharing them with Yameen. Then I place the order with goldsmiths who work in the Galle and Weligama area; they are masters at hand-making jewelry, and for many, it has been a skill that’s been in their family for generations.

One of the challenges is the time it takes to make a piece –  the hand-making process is very time-consuming in comparison to machine-making jewelry. However, I believe it is totally worth the wait: each item has a special, unique quality or wabi-sabi because it has been hand-crafted by an expert. No two pieces are ever exactly the same.

Is there a story behind the name Ahasa?

When I was deciding on a name for the company, I knew I wanted it to be a Sinhala one. I have spent so many of my formative years in Sri Lanka and the country is very important to me. I came up with a list of names and Ahasa stood out – it means ‘sky’. It feels appropriate because a lot of my jewellery is connected to nature and I spend as much time as possible outside.

Ahasa Jewellry, Sri Lanka, 2020
Daisy Perry works on her designs for Ahasa. 2020.

Do you have a design philosophy or an aesthetic that you lean toward?

Not specifically but everything I make is gold-plated or gold, and something that I personally love and would want to wear. That is my benchmark. I also aim to make pieces that are timeless and classic, so they stand the test of time, and stay with people through different chapters of life. They tend to be quite fine, rather than chunky, and either plain or set with beautifully cut Sri Lankan gems like the Amrita Hoops. Named after one of my dearest friends (who actually encouraged me to start Ahasa), they feature stunning cabochon moonstones, rose quartz and peridot drops.

Who do you rely on for feedback and critique?

My friends, my sister Rose and my aunt Char who is an antique jewelry dealer in London.

What do you want someone to feel when wearing your designs?

I want them to feel inspired, that they are wearing something that expresses their unique identity and style.

How does your jewelry fit into the ethos of Sri Lanka’s craftsmanship?

Sri Lankan goldsmiths and gem cutters are some of the most skilled in the world – they are part of a long and rich history that dates back millennia. For me, it’s important that their craft is celebrated, and by ensuring each piece is handmade, Ahasa is a making a small step in supporting this heritage.

Where do you find your inspiration?

Nature is a huge inspiration for me whether it’s shells I see when taking early morning walks on the southern or eastern beaches of Sri Lanka or the night sky. I love standing under the moon and stars – it helps give me perspective and remember that I’m part of something much larger… Out of this came the Moon and Star Collection which has been one of my most popular; I think lots of people connect to these universal symbols. I also created the Nuga Collection by transferring the natural pattern of the twisting aerial roots of the banyan tree onto hoops, rings and bangles.

Sometimes I notice people wearing a style or design that I like, whether it’s at an airport or in a post office queue. I keep it in mind and a year or two later it may translate into one of my own designs. I also cut out photos from magazines and keep a scrap book for future inspiration. Recently, I’ve been researching antique Sri Lankan jewelry – often characterized by floral motifs and delicate filigree work - and am planning to create some pieces which pay homage to it.

Which is your favorite piece in your current collection and why?

The Nuga Hoops because they are great for wearing day or night and instantly lift my mood. I also love the new Galle Eternity Hoops set with sapphires and rubies because they are so timeless. Making them is a very intricate process, and so I see them as a celebration of the craft of Sri Lankan handmade jewelry.

Where can our readers find your pieces?

I take orders directly through Instagram – this way customers can customize pieces to a particular size or using a gem they love. In Sri Lanka, the jewelry is available at The Design Collective and Café Kumbuk in Colombo, and Hideaway in Arugam Bay. A website is also in the pipeline!

Images by Atheeq Ifthikar and Nico Atienza. Location – Fort Bazaar Hotel, Galle Fort, Sri Lanka.

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