By Lori-Lee Emshey
Photography By Chris Thompson
Makeup & Hair By Maureen Posadas
Model: Karis (Elmer Olsen Models)
Launched in Greece in 2011, Canada in 2013 and with brand ambassadors as far flung as Dubai, Musesa is not your grandmother’s beadwork. Monica Frangulea a Romanian architect-turned-jewelry-designer from Greece is awing the artisan world with the feats of geometric sophistication in the form of necklaces, bracelets, rings and pendants available under her brand, Musesa. Looking at Frangulea’s gem-covered statement pieces it is easy to imagine seeing these in a Santorini boutique, in the blue and white winding streets of Fira, between a gold artisan and a lapidary.
Before Frangulea designed jewelry she designed hotels and holiday villas from her studio in Rhodes, Greece after serving at the lead architect at Athen’s G. Andriotakis & Associates firm. She segued from high rises to fine jewelry when she started creating structured rings and pendants out of paper – just like one would when designed a building – and then worked with goldsmiths in Romania and Greece to turn them into wearable pieces.
Surrounded by the Mediterranean, Frangulea had ample access to the underwater empire of coral, fish, shells, octopi and crustaceans that now inspire “the shapes and color combination of most of the designs in Musesa Collection.” Inspiration it turns out is the easy part — the process of going from sea fans and butterfly fish to rubies, sapphires, emeralds diamonds, silver and gold is not as simple.
She begins with crafting the basic design, deciding which gems go where and how the heavier gold and silver will provide the support and structure. “The geometry of every design has to be very precise and solid in order to be able to keep its perfect shape while being worn on the body,” Frangulea explained. “The bigger statement pieces have to mold on the neck or hand perfectly.”
At this stage it is apparent that the designer is also an architect. “Like a building structure, each element is different in shape, size and weight and everything needs to be taken in consideration in order to create a perfectly balanced object,” she said. When Frangulea settles on the design, she makes a prototype. Each piece created from this point forward is unique, even if it came from the same base design. Frangulea likens it to evolution, with the design providing the basic DNA structure for everything that follows.
Because the process is so labour-intensive, Frangulea shies away from using plastics or cheaper metals. This limits the number of pieces she is able to make and means her designs can never be mass produced, which only seems to add to their appeal. Despite using gold and silver to structure her pieces, these precious metals are rarely visible in the designs. Frangulea hides the settings within each piece so only the gems and bare skin underneath are visible.
As a practiced student of classical history and art, Frangulea also draws inspiration from Ancient Greek, Roman Empire, Ancient Egyptian, Babylonian and Byzantine era forms. Imbued with the myth, strength and wonder of those formative times in Western Culture Musesa’s pieces have a certain draw that says ‘if I can’t be an ancient Egyptian princess, I can at least look like one.’ Even their name echoes Ancient Greece with ‘Musesa’ derived from the muses that served as inspiration for artists, poets and scientists.
While ancient times are full inspiration Frangulea ranks Antoni Gaudi’s work as one of her more modern muses. Also an architect made famous for his designs in Barcelona in the early 1900s, “Gaudi’s work transcended mainstream modernism, culminating in an organic style inspired by natural forms, which is also the main characteristic of Musesa’s inspiration,” explained Frangulea. Like Frangulea, Gaudi also drew inspiration from historical works studying then-rare photographs when he could He also was not afraid of vivid colours using harlequin green, electric blue, tangerine and vermillion – this trait is also evident in Frangulea’s designs.
One of Franguleas favourite pieces, a particularly colourful necklace christened the ‘Butterfly Wings’ features a mix of moonstone, red agate-sardonix, goldstone, black goldstone, red jade, mountain chestnut jade, carnelian, Swarovski crystals and sterling silver. Frangulea found inspiration for this necklace in Petaloúdes or ‘Butterfly Valley’ in Rhodes, Greece in a national park approximately five kilometers south of Theologos. Each August thousands of Panaxia butterflies descend on the park and coat the trees. Their wings form a black and white ice crystal pattern on one side and red and black polka dots on the other. These colours and patterns are all reflected in the Frangulea’s necklace.
While production is time-consuming and labour-intensive, Frangulea has no intentions of changing the upward trajectory of Musesa. She is already incorporating diamonds, high quality pearls and gold-mounted gemstones into future prototypes as her design make their way around the globe. She is also taking on custom orders, where clients can request specific gems or pearls used in a piece.
Gold, diamonds, sapphires, goddess and emperors may sound like a lot for the sake of accessorizing, but as Frangulea said “Too much is not enough.”