Reborn by a woman’s touch

Trailblazing Hollie Bonneville Barden takes over as John Hardy creative director, and the beloved Naga Collection is reborn.

There is no question that Hollie Bonneville Barden is a trailblazer.

She was the youngest creative director for De Beers, the diamond company and, since May of last year, the first female creative director for John Hardy. That kind of success requires a certain “take the bull by the horns” attitude, as Barden describes her own. But it also suggests a certain imaginative eye.

We first met the graceful Barden a few weeks ago at a luncheon at Bloomingdale’s White Plains for aficionados of John Hardy, a peripatetic Canadian sculptor who found the beauty and craftsmanship he was seeking in Bali.

It was there in 1975 that he started an eponymous company, whose textured creations evoke the real and mythic fauna (dragons, cobras and eagles) and flora of the Hindu-centric Indonesian isle. 

The pieces are made using the time-honored process of drawing and coloring the design, carving it in wax, casting it and then hand-setting it with gemstones. But the works are also crafted in an environment that takes a modern approach to community and sustainability. 

The Ubud Design Studio and Workshop — which employs some 700 workers, with another 400 in Bangkok and 300 working at home — has a “Jobs for Life” program that guarantees a seamless labor supply from generation to generation. Craftsmen use only reclaimed gold and silver and ethically sourced gemstones. And for every purchase from the Bamboo Collection, a few seedlings are planted. (There have been more than one million planted to date as part of the “Wear Bamboo, Plant Bamboo” initiative.)

Perhaps no collection is more representative of Hardy’s work, however, than the Naga Collection, filled with protective, scaly, gem-eyed dragons, a creature beloved by the Balinese. Under Barden’s confident yet subtle direction, the Naga has become sleeker, more open, with tapered hinged settings.

The effect of a woman’s touch? We’ll let Barden explain:

You’ve been described as a groundbreaker, but do you see yourself as such?

“I am very lucky to hold the title of creative director for such an iconic brand. It’s my personality to take the bull by the horns, which has helped me hold these very prestigious titles. Every day there is a steep learning curve, but it is empowering, too. My background and experiences create a unique story that shapes me as a designer. Of course, people tend to be surprised by my age, but I have been fortunate to have incredible experiences thus far.”

You’ve talked about the beauty of Bali, the power of its animal imagery and the strength of women as playing a role in your designs. How do these manifest themselves in the Hardy collections?

“The source of John Hardy jewelry is, ultimately, Bali — the mystery, nature, power and beauty of the island. In some ways, John Hardy jewelry is beyond jewelry, because it takes on so much emotional meaning for the person who wears it, combined with our customers’ respect for John Hardy’s deep commitment to sustainability and age-old artistry.”

Your designs for the Naga Collection are sleeker and more open than past Naga pieces. To what extent do you think that being a woman influenced these and other design choices?

“My exploration of Naga was, in a way, a unique journey in discovering Bali. Through my creative process, I discovered that, beyond the Naga myth, Balinese folklore depicts the Naga as an embodiment of different natural spirits — the earth, the ocean and the sky, representing …raw, feminine beauty.”

Tell us a little bit about your background and how it led you to a life in jewelry design.

“I realized jewelry design could be a career for me in art school (Central Saint Martins in London) at the age of 18, thanks to an inspiring mentor who introduced me to (a jewelry) workshop. The idea of bringing my ideas to life in three-dimensional form sparked my imagination and I fell in love with the symbolic allure and sentimental value of jewelry.”

You’ve lived and traveled all over the world. Does a global view inform your work as well?

“Of course, it is important to keep a brand’s heritage and identity in mind when designing, but it is equally important to inject your own personality and vision into each design, part of which comes from a more global perspective. It is really powerful to be able to lean on the brand’s strong identity and history for inspiration and guidance.”

Describe your creative process for us.

“My design approach is enriched with concepts and refined in details. In the initial stages, I compile research and images and then begin sketching ideas until the spirit of a piece is defined and continue refining that until a perfect balance is achieved. John Hardy’s eight-step creation process is really in tune with my own process and results in pieces that are powerful, dramatic and inspiring.”

What Hardy pieces do you like to wear and when do you wear them?

“Each collection has such a unique appeal, it’s hard to choose favorites. I love the mythology and meaning behind Naga, as well as the drama and elegance of the coils. The Classic Chain collection is one of the most iconic, symbolizing the brand’s legendary ethos.”

You divide your life between Hardy headquarters in New York and the 400-acre complex in Bali. How does your life differ in each place?

“It is a dream to split my time between New York and Bali. It is a true sort of yin and yang experience. In New York, I am attracted to the fast-paced rhythm of the city and all of the innovative design happening. In New York, I deal with the more business side of my job, while when I go to Bali, I usually focus on designing collections, meeting with the design team and our artisans and checking in on production. Bali offers a much slower pace but has an amazing creative energy.”

What do you see for the John Hardy Collections in the future?

“The exotic nature of John Hardy — its raw power — has not always been shown and I want to bring that to the forefront. I also love the story of how John Hardy himself first discovered Bali and wanted to imbue his jewelry with that same spirit. I want to take people who wear our jewelry on a journey.”

What do you see for yourself in the future?

“While my primary mission is to enhance and elevate the designs of John Hardy, I also hope to maintain its core Balinese spirit and heritage, with an emphasis on traditional craftsmanship and innovative thinking. I look forward to combining my artistic vision and luxury expertise with the brand’s powerful history.”

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