Through luxury and art, we value our clothes and our cars, so why not our sexuality?
Colin Burn redefined the meaning of high-end sex toys when he made headlines in 2018 after creating the world’s most expensive sex toy – a 1.8 million dollar platinum vibrator encrusted with 2000 flush-set diamonds, topped with royal-blue sapphires and rare pink diamonds. Throughout his three-decade career as a fine art jeweller, Burn’s work has received accolades from the Australian and Japanese governments, as well as leading Australian sporting groups, which has helped him forge a successful career. We spoke to Burn about the impetus behind his art, his unique online museum – Treasure the Erotic, and essentially, how an apprentice electroplater from Perth came to design some of the world’s most opulent and aspirational sex toys.
What inspired you to become a jeweller?
My career commenced in Perth as an apprentice electroplater, the science of coating base metals with protective metals like chrome, silver or gold. After graduating, I moved to Sydney and worked for a silverware making company owned by the renowned Australian jewellers Angus & Coote. Working at the factory, inspired me to advance my precious metalworking skills into fine jewellery making. I moved back to Perth and commenced experimenting with the idea of coating natural elements with precious metals. This process is a difficult science that took me two full years of trial and error before inventing my own unique formula to master the technique. This inspired me to start my first jewellery company, Kristen Leigh, in 1985 (named after my daughter who was born that year). The unique jewellery I was creating was made from real flowers and leaves that I would coat in pure gold and often set with precious gems.
How did you transition from creating commercial jewellery to designing diamond-studded sex toys?
Over the years, my commercial work became well-recognised and used as national gifts by the Australian Government, which led to interest from the Japanese Government. In 1993, I was selected by JETRO (a Japanese Government organisation that assists trade between countries) and taken to Japan to participate in their prestigious Export to Japan Study Program. This limited and hand-selected program commenced a lifelong love affair with Japan and further inspired me to create a wider variety of fine jewellery for that market.
In 1997, I moved to Broome setting up a retail jewellery store, and continued to create jewellery for my Japanese clients using Broome South Sea Pearls.
In 2004, after a cheeky dinner conversation with friends, I hatched the idea of making a luxury gold vibrator. Always up for a creative challenge, I set about making the first prototype, which quickly led to a full-fledged business concept of creating luxury adult products for the Japanese market.
What is the symbolism of using octopuses juxtaposed with nudity in your work?
This concept came from my time spent in Japan. I became fascinated with the art of Hokusai, perhaps the most famous of Japanese artists. His shunga woodblock print ‘The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife’ depicting two octopuses making love to a Japanese pearl diver seemed to have spurred a sexual fantasy culture within Japan called Tentacle Erotica. It seemed prolific in many of the manga magazines and in erotic Japanese movies. This concept inspired me to create my gold, pearl and diamond sculpture ‘Hokusai Dreaming’ as a depiction of this famous Hokusai print. I wanted the pay homage to this powerful work depicting the sensual culture of the Japanese people, who are deeply connected to the ocean.
Tell us about Treasure the Erotic.
Treasure the Erotic is an extravagant and opulent exhibition of symbolic erotic artworks created by myself and Aaron McPolin; having over 50 of the world’s most opulent and expensive erotic artworks, each provoking and challenging the audience to consider how they value and honour their own eroticism.
As artists, we feel in our modern society, explicit pornography seems to have claimed the forefront of the sexual narrative, overshadowing eroticism and its important nuances, leading to a misunderstanding and often a devaluing of the erotic. Our Treasure the Erotic museum offers a metaphorical insight into various erotic realms, each emphasising these nuances of sensuality and eroticism that the viewer may have never encountered or considered to explore. We address these realms through photographic narratives and exquisite jewellery sculptures each crafted from the finest quality materials, which establish a symbolic distinction of genuine worth that simply cannot be devalued, no matter the individual’s personal opinion or viewpoint towards each object. I think the works are best described as luxury trophies to the erotic, held aloft like ceremonial swords paying homage to various fetishes, taboo ideals and practices of human eroticism.
What inspires you to make high-end artful sex toys?
For me, they exist as symbols of the erotic, more like ceremonial swords rather than a simple tool of pleasure, they are in themselves art, commenting upon society as totems with symbolic significance. Through luxury and art, we value our clothes and our cars, so why not our sexuality? I find it bizarre to think that we do not always place the highest value on our most intimate practice, to be human is to be erotic, to love is to be intimate and vulnerable, to value and trust another. It seems society has evolved to forget past monuments to our fertility, gods of fertility and ritual fertility ceremonies and practices. It’s as if we have somehow lost our way. I see erotic artworks as a testament, a shining light to those who feel lost, to re-engage society in the value of their own and one another’s eroticism, rather that shunning sexuality down dark alleyways, behind closed doors, or by denouncement of others who choose to explore what they crave, desire and need to connect with others and themselves.
Have you ever had any push back or negative feedback over your pieces?
Yes of course, all artwork is subjective. We find that when discussing the erotic, it often puts a mirror to the viewer, they can either except, confront or dismiss what we are projecting through the artwork. But more often we see a positive reaction to the artwork. Once people see past the objectification and more into the symbolism and important narrative that the work denotes to, the viewer simply wants to know more. It opens up many questions they may have been unwilling to ask without the artwork opening the door for them to do so.
There’s also those who are dismissive of the art or derogatory towards it, that’s ok too. The artwork is there to confront their values, whatever they may be. Usually their reaction is simply an exposure and bringing to light perhaps fixated stagnant and regressive beliefs and preconceived ideas to shun eroticism, to hide eroticism and also to be ashamed of what we are as people.
We encourage everyone to interpret the art in their own way, the artworks are purely martyrs to encourage a dialogue about our eroticism, whatever that may be.
What materials do you have a preference for using and where do they come from?
My metal of choice is 24K yellow gold and my favourite gem is the Australian South Sea pearl. Of course, in my work I use
a multitude of fine materials including various golds and the world’s finest diamonds, but I most enjoy working with these two elements. 24K Yellow gold is soft and has such beautiful flow with rich colour and the South Sea pearl has such a smooth texture and rich lustre; when you incorporate these two materials it’s pure joy. Both of these elements come from Western Australia, which makes it even more special for me.
Are your pieces functional?
Most of my works have been dildo sculptures, as I find them to be a more organic and historic as art objects and less commercial like a vibrator, which is more a mechanical object. However, for my most luxurious piece, the ‘Pearl Royale’, I did decide to make that one a vibrator as in my design concept the South Sea pearl atop the crown is actually a luxury pearl necklace, with a key attached and when inserted into the top of the crown it turns on the vibrator. I thought this was such a cheeky design element as the wearer can have this luxurious pearl necklace and those admiring it would not know its real purpose as a luxury key to pleasure.
My works are primarily contemporary art sculptures to the erotic, however I guess they can all be used for erotic purpose should the art buyer feel that way inclined.
Tell us more about your $1.8 million dollar vibrator.
The ‘Pearl Royale’ is the feature piece in my collection. It’s made from pure platinum and set with over 70 carats of the world’s finest diamonds, sapphires and South Sea pearl. This opulent sculpture, I would say, best represents the symbolism of treasuring the erotic.
When conceiving the art, I wanted to encourage discussion and question society on the value we place on the sexual experience. From
my observation it seemed society could not reconcile such a luxurious item for the act of sex. I was of the mindset if we readily accept genuine luxury into other aspects of our lives then why not the sexual experience? So, when it came to designing it, I was thinking of pure hedonism, it had to be outlandishly extravagant with a high level of status. I was thinking of kings and queens, so the concept of a royal sceptre was my inspiration for the overall design.
I wanted to create a piece of jewellery art that could proudly sit alongside the world’s finest crown jewels to ultimately symbolise how we should Treasure the Erotic!
See more of Treasure the Erotic here.
Join Treasure the Erotic and Penthouse for Reveal, an erotic art exhibition showcasing Treasure The Erotic’s 15-year journey creating the world’s most lavish erotic art. Tickets to this exclusive event are strictly limited to 150 guests who will each receive an artist’s signed copy of the Penthouse Winter Edition Magazine. Get tickets.