The Bright Spark Of Asian Jewellers

A swathe of talent is rushing into Asia, bringing with them saturated jewels that scale new heights and confound expectations.

The Bright Spark Of Asian Jewellers

Anchor Image: Anabela Chan

Punchy pure primary hues, dynamic forms and new materials push up against more traditional FIne jewellery in the hands of young Asian design talent Bianca Chong, 31, Anabela Chan, 35, and Austy Lee, 38. Each has a personal connection to Hong Kong, itself a site of shifting parameters, but they bare a stamp that is uniquely their own.

“I like my designs to always be challenging to make,” Austy Lee explains of his uneasy path. Lee, who has a studio boutique in Central, has a knack for creating pulsating statement rings using vividly coloured gemstones. While it makes sense that he enjoys pop art, what’s surprising is his immersion in global religions like Tibetan Buddhism. Take the example of The Shield of Kabbalah ring from his Psychedelic Light Collection, or the Vishnu Mandala ring that plays with the cosmic diagram seen in Hinduism, Jainism and Shintoism. Lately, Viking visual culture has also caught his eye. His closest friends have told him his one-of-a-kind creations are “jewellery from another dimension”, and they wouldn’t be far wrong.

For Hong Kong-born, London-based designer Anabela Chan, the verdant drama of flowers and fruits lend intensity to her earrings, which are also magnificent for their ambitious size. Hailing from a family of film directors and cinematographers, Chan’s creations were destined for an international audience, thanks to her Script white diamond pendant earrings that grazed Rihanna’s shoulders at the Savage x Fenty Show at New York Fashion Week in September, dazzling and dancing with the fashion player’s every move. An ancient calligraphy style informed their shape, creating the impression of pave-set brushstrokes lifted off paper. She is also especially partial to synthetic gemstones.

These new jewellery creatives balance technology and the hand. Chan, who will open her second standalone boutique in London next year, after making her industry debut five years ago, draws and paints every design with Aquarelle pencils, watercolours and gouache (an opaque watercolour) on different grades and tones of Fabriano paper.

Based in Sheung Wan, Bianca Chong’s background in fashion design and accessories allows her to see possibilities in all manner of unconventional materials for her contemporary line, Answer B. While she takes on bespoke commissions using gemstones, she thrives on exploring the boundaries of substances like Corian — a benchtop material composed of acrylic polymer and alumina trihydrate, more commonly seen in large-scale decorative surface applications. We trace the divergent and uniting threads between the three jewellery designers that make them ones to watch.

Anabela Chan

ANABELA CHAN

Where did you grow up?

I was born and lived in Hong Kong until the age of 10, when my family moved to Paris and my sister and I went to boarding school in Brighton, UK.

When did you realise you wanted to pursue jewellery as a career? 

My FIrst degree is in architecture and after seven years in the industry, I took up a Masters of Arts in Goldsmithing and Jewellery at the Royal College of Art. When I was 15, I met the late Andrew Grima at Burlington Arcade in London for a school art project. Known as the father of contemporary jewellery, he showed me his incredibly unique jewels and objets d’art, while I revealed my own sketchbook. I had the idea to cast the FInest French lace in platinum and he was kind enough to ask his workshop to experiment with it. It was my FIrst encounter with FIne jewellery craftsmanship, and I have been mesmerised ever since.

Is there an Asian aesthetic in your work?

Perhaps it’s my love for joyful rubies, fuchsia pink sapphires and green emeralds — all are colours of good fortune.

Who are your favourite jewellery designers?

Andrew Grima, JAR (Joel Arthur Rosenthal) and Victoire de Castellane.

Favourite materials to work with?

I champion laboratory-grown and created gemstones, rather than those mined from the ground. These are free of the untraceable provenance and ethical and sustainability issues associated with mining.

Where do you seek inspiration?

From coral reefs to the canopy of the Amazon jungle; travel is my most creative time. I am a self-described hopeless romantic with a curiosity cabinet studio, FIlled with trinkets and treasures collected on the road, including an abundance of taxidermy specimens. When I want to get out of my studio in London, I take my French bulldog for a walk in Hyde Park to see the changing seasons; fresh air is the best remedy for clearing the mind.

What do you enjoy most about being a jeweller?

Being able to create pieces that are worn, loved and treasured from one generation to the next. I think jewellery is the most magical thing you can wear: it is something so small and can be held in the palm of your hands, with the ability to hold a world of memories and emotions that bring immense personal joy, and elevate the spirit like no other.

Bianca Chong

BIANCA CHONG

When did you realise you wanted to pursue jewellery as a career? 

During my fashion design studies (first at Hong Kong Design Institute and later London College of Fashion) I started using metal in my accessories and became fascinated by how it could increase the impact of a design. Gradually, I learnt more about metals. I now work from a bench in Hatton Jewellery Institute and also teach at the school and international creative hub founded by British-born jeweller Nathalie Melville.

Any recent inspirations?

I am particularly attracted to windows right now. It might sound funny but I like to look at window frames. I also like to study clear or sandblasted glass to observe how light passes through it to create shadows. And I’m always drawn to architecture.

The Articulation collection from Chong’s MA final project

Is there an Asian aesthetic in your work?

The idea of harmony and balance, even though I always use asymmetrical elements. Something may seem asymmetric, but I have manipulated the elements to achieve a certain angle and form that appears balanced.

Who are your favourite jewellery designers?

I think Wallace Chan really set a new standard for art jewellery.

Your most challenging creation so far?

My MA graduation collection: I used wood, metal and Corian in pieces with mechanical features. I spent so much time just testing the mechanisms.

What is a favourite piece you created recently?

The single Compounds earring, which is very long with two glass bubbles. It looks very simple but it isn’t, and I love how it hangs from the ear.

Who would appreciate your jewellery?

Women who have a little bit of a contradictory character; they may seem soft and gentle on the outside, but have a very tough and determined soul. They are not afraid to be different.

What do you enjoy most about being a jeweller?

The moment you complete the final polish of your jewellery: your fingers are completely black but your work is shining like a star.

Austy Lee

AUSTY LEE

When did you realise you wanted to pursue jewellery as a career?

Early in 2014, after receiving positive feedback about my designs for myself. I’ve always enjoyed wearing my own jewellery on a daily basis: today I am wearing a jade and yellow diamond ring, a tennis bracelet of fancy-coloured diamonds, an Eye of Horus pendant, a pendant featuring a rough sapphire and a Cartier bangle.

Is there an Asian aesthetic in your work?

Hong Kong was under colonial rule until 1997 so it is deeply influenced by both British and local cultures. As a result, my style is also a mixture of Eastern and Western cultures. I love mixing old styles like art nouveau or ancient Egyptian with new ideas, such as subcultures or metropolitan influences.

Who are your favourite jewellery designers? 

JAR and James Claude Taffin de Givenchy.

Where did you go to design school?

Hong Kong Design Institute, where I studied Product Design.

Favourite materials to work with?

I love working with 18K gold with enamel and special colour rhodium, because 18K gold is stable and has strong potential for modelling, while rhodium can be renewed into a different colour anytime you get bored.

What do you collect?

Lava cameos with high-relief angels and gemstones like blue tourmaline, unheated blue sapphire and emeralds. I also collect old things, such as enamel jewellery and pocket watches as I am into history and cultural studies.

If your friends had to describe you in three words, what would they say?

That I am crazy, edgy and weird. 

Where does your love for colour come from?

Nature. I grew up near the sea in Tsing Yi, Hong Kong, with a father who enjoyed fishing, gardening and hiking. I like the company of plants and animals. I always watch National Geographic programmes and read nature books in the library. Besides the richness of flowers, I am amused by the riotous colours of tropical fish and parrots.

What do you enjoy most about being a jeweller?

Creativity without limitations. I aim to create a new trend and style that is everlasting.

This story first appeared in the December 2019 issue of A.

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