Meet Hong Kong’s maverick jewellers who dare to be different

Local independent designers are pushing the boundaries in form and finish

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 December, 2015, 12:01pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 December, 2015, 3:18pm

Buying from local, independent jewellery brands is now big news in Hong Kong. Sophisticated customers are bored of showing up to a party and seeing someone else wearing the same piece. As much as ready-to-wear has diversified, we’re eyeing the innovation of fine jewellery designers, hailing from all around the world, who have set up operations in the city. But what exactly is behind the bold, experimental movement that includes such diverse brands as AS29, Melville Fine Jewellery or Wendy Yue’s MSY?

There’s always been the odd disruptive jeweller, but now there’s a newfound confidence in doing unique, less commercial pieces as local clients respond to more artistic styles. The e-commerce site plukka.com has no doubt played a part in showcasing daring designs of the Hong Kong set.

“Hong Kong’s role in the global jewellery industry has evolved enormously,” says Plukka’s founder Joanne Ooi. The shifting is from a manufacturing hub to now a place where new trends and designers are born. The proximity to manufacturing promotes “lightning speed experimentation and iteration. We’re very proud to be a conduit for this newfound confidence and individualism in Hong Kong,” adds Ooi.

Wendy Yue is probably the most noted fine jewellery “artist” in the city. Her pieces have previously found themselves in auctions and museums, and although she has a bespoke business, pricey and exclusive as you can imagine, she does ready-made pieces under her more affordable MSY by Wendy Yue label – what she calls “an experiment into a new material I had encountered that would be unconventional yet inexpensive – pink silver”, sold online.

Completely divergent from her main line Wendy Yue, MSY has “similar spirit but totally different aesthetic”. Ivy, vines leaves and flowers encrusted in brillant gems make for stunning statement pieces like the three-finger rings.

Yue says Hong Kong clients have opened up to “new, smaller, artistic and/or trendy brands, not only big jewellery houses, which is a very important change”.

“A trend in the market has shown us that women want values and creativity to be combined,” says Belgian-born Audrey Savransky, whose family have been diamond dealers for generations. Her AS29 brand used to offer just delicate, everyday pieces but is now more known for formidable pieces such as the Diamond Reverse “Ocean” Cuff in white and black diamonds, combining graphic and organic elements with quality stones.

She’s working on mixing their micro setting finish with bigger stones and wants to look at psychedelic colour combinations such as “setting emeralds with green gold or cobalt blue gold with sapphires” for a more striking effect.

“For me, beauty – whether it is in the curve of a bracelet or the drape of a scarf – strengthens my belief in nature,” says Swiss designer and yoga fanatic Marielle Byworth. Spirituality has always defined the core of her brand, Marijoli. And to underline the point, her latest campaign images are shot against the backdrop of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet.

As for why clients have increasingly turned towards experimental pieces, Byworth believes our fast-paced lives have made us “instinctively reach for what is real and organic … This is reflected in a trend away from the hard geometric designs we’ve seen in the past towards a connection with natural, primal shapes”.

She might have a point. The award-winning Payal Shah of L’Dezen by Payal Shah has made a signature of rough-cut precious stones (plenty of diamonds here) in nature-inspired designs – bold, expensive hero pieces being her most trademark.

“Natural forms are the most organic shapes to work with. I love the irregularity in colours and structures naturalistic designs bring,” Shah explains.

Her designs have been worn by the likes of Lady Gaga and Jessica Alba, but she says that Asian and Hong Kong clients have become more accepting of newer gemstones, designs and jewellery styles in recent years. “They have started enjoying the artistic value behind the pieces,” she says, echoing the sentiment of many designers.

“Big jewellery houses rarely innovate – they are victims of their own vast success,” says Nathalie Melville of Melville Fine Jewellery, who focuses on ethical fine jewellery. As Hong Kong’s only Fairtrade precious metals licence holder, she’s out to prove that innovative design and glamour are not mutually exclusive with sustainable sourcing and materials.

Melville prefers to draw on design references with a literary undertone. From the opulence and intrigue of the court of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, to the Bronte sisters’ haunting tales Melville finds great beauty and inspiration in the darker side of storytelling.

When she launched, she assumed the ethical appeal of her label would resonate more with international clients but was quickly proven wrong. The greatest interest comes from locals who have studied abroad – a demographic that will be hugely influential in turning consumer tides.

“The desire to create to look towards Hong Kong’s future is dictating a shift in the consumer psyche, holding sustainability on a par with asset value,” she says.

“There is also a very distinct move to valuing craftsmanship and artisanal work,” says Byworth, “that I believe is a reaction to the mass production and anonymous computer designs we are surrounded by.”

“More Hong Kong clients are well informed and educated in gemstones and design,” says Yue, “so the calibre of designers is constantly being challenged, stimulating more innovation and creativity in Asian jewellery design.”