There is an understated elegance to fine jewellery designer Wendy Yue, and yet her phantasmagoric collections are certainly not for wallflowers. Hers are ornate pieces with resplendent stones, inspired by flora and fauna, animal shapes and legends. It is the vast ocean of her imagination that makes her exquisite, multicoloured collection something to behold.
"I don't sleep much and I'm often most inspired when I have difficulty sleeping," she says while in transit in Taipei, on her way to Hong Kong for a reception at her stockist Plukka's pop-up store in the Landmark. A restless night where she had garish visions of snakes invading her floor led to a serpentine collection a few years ago.
"A lot of times I am on the road, whether driving to work, home, dinner, or running errands, my mind is often in its most stimulated state and all kinds of ideas are generated," Yue says. "I am a multitasker in that sense, I can never be doing one thing at a time."
And yet, among her travels, all roads led to the field of design. Yue, a Hong Kong native, spent her early days studying language and culture in Europe.
"I love Europe. Vienna was a stepping stone into the European culture. It's filled with ancient history and architecture and I find it very calm and soothing whenever I'm there," she says.
She documented her travels with her coloured pencils, sketching everywhere she went. Patterns and shapes formed the basis of future jewellery designs.
"The idea of creating jewellery to be worn daily reminds me of my travels," Yue says. "They are an enduring monument in remembrance of the bits and pieces of my expeditions."
Yue established her atelier, Diamond Tree, in 1998, and for years she worked with haute joaillerie, supporting famous luxury brands as the woman behind the scenes. It wasn't until 2008 that her eponymous brand, in collaboration with Annoushka Ducas (founder of Links of London), came about.
Whether from Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman, or select boutiques across Europe, the US and Asia, there are many femmes fetale studded with Yue's whimsical creations.
If there's a trend away from simple rings and subtle earrings studded with a single stone, Yue might be the harbinger, springing away from the delicate and the darling to "statement pieces" of bold design and chunkier stones.
"I don't think statement pieces are necessarily a fashion trend; instead, they [reflect] the changing taste of Asian women in general. They have definitely opened up to a wider range of styles, without compromising either end of the spectrum. I think the Asian woman has always been confident."
While other design houses might find inspiration in endearing images of cats and nature, there's a strident, serrated beauty in Yue's designs, such as a sapphire-studded frog, sprawling on an aquamarine and jade swamp; or a floral piece intertwined with a serpent with evocative, sapphire-studded eyes, glistening with wicked glee.
"The narrative, of course, is inspired by nature, but I have also turned my focus towards more classic shapes, especially with earrings and necklaces," she says. "In the past I may have been known for my statement cocktail rings, but this year I chose to focus more on earrings and chokers, incorporating nature in a figurative but more classic way."
"For the most part, it all begins with the stones," Yue says. "I have a passion for stones and I have a huge safe filled with beautifully odd and unique gemstones. Many times it's an interwoven process: I have an idea and concept in mind, then I draw from memory my database of gemstones and know exactly which centre stone would match my design concept. It can be the stone that comes first, if I have the inspiration, but it is almost something that is in sync.
"Most of the pieces with carved centre stones or large centre gemstones are one of a kind. It is not in my interest to mass-produce my designs."
Yue eschews the cliché of East meets West. "I do not see my pieces in dual East-West cultural terms. Often it can be a mix, extracting from different cultural myths. Many times it is from my personal travels or experiences," she says.
But is there an Asian element to the collection?
"Certainly," she says. "I do have Buddha and oriental elements. I once had a coral cuff named 'The Lucky Seven' that came from a traditional Chinese story of seven children for good luck. I come from a traditional Chinese family so I do have inspiration from my background."
While Yue has her own "by appointment" gallery/show space in Sheung Wan, the designer's work has already spread worldwide. Her pieces have caught the eye of pop princesses such as Katy Perry and Rihanna and Hollywood actresses Glenn Close and Frieda Pinto.
"I feel honoured and humble seeing my jewellery worn by anybody who appreciates my pieces. Sometimes you can see the sparkle from their eyes when they look at a piece; it's truly an unforgettable feeling," Yue says. "But, of course, it's reassuring to some [customers] that top style icons such as Katy Perry and Rihanna have worn my pieces."
She says if there is one type of woman she designs for, it's "a woman who isn't afraid to show character".