THE striking, raven-haired French girl who arrived in Santa Monica, California, in the early 80s, didn't even know how to say sorry. ''I am desolated,'' she would say, and apologise to startled locals if she happened to bump into them by accident. ''That's how bad my English was in those days,'' Youmna said, laughing. ''For the first two to three months after I went to America I couldn't speak it all, but eventually picked it up.'' By the time she was fluent, she was well on the way to mastering the craft that has brought her an international clientele and is about to be revealed to Hongkong. Tomorrow is the day: the opening of this gifted jewellery designer's first local showroom. She is the only daughter of a French mother and Lebanese father, was raised in Lyon and uses only her given name. It is inscribed on every piece she creates and matches the mood of her new office-cum-showroom in Duddell Street, Central. ''I'll be pinning individual pieces on these,'' Youmna said on Monday, indicating framed silk squares on a wall. Furnishing the showroom is a dramatic couch, intricately embroidered double cushions for extra seating - ''my own design'' - a screen and cabinet, a contemporary glass coffee table and an antique Causasian rug. The effect is exotic, yet tasteful and welcoming - rather like the designer. ''I have two trademarks,'' Youmna said. ''My rings are solid and if you look at the backs, you'll see many have small rounded points or are finished with tiny stones. ''Most jewellery designers leave the backs plain, figuring that what doesn't show doesn't matter. To me, that's like an unfinished outfit.'' Occasionally she works in white gold. Otherwise, it's all 18-carat gold in the rich yellow of 24-carat gold. Surfaces are often given a rough antique-like finish, but there is nothing crude about the workmanship. Each piece is exquisitely hand-crafted and there is a strict international limit. ''The minute I hit 50 of any given design, I stop. That way you're not likely to come across someone with the same thing,'' Youmna said. ''Easy-wear classics are what I design; pieces you can wear as comfortably with jeans as with an evening dress, and which you can pass on to your kids. I don't like jewellery which goes into the safe. ''I'm showing about 60 pieces for my Hongkong opening and I'm freaking out a bit, because I'm worried it's not enough.'' She shouldn't fret. Among the knock-outs is a spectacular brooch featuring an antique carved Persian agate, earrings whose tiers can be detached to create clip-on brooches, articulated bracelets whose coiled segments - rather like oval springs - contain semi-precious stones, and a wide array of those distinctive rings including a cup-shaped beauty topped with a South Seas pearl and finished at the back with a diamond. The men haven't been forgotten. On show will be several cuff-link designs - again that attention to detail on backs as well as fronts - and there are button-covers for the man who hasn't the time or patience to bother with double cuffs. ''I love good emeralds,'' said Youmna. Also high on her list are turquoise, moonstone and agate, though the woman who counts diamonds as her best friend will not be disappointed. With a family ''full of bankers and doctors'' - her father is a cardiologist - it was assumed Youmna would follow tradition. Not a chance. ''As a teenager, I loved dressing up for parties and designed most of my own things. I was wearing one of my necklaces - mostly rope and curtain-hooks - when I went into a costume jewellery shop one day and the owner loved it. ''She commissioned me to make some for her, so every couple of months I'd bring in about 45 pieces. That's how I earned my pocket-money as a schoolgirl. ''I'm sure I owe my creativeness to my mother. She restores antique porcelain for museums in France.'' At 18, Youmna decided jewellery design was it and with her parents' blessings - ''my father thought it was about time I learned English'' - headed for the Gemmological Institute of America in Santa Monica. She took every course on offer from design to retailing and at 21 was made an offer to kill for. ''It came from Chaumet and I was enormously flattered, but turned it down because I wanted to work for myself. ''At first my jewellery was a hobby and I made things for private clients, then word of mouth spread and three years ago, I started my business. By then I was already manufacturing my jewellery in Hongkong.'' Today Youmna has exclusive outlets in Milan and Hamburg, and is aiming higher. ''I'm quite ambitious and would love to have my own stores or be represented in the really top ones worldwide. Tiffany's in New York is my dream.''