How London-based Chinese jeweller James Ganh is transforming the world of bespoke creations
Ganh says his pieces – such as a Ferris wheel that transforms into a pendant, lapel pin and wedding rings – are appreciated by adventurous clients in Hong Kong, Singapore and the Middle East
Looking beyond its diamonds and sugarloaf cabochon gems, a Ferris wheel is an unusual choice for a precious objet d’art to celebrate a marriage. More bizarre, this Ferris wheel dismantles into a cabochon bangle, a pair of gem-studded circular earrings, a pendant, a man’s lapel pin and a pair of wedding bands. Each piece echoes the circle of the Ferris wheel, in decreasing sizes.
This clever craftsmanship carries emotional significance for its 28-year-old owners – when young London-based Chinese jeweller James Ganh was approached by them to create a celebration of their love, “I said that perhaps we should start with where they had first met, kissed, or proposed, and they said the proposal was on a Ferris wheel.”
Ganh says the challenging design was worked out over five months and the piece was finished a few months later.
Ganh has made a couple since but the design is just one example of his work inspired by Peter Carl Fabergé and his iconic Easter eggs made for the Russian Royal family in the 1880s and ’90s.
Ganh specialises in transformable jewellery, such as a dragonfly necklace that separates into a necklace and a brooch. On the drawing board is a dragonfly bracelet with wings that wrap around the wrist. These can be made to flap gently using a tiny mechanism in the dragonfly tail that is attached to a ring on the finger.
Ganh’s clients are adventurous. “They have all been through the fine jewellery stage in their lives and have become well educated in their jewellery buying journey and are now commissioning pieces like this,” he says. Nearly all are female (including famous Chinese actresses he won’t name), based in China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia and the Middle East. Although he takes appointments in Hong Kong and is opening a private showroom in Guangzhou, his customers prefer to visit him in his office in St James’s in London.
Their tastes vary from a conservative design of diamonds and Gemfields emeralds for a necklace and long linear earrings, to florid pink sapphire pavé rose earrings dangling pear-shaped cabochon emerald pendants, or a ring with a jewelled butterfly alighting on a berry-red ruby.
Born and raised in Guangzhou, Ganh was sent to school in Britain, but says his interest in art dates from the drawing classes his mother took him to when he was three. He studied carving and oil painting at school in England and then jewellery at Central Saint Martin’s college in London, where he proved to be very experimental – “functionality is very important to me”, he says, which is why Fabergé’s work fascinates him.
He was thrilled when his first job as a graduate was with Fabergé, which was relaunched a decade ago and is now under the ownership of Gemfields – the ethical emerald and ruby producer. He worked in retail but approached his employers with a mechanical Easter egg design of his own containing a surprise inside – it was his homage to the founder. “I was the only person who had come up with a prototype and a product cast in silver showing the mechanism rather than just drawings, and that impressed them,” he recalls. Fabergé’s finished egg was adapted from his original.
The baroque style of Fabergé’s work in imperial Russia is an influence on many of Ganh’s designs, which tend to be statement jewels. “I can be inspired by the stones I have invested in or a design, my mind is never settled on one thing – it is always jumping around.”
He only launched his business three years ago and rather than working in Paris or Geneva, the 28-year-old jeweller works closely with craftsmen in Guangdong who moved out of Hong Kong in the 1980s when the rents got too high. “They are old masters, and it took me a long time to find the best in the field, because their craftsmanship has to match what other jewellery houses offer,” Ganh says.
Judging by the substantial number of pieces sold at a presentation he hosted in London earlier this year, his clients would appear to agree.