An Interview with Hong Kong Jewelry Designer Dickson Yewn
From incorporating a lattice window design into a ring to using peonies and Chinese gourds as motifs, there is something unmistakably and proudly Chinese about Dickson Yewn’s jewelry designs. For the last 15 years, the Hong Kong-based luxury jewelry designer has drawn inspiration from China’s rich cultural past imbuing his designs with Chinese symbolism, while striving to keep them contemporary.
His recent Imperial Cage collection — that includes pendants with a birdcage outline framing chrysanthemum and plum blossom — was inspired by China’s longstanding tradition of breeding birds for display as a symbol of wealth and social status, while his Fragrance Locket collection — to be worn around the waist — was inspired by the use of incense, from the personal bronze incense burner and hand warmer to the largesized incense burner in front of the temple.
“I’ve always wanted to contemporize traditional art and crafts. It has nothing to do with nostalgia for a bygone era; my ambition is to create a modernity that belongs to China, the way Japanese designers have succeeded in creating their own modernity. Think what Issey Miyake has done in terms of bringing a contemporary Japanese aestheticism to the world,” explains the 45-year-old designer adding,
“Chinese jewelry designs should capture the ‘Chinese soul.’ Jewelry should not just look pretty, it should tell a story, it should have some symbolism.” Yewn, who has studied Chinese culture extensively and collects small literati items and antiques — “anything I can afford” — says he would have loved to have lived during the Song Dynasty because of its scholarly discipline and studious approach to art.
Instead, he was born and raised in Hong Kong and though he comes from a very traditional family, he has also studied in Canada and France, and first started his career working in advertising and the movie industry. Unsatisfied, he switched to jewelry design after taking a course at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and launched his first collection and brand, Life of Circle, in 2000, creating what remains to this day one of his bestselling designs: a contemporized Double Happiness character. He has explored other auspicious symbols, such as Buddha’s hand, peaches, gourds, turtles, bats, and gold ingots.
“It’s hard to find any auspicious meaning in western jewelry design, but in ancient China, every motif or pattern on jewelry items had its special auspicious meaning,” the designer explains.
In 2003, he launched the Yewn brand to offer higher-end jewels such as the Chinese Lattice collection, which cleverly incorporates landscapes and traditional Chinese gardens. This collection helped propel the designer on an international stage when America’s First Lady, Michelle Obama was photographed wearing one of his Lattice rings in August 2011.
This year, Yewn launched a third label, Dickson Yewn, to offer clients his more artistic and personal work, where he aims “to pay tribute to nature.” The first 60-piece collection, evocatively titled Dream and Reality, is available in limited editions with only eight of each piece. This time, the jeweler has turned to Chinese literature and philosophy, inspired by the famous Taoist philosopher Chuang Tzu’s work Becoming a Butterfly, where the philosopher dreamed that he had transformed into a butterfly and then began to wonder if he was actually a man dreaming that he was a butterfly, or if he was a butterfly dreaming that he was a man. “A lot of jewelry brands are very detailed about their flowers, labelling them peonies, roses, lily of the valley, but when it comes down to butterflies, it’s just ‘butterfly,’ there are no actual references to any species,” the jeweler muses, adding that for his butterfly collection he has tried to be as close as possible to nature to reflect on its beauty.
Mainly using precious woods like rosewood, zitan, and huanghuali, the butterflies are akin to the specimens found in old natural history museums, and include the Striped Blue Crow from India and China, the Red Banded Pereute from Brazil, the elegant Large Tree Nymph from Southeast Asia and Taiwan, the non-migratory Queen Butterfly from Argentina, and the deadly Small Postman from Middle and South America.
While paying attention to craftsmanship, Yewn says he doesn’t like the term high jewelry, “I feel so bored with all this branding, frankly I don’t think I need to tell my customers if it’s high jewelry; they can see and decide. My concept is to use precious materials as close to nature as possible,” he says.
AS first published in Blouin Lifestyle Magazine.