5 Asian Jewelry Designers You Should Know

Michelle Ong Jewelries

Michelle Ong Jewelries

They're original, provocative, deeply passionate and they're heading some of the top Asian jewelry houses. Meet the fabulous five:


The Musician - ANNA HU

Being the daughter of a diamond dealer, Anna Hu may have always been destined for jewelry design, but her first passion was the cello. It was only following an injury to her shoulder that prevented her from playing that the Taiwanese-born, U.S.-educated musician switched her focus and trained at the Gemological Institute of America. Hu went on to work for top jewelry companies such as Van Cleef & Arpels and Harry Winston before starting her own brand, Anna Hu Haute Joaillerie in 2007.

The 36-year-old now counts Natalie Portman, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Madonna among her customers, and last May an “Orpheus” ring fetched US$2,592,663 at Christie’s Hong Kong, five times over the estimate and a new auction record for a piece by a contemporary jewelry designer.

The stunning jadeite cabochon ring weighing an impressive 45.39 carats was set in pave white diamonds with a drop of briolette emerald, shaped like a note, a nod to her early training and an indicator of the influence that music still has on her work. “I usually listen to classical music when I design. It inspires me and helps me dream. I also often invoke music theory when I am designing by using gemstones as musical notes to create melodies within each piece,” she says.

Many of Hu’s creations have a strong artistic link, such as her Monet Water Lily inspired by the impressionist painter’s garden in Giverny for which she used a multitude of vibrant, colorful stones as “paint,” she explains, to recreate Monet’s vision in her jewelry.


The Sculptor - CINDY CHAO

Taiwanese jewelry designer Cindy Chao founded her company in 2004 and has quickly developed a cult following amongst wealthy clients willing to pay north of half a million dollars for her Black Label pieces: one of a kind artistic masterpieces that can take up to two years to complete.

Her creations for Cindy Chao: The Art Jewel have also regularly appeared at auctions. In October 2013, a large natural pigeon’s blood ruby and diamond ring she had designed sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong for US$3.84 million, while her sapphire and diamond Transcendence butterfly brooch raised $952,866 at Christie’s Geneva in November 2012, well above the $210-000-260,000 estimate.

While her designs remain largely traditional, her use of titanium to reduce the weight of the pieces has been innovative. “For me it’s less about the actual jewelry and more about sculptural art.” she muses. Paradoxically, Chao doesn’t wear any jewelry herself, “I usually don’t wear jewelry unless it’s a special occasion but I love to create them.”

The designer also has a White Label series, what she calls her “every day” jewelry, which remain limited edition pieces but these start from $15,000.


The Doyenne - MICHELLE ONG

Without any formal jewelry training, Michelle Ong founded Carnet with the Hong Kong-based Israeli gem dealer Avi Nagar in 1985. Since then the avid collector of Art Nouveau and Art Deco jewelry has pioneered an East-meets-West fusion of bold designs that speak to a Chinese clientele, while also championing rose-cut diamonds for their ability to diffuse light.

With her starting point often being the principal stones, the self-taught jeweler likes to blend the vintage look of rose-cut diamonds with Asian motifs such as dragons, dragonflies, and floating clouds, as well as the quintessential Chinese stone: jade. Her creations rarely appear at auction, but a pair of diamond, tsavorite garnet, and seed pearl chandelier pendants sold for $35,644 at Christie’s Hong Kong last November, above the $19,435-$32,392 estimate.

Ong’s designs have garnered a strong following amongst A-List clients, like soprano Renée Fleming and actress Kate Winslet, and accolades from fellow artist jewelers such as Joel Arthur Rosenthal, the elusive jeweler behind JAR who once described her jewels as “mouth-watering.”



The Naturalist – WENDY YUE

Before setting up her own brand in 2008, Hong Kong designer Wendy Yue had worked for 20 years designing pieces for others like the Parisian jeweler Lydia Courteille and the Asian brand Tse Sui Luen. But it was Annoushka Ducas, the co-founder of Links of London for whom she was a guest-designer, who encouraged her to set up her own eponymous brand. Yue has not looked back since.

It might be because she did not have any formal training in jewelry design that her bold creations are not constrained by traditional jewelry making, and the pieces are not for shrinking violets. Her statement-making designs usually adopt a naturalistic theme, often evolved from oddly-shaped gemstones, and she’s become known for her intriguing combination of precious and semi-precious stones and heavy use of carved semi-precious stones.

The designer loves multi-purpose pieces like her elegant Rapacious Rose necklace with rubies, pink sapphires, tourmaline, and black diamonds that can also be worn as a detachable brooch, or her long rings that can be worn vertically or horizontally.

Her most recent pieces, unveiled at Baselworld 2014, embrace a range of unusual inspirations like mosquitoes and Siamese cats. These new pieces include a collection of unconventional armor rings that infuse her expertise in matching color-stones and a bold statement piece, the Madame Butterfly necklace with matching earrings that uses a mix of purple and pink sapphires, rhodolite garnet, opal, tsavorite, and brown diamond to create a discreet butterfly that spreads its wings like the sleeves of a kimono.


The Mixologist - AMEE PHILIPS

Born and raised in Penang, Malaysia, jewelry designer Amee Philips started as a gemstone wholesaler in Georgetown in 1992, before setting up a retail business seven years later and finally taking the plunge into design and launched her own label in 2002. She now has ashowroom in Kuala Lumpur and has been presenting her designs in New York during fashion week for a couple of years now, thanks to a collaboration with New York-based Malaysian designer Zang Toi.

Philips often mines the Peranakan heritage of Penang to design her bold jewelry pieces that fuse the elaborate style of traditional Nyonya (female Peranakan) with a contemporary touch. The Peranakan of the Straits of Malacca are the descendants of mixed marriages between Chinese migrants and local Malay people and they have developed their own distinctive, hybrid culture. One of the designs often found in this culture is the Phoenix, a symbol of prosperity and the flamboyant mythical bird was the inspiration behind Philips’ most recent collection.

She loves versatility and created the V-clip and E-clip, which allow the wearer to easily secure additional pieces of jewelry to an existing design, in effect creating their own interpretation. The V-clip received Malaysia Good Design Mark Award in 2006.

Primarily designing on request, Philips says her starting point is often the lady who will wear the piece. “The woman gives life to jewelry;” she muses, adding, “without her, jewelry should still be a piece of wonderful art.” Philips also points out that ultimately she hopes to create heirloom pieces that can be passed down generations.

As first published in Blouin Lifestyle Magazine