From fantastic inspirations to the world’s most precious gemstones, there’s a palpable intensity to the growing pool of high jewellers that have emerged from Asia over the past few years. Hong Kong-based Wallace Chan's glittering sculptures, Singapore-born Edmond Chin’s one-of-a-kind creations and Michelle Ong's art deco-inspired designs indicate that Asia has no shortage of world-class talent, and pieces by the region’s most outstanding jewellers are proving to be record breakers at auction.
“Buoyed by Asia’s cultural and spending influence on the global luxury market, the region’s top and emerging jewellery designers are having their moment,” says Vickie Sek, chairman of the jewellery department at Christie’s Asia. “Cultural affinity has inspired contemporary jewellers to explore unique East-meets-West aesthetics, which appeal to a wider audience.”
China is the largest jewellery market in the world, with this year’s sales already totalling almost US$18 billion, according to data provider Statista. And Asia’s designers, says Wenhao Yu, deputy chairman of jewellery at Sotheby’s Asia, have an edge—partly because of the designers’ own development of their craft, and also as a result of the “ever-increasing influence of Asia’s culture and the heightened buying power of Asian clients”.
International auction houses have also been instrumental. “By featuring designs that stand out in the Asian market, talented designers are given further international exposure, which has also enhanced their global influence,” says Yu.
While these jewellers are finally being recognised internationally, their culture has long been a source of fascination to outsiders, helping pave the way for their global prominence. Just look at the role that jade has played in the journey of Asian designers. During the art deco period, the mineral, a traditional staple of Chinese decorative arts, became particularly popular in the West. Cartier started incorporating carved jade into its designs in the early 20th century, and even exhibited a China-inspired collection in New York in 1931.
“Cartier’s Tutti Frutti collection features a bright mix of colours that were first popularised in the East,” says Yu. An explosion of carved gemstones, Tutti Frutti largely consists of pinkish-red rubies, emeralds and sapphires. “In fact, today’s use of coloured gemstones, including conch pearl, pink sapphire and Paraiba tourmaline, can be traced back to eastern aesthetics.”
Jade has been associated with Chinese jewellery for thousands of years, effectively serving as an ambassador for the country’s designers. “The international appeal of jadeite has risen considerably, with creative and contemporary interpretations appealing to younger collectors worldwide,” says Sek. Last month at its Magnificent Jewels and Important Watch auction, Christie’s presented a breathtaking pair of plump jadeite hoop earrings by an unknown designer, which sold for US$1.3 million. Supported by yellow gold set with diamonds, each earring was accentuated with a single sugarloaf-cut ruby.