The world of contemporary art inspires renowned designer Samuel Kung in his quest to enthrall a new generation with the beauty of jade

Jadeite expert, jewellery designer, museum founder—for someone like Samuel Kung, art is in his blood. “I was born with an instinct for art,” he says. “I’ve always been attracted to beautiful things.”

He can recall exactly when his love for jadeite began. “My family wasn’t in the jewellery business but my neighbour, a friend’s father, was. I had access to all these jade pieces at his place. I immediately developed an interest in them; I was very lucky I had the chance to see these pieces at such a young age.”

An artful beginning 

Kung’s career received a boost when he encountered an important rough jadeite stone in Burma and brought it to the auction houses in 1997. A year later, the Millennium Stone was auctioned for a record-breaking price at Christie’s.

The sale cemented Kung’s reputation and opened the doors for him at Christie’s and Sotheby’s. “Through them I was able to have access to a lot of art pieces,” says Kung of the period during which he developed his love for contemporary art. “At the time, prices for Chinese contemporary art were quite attractive and so, from then on, I started looking into Chinese contemporary art.”

Such was his interest that he founded the Museum of Contemporary Art, Shanghai in 2005 with the intention of expanding the reach and influence of Chinese contemporary art around the world. By curating cross-disciplinary exhibitions—Kung talks about crossovers with new technologies, comics and anime—he hopes to make the museum the centre of creative exchange for emerging talent.

Mysticism and allure

In the same vein, Kung wants to see a revival of interest in jadeite in the new generation, hoping that more designers like himself can help push the jade market even further. Jade collectors tend to be more mature, he says; if a young person owns a piece of jade, it was usually a gift or inheritance from an elder relative, passed down traditionally for its healing and protective powers.

It takes more than just special properties to capture the attention of the new generation, and Kung is well aware of this, calling jade’s protective powers mere superstition. But he cannot deny there is something extremely alluring about jadeite. 

“Jadeite is different from other gemstones in that it reacts with the human body and changes,” says Kung. “I once had two halves of the same jade bracelet and it was worn by two different people. When I saw them years later, the bracelets looked completely different to each other.”

Jade has a life of its own, he says with a chuckle. “Sometimes when we discuss the design and how to cut the jade, it doesn’t come straight to us and the jade will sit there for a long time, inviting us in for a closer look. Jade is not simply one colour, not just green. It’s made up of many shades of green.”

Jade in the new age

With his background in contemporary art, Kung is able to lend a modern eye to the design of his jade pieces, although he maintains that he is still a conservative designer—less so, however, than the jade masters he learned from. “There’s a reason to be conservative,” he says. “The material is simply too expensive. But working in jade myself, I really see the need to step outside the box to attract the new generation.

In the past, we thought jade had to be as big as possible to retain its value. Today, I think there is creativity in smaller jade pieces; it can still be elegant.”

Kung’s newest collection brings the traditional stone into the contemporary limelight, boasting a sleek and modish flair that is anything but old-fashioned. The pieces will be available at Lane Crawford IFC mall. From small polished jadeite beads to glamorous cabochons in an array of colours ranging from shades of green to black, lavender and even ruby red, you’ll find stunning pieces to complement your look no matter the occasion.

Get a glimpse of Samuel Kung’s latest collection at the designer’s exclusive trunk show held at Lane Crawford on October 22-24.

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