Nicholas Chow is redefining fine jewellery by focusing on lab-grown diamonds with his brand, 5 + 2
A born-and-raised Hongkonger, Nicholas Chow is often seen hanging out with the city’s flashest scions and his infectious personality leaves few immune to his charms. His visit to the Tatler office last year had the team erupting with laughter as he recounted fun travel memories and his favourite eateries in the city. In recent years, Chow has channelled his charisma and influence towards raising the profile of lab-grown diamonds, a more ethical choice than traditionally mined gems.
On a mission to change the way fine jewellery is perceived, Chow and his family launched 5 + 2, a jewellery brand selling lab-grown diamonds, in 2013. “5 + 2 is a feeling of confidence, creativity, comfort and class to inspire you to live life on your own terms,” he says. “I was inspired to get into lab-grown jewellery by the thought of all the jewellery people have locked up in their safes. Jewellery should be worn all the time. As Carrie Bradshaw said: ‘I like my money right where I can see it’.”
Today, the affordable fine jewellery brand is available for purchase on their website Weekdays and Weekends as well as at the Asaya at the Rosewood Hong Kong. Here, Chow tells Tatler about the intricacies of working with family, the role feng shui plays in 5 + 2’s designs, and his biggest guilty pleasure. Hint: it’s food-related.
What makes someone a real Hongkonger?
You don’t use the hashtags #homekong or #hongkonger on your Instagram.
Where did you study and what was your first job?
I studied at La Salle College in Kowloon for primary and secondary school and went to university in Switzerland to study luxury brand management. My first job was interning at Commercial Radio Hong Kong when I was 17. I was assigned to work alongside one of their most popular shows back then. I received the opportunity to interview people on the street, work with DJs, singers, actors and actresses. It was an eye-opening experience for a 17-year-old.
How did you make your start in the jewellery world?
Since I was a child, I’ve always been fascinated with Disney and have always wanted to be a princess. Growing up, I realised it might be less complicated to make myself a tiara than to marry a prince. Jokes aside, I’ve always been enchanted by gemstones. However, only those in the upper echelons of society can afford fine jewellery. I have always wanted my own brand: to create something that’s unique and something that addresses these frustrations.
Tell me about the name 5 + 2?
I want to create something that is fun for every day. I thought of five weekdays and two weekends. In other words, 5 + 2. Continuing this train of thought of everyday wear, the removal of the “+” from the equation is a reference to there being 52 weeks in a year. 5 + 2 also represents my family: five siblings and two parents.
What is your role in the company?
My role changes depending on the situation. I believe being an entrepreneur means being a jack of all trades.
What role does feng shui play in your brand and designs?
5 + 2 pays homage to a rich, ancient Chinese culture. The number five is often associated with the five elements of Chinese philosophy: fire, water, wood, metal and earth. This particular order of the elements is also synonymous with the days of the week sequence in classical Chinese. The character 喜 or xǐ, which means joy and happiness, can be compounded to create the character 囍, which means double happiness, blessings and unity. 5 + 2 and its respective collections of sustainable jewellery aims to bring harmony and balance to one’s lifestyle, perpetuated by age-old traditions and customs of East Asia. Not only does the inspiration of the name 5 + 2 come from Chinese culture but it is also carried through in the many designs of the jewellery collection. Anyone familiar with Chinese culture would know there’s an obsession with the number eight. Throughout our designs you can find emerald cuts and radiant cuts in reference to the homophonous relationship between the Chinese character for eight, 八 or (Bā), and the character that evokes wealth, fortune and prosperity, 發 (Fā).
What sets your brand apart?
There is a grey area between fashion jewellery and fine jewellery. I believe my brand has a very distinct positioning within lab-grown jewellery and Asian-inspired designs. However, just because we do everyday jewellery designs, doesn’t mean we are of lower quality than our mined counterparts. We are not sacrificing craftsmanship, material or quality. All our jewellery is made with 18k gold and has to fulfil criteria for colour and clarity grading. What really differentiates 5 + 2— in addition to our top quality lab-gemstones, craftsmanship, and heritage—would be our bespoke service. With 5 + 2, we want our clients to dream big and curate their own haute joaillerie without the extortionate price tag.
What role does your sister play in the company?
Emily is a geologist and gemmologist and her expertise differentiates our brand from others. She is our quality control as every single gemstone that is handpicked by her is of the highest standard in the industry.
Is it hard to work with family?
Working with family is the worst. 90 per cent of the time I want to strangle Emily. I am more of a people person, so I engage with all the stakeholders of the brand. Without Emily and her expertise in gemmology, our gemstones would never be able to achieve such high quality and standards in terms of colour, clarity and cut. I am more of a dreamer with crazy ideas and Emily is more rational, which keeps me grounded. This combination keeps our momentum going and ensures that we are able to stay at the forefront of consumer trends and designs. It’s the only reason we have made it work. If it was anyone else, I do not think I would have carried on.
In what ways is 5 + 2 sustainable?
Sustainability is the very essence of 5 + 2. Natural resources on this planet are scarce. Scientists foresaw the ethical issues surrounding mined diamonds and invented lab-grown diamonds back in 1954. Over the years, the improvement of technology has allowed the quality of gemstones to be adequate enough to be used for high jewellery. This has become a global trend. Apart from lab-created gemstones, many small aspects of our design ensure sustainability is at the forefront. For example, every piece of jewellery comes with a jewellery pouch that has two pockets and can be reused. The box that comes with it doubles as a jewellery box that can hold up to five rings or five pairs of earrings for better storage and protection.
What does a typical work day look like?
One of the reasons why I chose to become an entrepreneur is so that I can have a very flexible work schedule. Hence, there is not really a typical day for me. But I do have some routines that I’m attached to. For example, I walk Darling, my dog, for 20 minutes in the morning, followed by 40 minutes of fasted cardio. After my morning routine, the day unravels depending on what needs to be accomplished. Whether that’s private jewellery consultations with clients, conducting presentations on gemstones or personally delivering jewellery pieces to customers; there is no set agenda.
What is your favourite travel memory?
In 2016, I did a month-long solo trip to southern Africa. Two nights of my trip were spent at the Okavango Delta in Botswana, a very well preserved Unesco world heritage site. Anyone who knows me knowsI know nothing about camping. I did not read the itinerary carefully and that was my fault. The guide told us to only take the essentials with us as there wasn’t much space on the vehicle to the campsite. After two hours under the sun on a dugout canoe, we finally reached the campsite. I got so excited that I jumped into the river to cool down. Seconds later I heard screams from the locals. I was very confused as I did not speak their language, and minutes later, I saw my guide running towards me, shouting: “Nicholas! Leave the water! There are hippos and crocodiles!”
Besides your love for jewellery you seem to have a passion for good food too. How did your dedicated food Instagram account @feedmrchow come about?
I eat a lot and I eat everything. People were always asking me where I dine and I got tired of replying, so I just set up a food account. I take a picture of everything I eat and post it with a genuine review.
What are you hilariously bad at?
Mathematics. I am afraid I am not your typical Asian.
What is your one guilty pleasure?
McDonald’s chicken nuggets.
If anyone had to describe you in three words, which words would they pick?
He loves himself.
What is a common misconception about you?
That I can drink a lot. In fact, I get tipsy from a single glass of wine.
What’s the first thing you want to do once the pandemic has subsided?
Spontaneous travel. I just want to hop on the next flight to wherever.