Fine jewellery is no longer exclusive to the French


The art of fine jewellery making is no longer the exclusive province of the French. Asian brands are proving that they can also create things of beauty, while one Swiss giant is helping to keep everyone up to standard.

169 Years of upholding French Savoir Faire

“The French touch is a unique sense of details, what we call le chic a la Francaise,” says Jacqueline Karachi, creative director of Cartier. It translates literally as French chic, and refers to something indescribable that brings a thing of beauty closer to perfection. Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of French jewellery is impeccable craftsmanship. Known for being pioneers – and masters – of at least half a dozen enamelling styles, they are also forerunners in metalworking and goldsmithing, with each maison of heritage claiming to be the leader in one or two techniques.

According to Karachi, one of Cartier’s main focuses is the selection and setting of gems. “We want to make the metal disappear to enhance the stones; it is important to set the gems so as to allow as much light as possible to enter each creation in order to achieve this,” she explains. This flawless execution has been key to bringing to life the creations documented in Cartier’s extensive archives. As one of the old guards of French jewellery, the almost-170-year-old brand boasts a rich heritage of style. From the Mughal India-inspired Tutti Frutti creations at the beginning of the 1900s to the art deco style that was popular in the 1930s and the rise of the three-dimensional animals in the 1940s, the maison has certainly been open to experimentation in its designs.

The spirit of experimentation continues today, but always with a healthy dose of respect for the brand’s history. “We are absolutely not afraid to use both modern and traditional tools to achieve the best results,” says Karachi. “For example, using computers to conceptualise designs allows us to achieve perfection in lines, especially when there are repetitive motifs. But the pieces are always finished by hand.

“In order for our designs to remain relevant in the modern day without losing sight of their roots, it is important to make the effort to transmit a little of our archival styles into each new piece. I have been working at Cartier for over 30 years and my mission is to share my knowledge with the design team to ensure that they continue to pursue the distinctive Cartier style.”


Dickson Yewn
Modern designs that encompass 5,000 years of Chinese history

He may have grown up in Canada and studied fine arts and business in Europe and the US, but Hong Kong-based jewellery designer Dickson Yewn remains fiercely loyal to his Chinese roots.

Half of his clientele are non-Chinese who appreciate the culture and history. One, a 15th generation descendent of a European noble family, recently commissioned a bejewelled snuff bottle with an estimated value of €50,000 (S$76,000). Besides snuff bottles, other objets d’art that Yewn has designed include a collection of imperial swords in 2014. When asked about the inspiration behind the collection, Yewn says with a chuckle that it was his birthday present to Emperor Qianlong of the Qing dynasty. “It was his 300th birthday,” he explains, adding that Qianlong was the biggest collector of bejewelled swords and had commissioned imperial craftsmen to make 30 swords and 90 broadswords in 1748.

Yewn is also an active speaker, having conducted panel discussions in private clubs in Hong Kong about contemporary Chinese designs in the fine jewellery and luxury fields, as well as seminars featuring similar themes for fine arts and design students in universities.



Taking style cues from the Maharajas

Walk into Temptations’ by-appointment-only showroom and one is immediately greeted by chunky uncut diamonds mounted on yellow gold and worked into lavish necklaces that easily cover half the wearer’s upper body. Uncut diamonds were made popular by the maharajas of India and are a particular feature of Indian bridal jewellery.

Most of Temptations’ designs, even those not in the bridal range, display an ornate flair that is typical of the genre. The distinct style is a nod to the ethnic background of the brand’s founders, even though it is based in Hong Kong, where the founders grew up. Michelle Buxani, her siblings and cousins, inherited the company from their mothers, who started it in 1996.

Family, traditions and sentimentality are the driving forces behind the Buxanis’ work. A significant part of Temptations’ clientele comprises old moneyed families in Hong Kong looking for heirloom pieces.

One noteworthy commission was a blue tanzanite set comprising a ring with a 13.88-carat stone and a necklace priced at S$480,000. The customer had purchased it for his wife, but the couple plan to pass it to their daughter when she comes of age.

“What drives me most is when I see the enthusiasm my clients have for the piece we are about to create,” says Michelle. “Some have ideas which may not suit them or be technically feasible. From discussing possibilities and sketching design drafts, I will eventually nail the look they have envisioned but were not able to articulate.”



A tribute to the unsung heroes of the jewellery industry

“Thais tend to be neat, very particular and pay great attention to detail. It’s evident in the complexity of Thai cooking and the beauty of Thai silk,” says Sitthidej Chavanaves, fourth-generation owner of Thai jewellery brand Chavana. “We are good with our hands and never rush to finish things.”

The last holds very true at Chavana, where the most complex creations can take up to a year to complete. Founded in 1914, the brand uses age-old techniques that are time consuming. Each hole the gems are set in is hand-polished with thread, and the back of the setting on every piece is openworked.

The most culturally significant technique used in Thai jewellery, according to Chavanaves, is metal piercing. It involves piercing a thin sheet of metal with a fine blade to create delicate, lace-like designs.

“The technique is believed to be taken from Russia following the establishment of diplomatic relations between king Chulalongkorn and Tsar Nicholas II in the late 19th century,” he explains.

Chavanaves believes that Thai jewellery will continue to grow and eventually conquer the international stage. “It’s an undeniable fact that the hands behind the creations of many international brands are Thai craftsmen. Thailand is not just a primary source of gemstones, but also the centre of jewellery crafting,” he enthuses. “We offer international customers an alternative of parallel quality.”



Introducing Swiss quality standards to the industry

The Gubelin brand began as a humble watchmaker’s shop in Lucerne in 1854. By 1923, it had grown to encompass a jewellery atelier and gem lab. Pivotal to the growth of Gubelin’s gems division is Eduard Josef Gubelin, a passionate gemologist who contributed greatly to the field and is respected as a pioneer to this day.

When Eduard felt dissatisfied with the instruments provided to him, he built his own – and thus is credited as the inventor of equipment common in gem labs today. And while others shunned blemishes in coloured stones and considered them flaws, he proved that when properly studied, they could reveal a gem’s origin, as well as whether the stone had been tempered by treatments meant to deceive. Today, the blemishes are embraced as proof of a gem’s authenticity and are referred to as inclusions. Eduard was also quite the traveller. He believed in visiting the sources of the stones and journeyed widely to build up an impressive gemstone reference collection. Eduard’s legacy continues today in the form of Gubelin’s extensive gem lab and academy.

The former is one of the world’s most respected institutions of its kind, while the latter has presence in Switzerland and Hong Kong.



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