Spotlight on the Contemporary Designers Taking the Jewellery World by Storm

Spotlight on the Contemporary Designers Taking the Jewellery World by Storm

From the use of resin and aluminium, to precious stone designs that are truly a work of art in its own right, these are the contemporary jewellery designers everyone should know.
From the use of resin and aluminium, to precious stone designs that are truly a work of art in its own right, these are the contemporary jewellery designers everyone should know.

E stablished jewellery maisons such as Cartier, Boucheron and Van Cleef & Arpels have pioneered innovation and creativity in the jewellery industry since the 1900s. Helmed by skilled artisans, they push creative boundaries and challenge established conventions to create jewels that combine the newest techniques with savoir-faire.

Fast forward to the 21st century and the landscape has evolved thanks to the emergence of a new generation of trailblazers who are carving a niche for themselves with their unique artistry and use of avant-garde materials.

Drawing inspiration from other creative disciplines such as art, architecture and even music, this group of independent designers have injected a fresh creative energy to the industry; their creations are worn by connoisseurs and collectors but also take pride of place in renowned art museums and galleries across the globe. At their hands, jewellery design has become a respected art form.

With their unwavering passion and talent, there’s no doubt that this group of designers will continue to redefine contemporary jewellery.

Feng J

Based between Paris and Shanghai, jeweller Feng J originally wanted to be an architect but eventually decided to study jewellery design at University the Arts, London followed by Haute École de Joaillerie in Paris. Although only in her mid-30s, she is already considered one of the industry’s brightest young stars. Like many of her Chinese contemporaries, Feng, whose great-grandfather was a famous imperial court painter during the Qing dynasty, draws inspiration from her Chinese heritage to create her ornate and decorative bespoke pieces. Although her references tend to be more traditional, her techniques and style sides on the more experimental. Carbon, aluminium and golds in various colours are used alongside rare precious stones such as sapphires and Burmese rubies. Also noteworthy is her now signature “floating setting” technique which features overlapping gemstones set in a framework of gold to create a painterly look that is reminiscent of Impressionist artists.

Wallace Chan

Jewellery artist Wallace Chan’s oeuvre is far reaching. He started out as a gem carver in 1973 but is internationally respected as an artist and sculptor, with many of his works featured in the permanent collections of the British Museum and the Beijing Capital Museum, and solo exhibitions across Europe, including Venice, London, and Copenhagen, among others. He was catapulted into the global spotlight when he became the first Chinese-born jeweller to exhibit his work at prestigious art fairs like the Biennale des Antiquaires, although he has had a loyal following among collectors for decades. All of Chan’s creations, jewels or otherwise, reflect his personal beliefs and spirituality. His Zen-inspired designs explore his Chinese heritage and feature common themes and motifs such as horses and cicadas. His love and dedication to his craft has resulted in the creation of numerous groundbreaking techniques and materials. The Wallace Cut, an illusionary three-dimensional carving technique, is showcased in creations such as the Cicada diamond and mother of pearl brooch which features opal and lapis lazuli with carved amethysts atop and carved rock crystal wings. More recently he launched The Wallace Chan Porcelain, a material that is five times harder than steel.


Michelle Ong Cheng | Carnet

Carnet founder Michelle Ong Cheng is another well-respected jeweller carving her mark on the contemporary jewellery scene. Cheng takes inspiration from her native Hong Kong to create meticulously crafted jewels that showcases elements of East and West. Like her mentor Joel Arthur Rosenthal, this self-taught designer is known for her artistic creations – some can take up to four years to complete – and many have been spotted on Hollywood celebrities such as Kate Winslet and in blockbuster films including Crazy Rich Asians. Much of Ong’s designs reference classic themes such as European art and popular symbols like fish and flowers. These are brought to life using specially selected materials such as titanium, or rose-cut and briolette diamonds, resulting in soft yet feminine pieces. Her Zephyer Jade ring for example highlights prized Imperial Green jadeite surrounded by diamond encrusted cloud motifs which appear to be floating. Thanks to her distinctive style and meticulous attention to detail her pieces are highly coveted.

Cindy Chao

Taiwanese jeweller Cindy Chao’s designs also celebrate nature in all its glorious forms. She has been described by many as a jewellery artist and her stunning creations have been showcased in prominent museums such as the Smithsonian in New York and Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. Chao takes a more architectural approach to her work resulting in sculptural, three-dimensional pieces that are both intricate and delicate with an exquisite attention to detail. Butterflies crafted from rubies and diamonds appear as though they are taking flight while a floral diamond and ruby ring features undulating petals pavé-set with circular-cut rubies and stems made from yellow tinted diamonds. Highlights from her oeuvre include the Four Seasons collection which features various permutations of leaves, branches, stems and flowers, while her collectable, limited edition Black Label Masterpiece pieces are individually named and numbered.

Joel Arthur Rosenthal | JAR

Chief among them is American designer Joel Arthur Rosenthal, who established his brand JAR in Paris in 1977, and is considered a pioneer by his contemporaries. While his designs tend to reference common themes such as nature and mythology, each piece stands apart thanks to its unexpected forms, which range from classics like snakes and butterflies to the more daring, such as his iconic Leek brooch. His bold use of colour, often in the form of vibrant graduated coloured gemstones, is another signature. He is also known for incorporating unconventional materials into iconic creations. Standout pieces such as the La Dame Aux Gardénias and Geranium Ear Clips feature resin and aluminium which has been sculpted into stunning earrings. JAR remains elusive and exclusive. Each piece is unique and created for a specific client. As such, the maison produces only 100 pieces per year in its Paris atelier, making it highly sought-after by collectors.

Anna Hu

Anna Hu is another Taiwanese jeweller whose pieces are museum-worthy. The daughter of gemstone dealers, she was on the way to becoming a virtuoso classical cellist before an accident abruptly ended her dreams. She decided to revisit her childhood passion for gemstones, and went on to study jewellery making for several years before launching her own label. Hu’s poetic creations reference her passion for art, specifically Art Nouveau and Impressionist periods, and her love for music. The latter is evident in creations such as the 100.02 carats fancy yellow diamond necklace which is modelled on the pipa, a Chinese musical instrument, and the stylised cello brooch which is set with jadeite cabochons and yellow diamonds. Hu compares her design process to creating a piece of music, with each element, from the setting to her choice of stones, working in perfect harmony. Her couture-like creations also blend Eastern and Western aesthetics: Oriental themes and motifs from the basis of her designs, which are then brought to life using European craftsmanship and cutting-edge techniques.

Shaun Leane

British designer Shaun Leane has also made waves thanks to his creations that blur the boundaries between jewellery, fashion, and art. He trained as a goldsmith in London’s Hatton Garden for several years before embarking on a highly successful collaboration with fashion designer Lee (Alexander) McQueen designing and creating jewellery for his runway shows for 17 years. Many of these pieces, which include sculptural body jewellery, were auctioned for more than US$2.5 million during a landmark sale with Sotheby’s in 2017. Leane’s distinctive style combines traditional techniques with an edgy, avant-garde sensibility. Many of his dramatic pieces explore the fragility of nature and themes such as tribalism, and the cycle of life. Highlights include the Crown of Thorns headpiece made from silver, while items such as tusks and pheasant claws are transformed into elegant yet edgy earrings and necklaces.

Viren Bhagat | BHAGAT

India’s rich jewellery history is an eternal source of inspiration for Bhaghat, one of the country’s most famous jewellers. The Mumbai-based house is now run by third-generation family member Viren Bhaghat, who is intent on moving away from the brand’s legacy of traditional gold jewellery. Bhaghat takes inspiration from contemporary Western influences such as Art Deco architecture and combines them with classic Indian forms and motifs to create contemporary Indian jewellery. A self-professed “gem whisperer”, he works exclusively with traditional precious stones such as diamonds, emeralds and rubies which are then set in platinum. One rare ring featured an oval ruby weighing 13.26 carats embellished with two rose-cut diamonds on each side. His creations such as the Exquisite Jade, Diamond and Ruby Brooch combine traditional Indian jewellery making techniques with a more modern sensibility.

Kaoru Kay Akihara | Gimel

Japan is a country more commonly associated with pearls than diamonds, but native jeweller Gimel is fast changing that perception. Founded by Kaoru Kay Akihara in 2002, the brand’s atelier is based in Mount Rokkō near Kobe, an area renowned for its natural beauty. It is here that the brand’s artisans find most of their inspiration, as they watch the seasons change and different floral and fauna come to life. Gimel’s creations speak to the beauty of nature. Although more minimalist in design, each piece exudes a sense of whimsy, while a meticulous attention to detail highlights the brand’s exceptional craftsmanship. Iconic pieces include a sleek platinum wire necklace which is finished with a detachable white and pink diamond cherry blossom brooch embellished with a sapphire caterpillar. Another playful pendant is modelled on a golfer in full swing, which is set with brilliant-cut and tapered baguette diamonds.


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