A look at three rising stars in the jewellery world who have found novel and innovative ways to set themselves apart from the crowd.
We’re all too familiar with the dazzle of the jewellery world’s old guard – we’re awed as much by their heritage as by their creations. The downside of having a centuries-old legacy to preserve, however, is that there’s little room for disruption, something that every industry – including jewellery – needs.
There is no better time than right now to shine a light on three brands that have set themselves apart by doing things a little bit differently. From a designer who created a platform to provide goldsmiths and artisans with a voice; a young jewellery artist who is carving her own path with a unique way of crafting jewels; to a family-owned jeweller with a passion for unconventional materials and concepts, these players are changing the game.
Hemmerle has a storied, 129-year history, and to this day remains an independent family-owned business that’s now run by Christian Hemmerle, the fourth generation, alongside his wife Yasmin and his parents Stefan and Sylveli. While Hemmerle’s roots can be traced to the 1890s as jewellers to the Bavarian royal court, it managed to stay relevant by making a 21st century pivot into a role as creators of pieces crafted in rare stones and unorthodox metals, with skills that have been handed down from one generation to the next. Launching in Asia this year, it has become one of the most exciting maisons to watch.
“We experiment with unconventional materials not just to be different, but to develop an ideal and resolved creation that reflects our ethos. As a family, we always seek to innovate and push the boundaries of what we can achieve,” Hemmerle says. All its creations are produced at Hemmerle’s Munich atelier by its 20 master craftsmen and three apprentices.
“Hemmerle has worked with unique materials for decades now including 17th to 19th-century micro-mosaics defined by the highest levels of craftsmanship,” explains Hemmerle. The mosaics historically have 3,000 to 5,000 tesserae per square inch, and are paired with aluminium that has been patinated to reflect blue hues in perfect balance between the contemporary element and the artefact that defines the brand’s aesthetic. “Such material combinations complement each other in a perfect symbiosis, an exercise that in many instances, requires us to research new elements within our visual vocabulary. No two Hemmerle jewels are alike, and no combination of materials is the same.”
Innovation as much as transmission is a value held highly at Hemmerle. He adds, “With the third generation at Hemmerle, we revolutionised our aesthetic and pioneered our creations as distinctively identifiable, and now with the fourth generation, we are steering the company into an even more international arena as a German house of great heritage with our goal set in innovation and experimentation.”
Hemmerle produces only 200 pieces each year, as its artisans will sometimes spend up to 500 hours on a single creation. This level of exclusivity has made its pieces highly sought after and presented only at select art fairs and in private viewings around the world, including in Hong Kong.
Since day one, Feng J has always identified herself as an artist more than a jeweller – a creator of contemporary jewellery art, if you will. And just six years after starting her eponymous brand, she has not only stayed committed to this credo, but she’s also managed to carve out her own signature style. It didn’t take very long for the jewellery world to take notice.
Artistry is in her blood; her great grandfather was a painter in the courts of the late-Qing Dynasty. Unsurprisingly Feng J formulated her own “painterly” style with a “floating” setting technique that uses special double rose-cut gems, which are thinly sliced (1 to 1.2 mm in width) with unique facets that result in astonishing reflection that highlight the hues, lighting, and shadows of the piece. “When I create a jewel, I approach it as if it were an oil painting; the jewel is my canvas, and gems my paint,” she explains. This highly complex technique also makes the stones appear suspended, giving the jewels an almost ethereal weightlessness.
A piece that beautifully demonstrates this technique is the Feuille de Ginkgo brooch, which is inspired by Claude Monet’s work. “The blooming garden encapsulates my ‘painterly’ code, and I use the double rose-cut gemstones to make an Impressionist-inspired jewel and apply the ‘floating’ setting to make it look like the gems are suspended,” Feng shares. “As a child, I studied Chinese water ink painting and I developed a deep appreciation and passion for Impressionism when I studied in France. This East-meets-West fusion was very impactful for me and would come to influence my work.”
So stunning is this piece that the Musée des Arts décoratifs in the Louvre in Paris has made it a part of its permanent collection. “I am the only jeweller from Mainland China to be part of this prestigious art museum, also the youngest among numerous centuries-old maisons and masters, and for that I am proud but also humbled,” Feng says.
Feng expresses that she strives to create stand-out jewellery art pieces for the 21st century and from what we see, she’s poised to do just that.
Yve Chan found a gap in Hong Kong’s jewellery scene, and he created DAWN Jewellery in 2019 to fill it. While the city has long been known as a hub for jewellery trading and prestigious auctions, Chan, himself a designer, gemologist, and craftsman who hails from a family of jade merchants, felt that goldsmiths and jewellery artisans did not have a voice. “I believe there should be representation for these industry experts in sharing the true value and story behind a piece, and hence DAWN was founded,” he explains.
A platform that encompasses jewellery retail brands, a gallery, and programmes (many held at Sunsmith, Chan’s newly minted workshop, a stone’s throw away from Hysan Place in Causeway Bay), DAWN aims to transmit the value of jewels through craftsmanship. Inspired by art and history from diverse cultures, DAWN represents more than 15 local independent designers and leading overseas brands in Hong Kong that share the value of exceptional craftsmanship.
“It acts as a bridge between the makers and the public, letting people have access to knowledge of the techniques and cultures behind the craft, and not just from artisans in Hong Kong but from all over the world.” Meticulous curation plays a big part in DAWN Jewellery’s value proposition. Each piece, artisan, or goldsmith featured on the platform is the crème-de-la-crème, so to speak, carefully chosen because they can stand on their own with their distinct style. “We’re goldsmiths ourselves, so picking and curating these partners is like making friends; we all share the same values and beliefs and are naturally drawn to each other,” Chan says.
Going beyond customisation, Chan offers in-person experiences with his platform, following on the trend that customers want more than just traditional bespoke service, and instead have the desire to develop a deeper understanding of the craft. He adds: “To satisfy this desire, they get involved and participate themselves through various workshops and exhibitions, and at DAWN we can fulfil that need.”
Originally published in ECHELON Issue 8