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To classify Anna Hu as an overachiever would be an understatement. The New York-based Taiwanese jeweler, who will open her first U.S. store at the Plaza today, holds two master’s degrees — in art history from Parsons The New School for Design and in arts administration from Columbia — and is an award-winning concert cellist. (She studied at the New England Conservatory of Music and has played alongside the likes of Yo-Yo Ma.) She’s also a mother of two.
Hu, 31, maintains that music was her first love, and her heart was set on stardom. “I didn’t want to be a chamber or orchestra player,” says Hu, who, while soft spoken, is not shy about her ambitions or accomplishments. “I always wanted to be a soloist.” Her career as center-stage cellist never happened, not for lack of trying — Hu’s grueling practice schedule, up to eight hours a day, resulted in tendinitis in her shoulder in 1997. With her musical options limited to a seat in the orchestra or teaching, she enrolled in summer school at the Gemological Institute of America, located at 580 Fifth Avenue, where her father, a diamond dealer, kept a Stateside office.
Indeed, Hu had a head start on her official stone studies. “When I was eight years old, I accidentally opened a door and saw lots of white rocks on a table,” recalls Hu, dressed casually — jeans and a big sweater — aside from an enormous seashell-shaped diamond ring that she twirls on her finger. “I asked my father, ‘What’s that?’ It was all so shiny, and what girl doesn’t like shiny things?” After that, when Hu wasn’t practicing cello, she was sorting diamonds by color, shape and size.
Such high-glam knowledge certainly came in handy when Hu decided to pursue jewelry in earnest, beginning with a formal education. After receiving her GIA certification, Hu enrolled in design classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology, where she met legendary Harry Winston jeweler Maurice Galli. Under his tutelage, she was designing her own pieces, many of them musically inspired, at age 25. “I started with something simple, shapes like a cello hole or music notes,” she recalls. “But my teacher told me it was too literal.”
Six years later, Hu, who two years ago opened an appointment-only salon in Taiwan and estimates that about 50 percent of her work is custom, prides herself on offering a rarefied experience along with rare gems. Treated stones simply won’t do. “In the industry, I’m known as the girl who asks for trouble,” she says, claiming that she has at times searched for years to find just the right gems to realize certain designs. Her collection ranges vastly from the approachable ($3,000 pieces) to the ultraluxe ($3 million pieces) and includes such flights of fancy as the Anemone ring, full of dégradé Kashmir sapphires and diamonds; the Pony brooch, studded with pink diamonds, and the Dancing Crane, an extravagant necklace full of black and white diamonds and Baroque pearls that converts into a bracelet and brooch.
While both Hu’s Taiwan and Plaza salons — the latter is projected to do $5 million in first-year sales — are oceans away from Paris, they are designed to emulate the elegance of Place Vendôme’s haute joailliers, and the attitude of at least one of them. She says she admires JAR’s Joel Rosenthal’s selective process and has turned away at least two prospective clients. “I like to know where they come from,” says Hu. “If someone is into comparing prices, then it’s hard for me to work with them. It’s all about chemistry. Certain people click with certain jewelry.”