De Beers revolutionized the diamond industry, and Mikimoto put pearls on the map. Jade may still be awaiting a shift of that scale in the modern jewelry customers’ mind, but a few brands have been trying to shake off its fusty image.
The stone has long been synonymous with Chinese culture due to a belief that it carries protective qualities, and traditionally it’s been found in jewelry form as bangles and pendants.
However, certain jewelers are taking a more design-driven approach to it now, breaking out of fixed motifs in an effort to appeal to cosmopolitan Chinese consumers and, at the same time, are optimistic it will shift to a bona fide global audience.
Hong Kong designer Dickson Yewn was sick of traditional jade jewelry — the kind that stuck to obvious shapes like the cabochon and rounded beads, or typical “Chinese motifs such as Guanyin, Ruyi, happy Buddha,” he said. Square and rectangular shapes are rare sights in the industry, he said, but the incorporation of those elements into his fine jewelry line, the prices of which reaches into the high five figures, has helped distinguish Yewn, finding its way to the former American first lady, Michelle Obama. While Yewn said the overwhelming majority of jade jewelry purchases today still emphasize the value of the material itself over the design, he has built up a clientele that looks for the unexpected.
Women mainly in their twenties to early forties frequent the studio of Choo Yilin. Just shy of a decade old, the brand, which sells pieces mostly in the range of 1,000 to 5,000 Singaporean dollars, or $730 to $3,600, often figures as part of an occasion purchase — be that graduation, a push present, or part of a wedding trousseau.
While the practice of proposing with an engagement ring is a Western concept, Choo Yilin offers jade options, a popular choice for couples who also want to represent their Asian heritage in their nuptials, in addition to earrings, necklaces and other styles.
The brand’s bestsellers tend to be the ones with very intricate work. “That’s why we know for a fact they are not just coming to purchase jade [stone],” Choo said. “They come for the design work. Some of our pieces, it’s very sculptural almost — three dimensional cherry blossoms, for example. They really, really like that — the idea is they can’t find work like that anywhere in this world.”
Lin Shiao Tung
Taiwanese jewelry brand Lin Shiao Tung is named after its designer, who has been in the industry since 1990. However, it wasn’t until 2000 that Lin created his own brand, adding a playful spin to the stone with signature products like the Eric Jade Bear series, inspired by his daughter’s childhood teddy bear, and other whimsical shapes like birds. The brand is available in department stores in Taiwan but also works with Eslite, the 24-hour book and lifestyle chain for a “store within a store” model. In 2015, it expanded outside its home market with shops in Hong Kong and Suzhou.
After a career with Hewlett Packard and Apple, Genevie Yeo started Gen.K Jewelry in 2014 and now sells online and via a shopfront on Singapore’s Scotts Road. Her designs, which range from about 400 to 2,000 Singaporean dollars, or $300 to $1,500, often infuse natural elements like flowers and trees. Bucking superstition that jade bangles should not be broken, Yeo cuts her bangles for a snap-on-and-off effect, making it easier for her clients to wear.
A good chunk of her business, she said, consists of reworking heirloom jewelry passed down in Chinese families, adding in various metal and semiprecious stone embellishments, although Western customers from places like the U.S. and Australia also show an interest. “My customers love lavender jade. It has a very feminine touch to it and has a more modern feel as compared to green jade,” Yeo said.