Chinese jewellery designer Dickson Yewn combines contemporary chic with rich historical references – and is a favourite of Michelle Obama. Karys Webber meets him
“It’s akin to asking if one likes a pretty girl with no soul”, says Hong Kong-based jewellery designer, Dickson Yewn, in response to my asking about the importance of symbolism in his designs. “It wouldn’t be a piece of Chinese jewellery if it doesn’t represent something auspicious, important designs need to have a story and I have plenty of untold stories.” Jewellery that is designed simply to be pretty to look at, this is evidently not. And it’s really rather refreshing. Each of Yewn’s unique and exquisitely designed pieces aim to tell a story, his collections are lessons in Chinese history and culture, told via the medium of jewellery.
Born and bred in Hong Kong, Yewn started drawing when he was just nine; “since then I haven’t stopped learning about art nor seeking beautiful things,” he claims. His fascination with all things oriental also took a hold of him in his early years. “I was top of my class in Chinese history and literature,” says Yewn, “What’s more, I was in a Catholic school where only two subjects were taught in Chinese, the rest were in English, so Chinese became something of a rare gem to me.”
Despite this, Yewn went on to study elsewhere, in Vancouver first, then Ottawa, and ended up in Paris at the Sorbonne studying French literature and civilisation. Once his studies were completed, Yewn first channelled his creativity into the world of film and advertising; “I’ve always had a burning desire to express myself in some sort of medium, as a teen, film was my first love.” But after four years, it was his self-confessed “poor verbal communication” that prompted a change in direction. “Film and advertising demanded a lot of communication, so I withdrew to something more personal, some form of expression that didn’t require me to work with others. I picked jewellery design and fine arts.” With that, Yewn went off to study again, this time in New York, at the Fashion Institute of Technology where he completed two courses to master the art of jewellery design. By 2000, Yewn’s conceptual jewellery store, Life of Circle, had opened in Hong Kong’s trendy Tsim Sha Tsui district and swiftly acquired a dedicated and elite clientele.
Yewn gained the ultimate seal of approval from the first lady herself, Michelle Obama
Since then, Yewn has gone on to receive impressive worldwide acclaim – Life of Circle was named one of the top 25 stores in the world by Forbes magazine in 2005 (alongside fashion forces, Hermés, Manolo Blahnik and Ralph Lauren) and a collaboration with Sotheby’s in 2008 saw Yewn’s jadeite, diamond and melo pearl (extremely rare due to its vibrant, apricot orange hue) collection sell for a whopping HKD$5.32 million at auction.
More recently, Yewn gained the ultimate seal of approval from the First Lady herself, Michelle Obama, when she wore his Jadeite Diamond Wish Fulfilling Lattice Ring to a high profile dinner at Buckingham Palace in honour of the British Royal Family. “I didn’t know about it until a month after the event” Yewn declares, “a Danish jeweller congratulated me at a trade show and showed me a gossip magazine of her wearing it. I found out later that she bought it at Bergdorf Goodman in New York.” Despite not being one for celebrity endorsements, Yewn admits that he was thrilled; “to have Michelle Obama wear my creation at such a major event is definitely an important milestone and an influential one, given that she is probably the most powerful woman any woman could aspire to be.”
Still drawing inspiration from the rich culture of the Orient, Yewn’s recent Imperial Cage collection portrays the ancient craftsmanship of bird cage making and China’s long-standing tradition of breeding birds for display, a symbol of wealth, social status and power. Yewn’s homage to this ritual incorporates black and white diamonds to depict a birdcage and traditional Chinese flowers, chrysanthemum and plum blossom. The equally stunning Fragrance Locket collection tells the story of the fragrance pouch, stuffed with aromatic herbs and worn around the neck in ancient China, thought to ward off evil and bring good fortune.