The Chinese word for jade is Yu, and it is one of the oldest in the Chinese language. Its pictograph character dates back almost 3,000 years, but the deep affection of jade was inculcated into Chinese culture way before then. The jade bangle, for instance, is one of the oldest pieces of Chinese jewellery (at least four millenia), and is believed to ward off negative energy, influence good health and prosperity upon contact with skin, which in turn improves the colour and transparency of jade.
Confucius praised the translucent gem for symbolising goodness, loyalty, compassion, purity, intelligence and righteousness. Medieval kings used jade to decorate indoor areas as it was considered to be the imperial gem; its texture, hardness and smooth glossy lustre making it a treasured object in Chinese history.
In Hong Kong, where jade has been traded for centuries, the late Edward Chiu ― who hailed from a long line of jade traders ― started to fuse these qualities with modernist designs as far back as the 1990s. Initially, Chiu had no intention of pursuing his family’s business, but after he graduated from Parsons School of Design in New York in 1990 he realised he could combine his family’s expertise and jewellery craftsmanship with an internationally appealing flair.
The resulting designs are minimalist and geometric, even those that feature nature-inspired motifs. More distinctly, Chiu’s creations explore the rainbow palette of jade beyond the usual green. Black and white jade has, in fact, become the brand’s signature appeal. These monochrome tones, combined with traditional jade, has proven to be a successful juxtaposition, allowing the pieces to strike a balance and reach younger clients.
Growing up in Cheung Chau, a little island in Hong Kong, Chiu’s jewellery designs were influenced by an exposure to nature at a young age. He was once quoted as comparing his jewellery to paintings, saying that he designs from his heart and that each piece, when looked at, should give a sense of peace and relaxation.
For one of the brand’s latest pieces, a brooch in the form of a hummingbird design is just that: a work of art. This sweet bird of joy has been a symbol of courage, adaptability, enjoyment of life and lightness of being. The innate qualities of the hummingbird are translated in this piece ― captured in motion, paused in mid-flight, with its wing-tips raised high and free, and its long bill carrying a stalk of small red berries. Ivory white and black jade is used to craft its wings and chest while white gold and diamonds form the outline of the bird; deep red rubies take the form of berries.
The elegance of a swan is sculpted into another brooch. Yellow jade is crafted into feathers that coat the swan’s torso. The rest of the bird’s body is made up of white jade. And at the top of the swan’s lithe long neck sits a single red ruby in its eye centre.
Through such modern designs, Chiu and his successors have elevated the art of jade jewellery, creating a more contemporary aesthetic whilst keeping its traditional Chinese associations.
“When you are faced with art, not everything is square”, Chiu said. “You need to examine it closely to see the twist. It is the same with my jewellery”.
Image opener: Chiu’s designs are minimalist and geometric, even those that feature nature inspired motifs