Jewellery

HONG KONG COUTURIER BARNEY CHENG IS ALSO A RENOWNED JEWELLERY DESIGNER

by Lili Li
by Lili Li

Barney Cheng became acquainted with gemstones prior to his initiation into jewellery design. “We had Thai passports when we were younger, which required annual family trips to Bangkok, and it was in Thailand that my Mom took me to visit local sapphire mines, and I was gifted sapphire roughs and rejects from the polishing wheel.”

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On those workshop visits, he recalls watching the craftsmen intently as they brought fire and colour to the unassuming roughs. “Mom would always return to Hong Kong with several nice parures from each trip: cat’s eyes, star rubies and sapphires, rainbow-coloured gems, fabulous gold filigree bracelets, and massive 24K gold bracelets for gifting or self-use.”

Around the 1970s, Barney began accompanying his mother on her shopping sprees at local jewellers, and later on, in the ‘80s, to jewellery fairs where she would hunt down gems or diamonds that she liked and hand them over to K.S. Sze & Sons, her trusted jeweller, to transform into beautiful jewellery.

“My Mother also liked to source signed vintage pieces for gifting to family and relatives,” he enthuses. “My first attempt at design was with creating a pair of cufflinks and some studs for myself as there used to be many occasions for dressing up in Hong Kong.”

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Organic Growth

In 1993, Barney opened his design studio, creating bespoke apparel for prominent ladies in society in Hong Kong and around the region. His clients would often bring with them heirloom jewellery and ask him to update the pieces so that they would go perfectly with his bespoke creations. “That was how I started my jewellery design side of business—organically.”

A chance meeting in 2008 with Bonnie Brook, then a creative director, and Jennifer Woo, President of Lane Crawford, kickstarted the retail component of Barney’s jewellery business. “Both Jennifer and Bonnie loved my idea of wearing multiple pendants and crosses, and that sparked my first official jewellery collection that was sold exclusively at Lane Crawford,” he says.

Barney says his first collection for Lane Crawford as “very fashion-forward and less high jewellery”, and remembers that his palm-sized icy diamond floral brooches and butterfly brooches were sold out on the first day. “I was very lucky to be showcased alongside design luminaries such as Cindy Chao, Boghossian, and Buccellati.”

Staccato Scintillation

A graduate of GIA Diamonds Program, Barney is partial to modern step cuts. He claims they resonate deeply with him, particularly “’staccato scintillation’ of the cut’s broad-light refractions which bring a very different sensibility when they are worn.

“I also love mixing large-format portrait-cut and rose-cut diamonds as soft, shimmery backdrops to vivid coloured gems,” he reveals. “I guess my days at the University of Waterloo School of Architecture honed my eyes to design through negative spaces and appreciate three-dimensional structural design which I often incorporate into my jewellery.”

He describes his process as simple. “Either I come up with a concept first and then scour the world for suitable stones or start off by falling for a gem first and then grow the design concept around it – which happens more often.”

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Beyond the Big Day

Barney also considers the more practical aspects of owning jewellery. Although he starts out asking what a bride would like to wear on her big day, he is also keen to know how the piece can be worn afterwards. “Most of my pieces are multifunctional: a ring that can be a pendant, a multi-strand necklace that transforms into several bracelets, etc.”

He candidly admits loving “anything bling-bling”. “Many designers I’ve talked with wouldn’t touch lab-grown diamonds, but I’m not as fussed about whether the stone was hidden in kimberlite for billions of years or whether it was created in a lab in less than 10 days using solar energy. As long as it has looks of a super gem, I do not discriminate.

“I have designed jewellery encrusted with several mined diamonds and accompanied by certifications of origin,” he clarifies, “but I would gladly deliver the same designs in lab-grown diamonds if my clients request for it. Some of my clients delight in acquiring the very rare and impossible while the others see the value in brilliantly approachable price points. I cater to both with equal passion, giving them my utmost best.”

 

Collections In Contrast

Barney Cheng is working on two collections simultaneously – a 10-piece ‘gloriously green’ collection and a 15-piece step-cut fancy diamond collection. The first collection consists of different green gems including peridots, tsavorites, emeralds, tourmalines and demantoids. “It will be very simple, organic and modern, just like the fields of wild flowers on a breezy spring day in the Dolomites.

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“On the other hand, the diamond step-cut collection will be more architectonic with urbane minimalist clean lines. You can expect more buttressed diamonds and floating gems atop an arc encrusted with more diamonds.”

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