The prodigious talent and output of jewellery designers Ilya Kluyev and Wallis Hong have the world in thrall. While Kluyev puts a modern spin to traditional jewellery design of his native Russia, China-born, Madrid-based Hong mines the arts for his dreamy pieces.

In this back-to-back profile, we look at the inspirations, thought processes, and insights from two of jewellery’s most sparkling talents.

IIya Kluyev: Upholding Traditions

If you’re yearning for nostalgic jewellery pieces that you can brandish on on extra-special occasions, you will be well-advised to turn to Russian jewellery designers who can blow you away with creations that reflect the unique aesthetic and the refined craftmanship of the old country. Among the sparkling names in the field is Cluev, known the world over and founded by Ilya Kluyev in the late 1980s.

Kluyev’s bond with jewelry began when he was in his early 20s and obsessed with finding the answer to the question, ‘What would you like to accomplish or create in life that your family would be forever proud of?’ “I needed a special challenge to which I could dedicate my heart and be obsessed with—something endless, bright, and extremely interesting,” he says with typical aplomb. “It was jewellery design that instantly echoed in my heart. I just felt an incredible attraction to it,” he says.

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Kluyev began his pursuit steadily but steered clear of the same route as the others – that is going to school to learn about jewellery design. Instead, he taught himself the rudiments of the craft while engaging his prospective clients in endless conversations certain that they held the knowledge of design and the refined taste that he was seeking.

“At the Cluev Jewellery House, we always stay in touch with our customers. We do this by understanding their lifestyle and the kind of jewellery they want to see,” he says.

Kluyev himself chooses the stones for all 300 unique pieces of jewellery that Cluev produces every year and provides the guidance and inspiration to the artisans who work for the brand. “I’m constantly learning, and I do have great knowledge of gemology as well as a good taste,” he adds.

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“Our jewellery pieces are an open book teeming with unforgettable treasures waiting to be discovered. They’re alive and they’ve a soul. We think each (customer) is unique, thus the jewels they wear should reflect their unique flair,” Kluyev says. His unique pieces recall the Russian style of jewellery design which he describes as “riots of the imagination, aglow with vivid colours, and exhibiting unexpected designs”.

“I think when we are referred to as the modern Fabergé, it refers to that special relationship towards our customers,” he says. “I love to dip into their experiences and emotions. It’s like being with your beloved girl whom you want to surprise and please.”

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Kluyev is inspired by the histories of the major Houses, of Cartier traveling to different countries with a suitcase filled with jewellery to show to its clients, of soldiers returning from the war and presenting their girlfriends with diamond Tiffany engagement rings, of Faberge’s attitude towards its customers. “I look at the world with my eyes wide open, and with a genuine interest and admiration for the creativity of people from different eras. And I’m happy to write my own page in this book,” Kluyev says.

“It’s good to know that jewellery is returning once again as a symbol of individuality and great traditions,” Kluyev opines. “I think women are currently fighting for their individuality because they’re tired of the mass-produced decorations being imposed on them by some big brands,” he says.

Kluyev rarely participates in high-profile haute joaillerie exhibitions. “We organise private shows in Russia and abroad and invite our customers and friends. These have become very popular events that are often talked about in society columns. The new jewels are shown there in the ‘uber atmosphere’ of friendly communication.”

Wallis Hong: Art’s Constant Ally

If sculptural pieces are what you fancy, and if you want them encrusted with sparkling gemstones, the brand Wallis Hong surely has something for you. Based in Madrid, the jewellery designer Wallis Hong hails from mainland China. Following in the footsteps of the world-renowned fine jewellery designer Wallace Chan, Hong is creating haute joaillerie that are often referred to as ‘art jewels’. His journey as a designer started six years ago following a futile search for a jewellery piece that suited his taste.

“This set me on a course to learn about jewellery design and materials in depth. I was also lucky to have visited around that time the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon, Portugal where I got to see some pieces by René Lalique, particularly the dragonfly-woman corsage,” he says.

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The experience left him with a strong emotional connection to jewellery. “It felt like something magical and divine. From there, my ambition to become an artist who creates pieces that transcend time grew even stronger.”

Today, each piece that Hong designs is drawn from his childhood memories but interpreted with elements of fantasy and futuristic style. He uses titanium, pastel-hued sapphires, rubies, tourmalines, and diamonds to give shape to his designs. “I like to define my work as psychedelic and futuristic with water shapes that allow me to pay attention to the colour of my materials. For me, expression through design and colour is far more important than the material itself,” Hong says.

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His designs are also heavily influenced by art, specifically sculpture and painting. “Taking art lessons from the Madrid Academy of Art gave my designs a whole new dimension. Sculpture makes me think more about the three-dimensional aspect of a jewel model, while painting makes me more sensitive to the colour of the gemstones.”

He is also inspired by abstract art and traditional crafts from various cultures, picking up ideas from his travels and museum visits. He admits that even the weed on the sidewalk may suddenly inspire the organic shape of a piece he is working on.

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At the GemGenève exhibition last year, Hong showcased a crocodile brooch inspired by the Eastern totems featuring an openworked jade carving. “The piece received a lot of positive attention from the visitors. My hard work really paid off when it was given the name ‘Nessie’ by Alexandra Blin Kourbatoff, a fourth-generation member of the Fabergé family. It was a historic moment for me,” he says.

Hong is now enjoying the fruits of his labour and has become a sought-after speaker among universities and jewelry trade fairs such as the Milano Jewelry Week and the Roma Jewelry Week. Following two exhibitions in Geneva, Hong was invited to speak at VicenzaOro, Italy’s biggest jewelry trade show, becoming the first Asian creator to speak in its 70-year history.

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He is also receiving invitations to collaborate with leading jewellery companies as well as inquiries from private collectors; even auction houses Sotheby’s and Christie’s have expressed interest in separate collaborations on some new pieces. There’s also an invitation to exhibit at the Grand Palais Éphémère in Paris in January 2024, he reveals. “I will be focusing on private collections and art fairs to unveil my latest pieces.”

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