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Jade Renaissance: How Austy Lee Reinvents Jade Jewellery

The Hong Kong designer fuses contemporary aesthetics with Eastern concepts

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Amid the gleam and glamour of high-end jewellery, designer Austy Lee emerges as a consummate alchemist. His jade jewellery creations represent a sublime interplay between ancient Eastern traditions and contemporary designs, all while fostering a newfound appreciation for jade, an often-misunderstood gem.

Deeply inspired by his Chinese heritage, designer Austy Lee has always been drawn to jade, making it an integral part of his jewels.

As a Hong Kong-based artist, Lee draws inspiration from the labyrinthine streets of his vibrant city and weaves narratives of both cultural lineage and innovation into his art jewels. His foray into jewelled art began in his youth when his mother gave him a jade talisman as a gift.

This emblem of protection, steeped in centuries of tradition, thus became the catalyst for his creative journey. “Raised by a traditional Chinese family, I’m constantly inspired by my heritage and have always been drawn to integrating jade into my designs,” Lee says.

That first jade talisman kindled a lifelong fascination with the gemstone. Determined to challenge the notion that jade was antiquated and monotonous, Lee set out to rejuvenate its image.

“As a Hong Kong jewellery designer, I try to incorporate jade with different elements and colour forms to contemporize it and demonstrate how the gemstone can be fashionable and appreciated by a broader audience,” he says.

Leyline of Dragon bangle, crafted in yellow gold with Burmese green jades, Sri Lankan blue sapphires, tsavorites, fancy yellow diamonds, and white diamonds.

Lee’s path to becoming a jade jewellery designer was a journey of varied pursuits. Initially embarking on a career as a graphic designer and illustrator in 2003, he eventually earned a diploma in product design. This phase was pivotal in developing his unique perspective. He also credits much of his foundational skills in jade jewellery design to the teachings of his uncle, a skilled artisan who educated him in the intricacies of bone teeth and jade carvings, as well as of artifact and antique restorations.

His time at Adler Jewellery in Hong Kong was another transformative chapter, significantly shaping his career track. Here, Lee refined his expertise in 3D rendering, material selection, and practical application, forming a solid foundation for his future endeavours in jade jewellery design. This wealth of experience was instrumental in the 2017 launch of his eponymous brand, which has since gained acclaim for its extraordinary craftsmanship and designs.

Left: Dawn earrings, made in yellow gold, set with Burmese white, green, and yellow jades, fancy yellow diamonds, and white diamonds. Right: Ring of Fuxi, crafted with yellow gold, set with Burmese green and purple jades, and fancy yellow diamonds.

Eclectic aesthetics

Lee’s designs are a vibrant showcase of his diverse inspirations and innovative techniques. “I experiment with various materials like enamel and colour inlay to enhance jade,” he says. His skill in composing intricate designs from smaller jade fragments also highlights his talent for elevating the mundane to the magnificent.

The designer’s inspirations are as varied as the pieces he creates, drawing from his religious beliefs, ancient myths, diverse cultures, and the natural world. Each design is imbued with symbolism and significance. “My designs often feature Art Deco and avant-garde styles,” Lee says, noting his fondness for geometric shapes and classic beauty, all enhanced by creative decorative methods.

For Lee, colour is a critical tool in bridging modern design with enduring traditions. “I carefully select colours to ensure my contemporary designs respect traditional values and Chinese cultural heritage,” he says. The frequent use of red in his creations, embodying good fortune and happiness in Chinese culture, exemplifies this approach. Traditional Chinese motifs, like knotting and chrysanthemum patterns, weave through his collections, further anchoring him to his rich cultural background.

Polaris with Purple Vibes necklace, made in rose gold and set with Burmese orange jades, Sri Lankan unheated purple and pink star sapphires, black enamel, blue sapphires, and fancy coloured diamonds.

Universal appeal

Lee’s vision extends beyond the elite circles of jewellery connoisseurs. He aspires to make high-quality jewellery accessible to a wider audience. “When I launched my brand, I wanted Austy Lee’s jewellery to be owned not just by the upper crust but also by every single family from different levels of society,” he says. His commitment to affordability, without compromising on quality, has democratized luxury jewellery.

Lee has also contributed significantly to today’s changing perceptions of jade. “More and more people tend to love carved jades,” he says. This shift is evident in the growing variety of jade carvings and the expanding palette of jade colours like lavender, bluish-green, and yellow, which are now appreciated by a broader clientele.

Top left: Cube of Blue-Peonie Ripples earrings in white gold, set with blue and yellow enamel and white diamonds. Top right: Swizzle Stick for Gems earrings, in yellow gold with Burmese imperial green jades, yellow enamel, fancy yellow diamonds, and white diamonds. Bottom right: The Ganesh’ Bead ring features Burmese green jades, mother-of-pearl, onyx, tsavorites, blue sapphires, and champagne diamonds. Bottom left: Akomeogi Dansu earrings in white and yellow gold, set with Burmese orange and green jades, black and blue enamels, rubies, blue sapphires, and fancy coloured diamonds.

Describing some of his notable creations, Lee shares insights into The Swizzle Stick for Gems earrings from the 10th Dimension collection. “The centre stone for the pair of earrings is a cabochon imperial jadeite, commonly used in traditional jade jewellery. I [then] incorporated contemporary design techniques—using yellow enamel and colour-plated gold,” he says.

Another collection that stands out for Lee is The Cube of Blue-Peonie Ripples earrings from The Kymatismós collection. “The ripple effect of the blue and yellow enamel is inspired by Chinese landscape painting,” he says. The black rhodium-plated 18-karat gold in these pieces evokes the imaginative spaces often left blank in Chinese ink paintings, creating a visual parallel between traditional art and modern jewellery design.

Lee’s ultimate satisfaction comes from people’s understanding and appreciation of his designs. “I feel most satisfied when my customers understand my design concept, seeing the story behind it,” he says. His ambition is for his creations to become integral to his customers’ daily lives, accompanying them in all their endeavours.

This story is from Magnifissance Issue 123

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Inspired for a Beautiful Life

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