Anita So of Hong Kong describes herself as a new-generation fine jewellery designer. A former financial regulator, So says she has always been fascinated by the beauty of jewellery, albeit having no background in the trade. This, however, did not deter her from pursuing her dream. In 2005, she left her job and took a graduate gemmology degree and a design course at the Gemological Institute of America, and a carving course in Taiwan.
This kick-started So’s colourful journey into the world of fine jewellery design.
JNA: How did your career as a jewellery designer start?
Anita So: This is quite a long story. My interest in jewellery started during my university days in London. At that time, my parents were not very keen with me pursuing a jewellery design course. They said it was going to be hard to penetrate the industry, which was dominated by family businesses, industry leaders and popular brands. They asked me to go into accounting and I did. But in my heart, I remained faithful to my dream. I graduated, joined a professional organisation and started working as a regulator. After several years, my interest in the financial field started to wane. I wanted to do something more fulfilling; a creative endeavour where I can freely express myself. I quit my job, took up jewellery courses and joined the jewellery trade. I worked in a diamond shop at the Mandarin Hotel for almost a year and subsequently started to design my own jewellery line, and join competitions and jewellery shows. Nowadays, my parents support me a lot. My father takes photos of my collections while my mother joins me during trade shows.
JNA: Tell us something about your company and design philosophy.
So: The company, Osatina Jewellery, specialises in fine jewellery adorned with diamonds, pearls and jadeite. I would describe my designs as an ideal mix between classic and modern concepts; they are one of a kind and unconventional. Before I design a piece, I always ask my client what kind of look she prefers and which materials she would like to use. In this way, it’s easier for the designer to fulfill whatever the customer wants. Designing jewellery has now become more customer-centric and customisable pieces have become the norm. Customers are in control of what they want in a jewellery piece. If I do my own pieces – like for instance, a competition piece – it may sometimes be difficult for a normal office lady to wear. It may be too big, bulky or outrageous to wear every day to work. If it’s for competition, it depends solely on me and what I want to do. I started all my designs with keshi pearls. I particularly liked them for their irregular shape; you won’t find two pieces with a similar shape. I then transitioned to round pearls and gemstones. Jadeite, diamonds and pearls are the dominant materials in all my collections.
JNA: Your designs are very avant-garde. What is the feedback from your customers?
So: Buyers love designer pieces but most of the time, especially now, they are not willing to splurge on a big-ticket piece. We have some items that feature a combination of traditional and non-traditional materials and these are not expensive. For instance, I made a necklace inspired by the ‘qipao’ or the Manchurian long dress. Qipao is usually worn with a pearl necklace. The Shanghai Renaissance Collection features decorative silk buttons that come in different colours and patterns, matched with freshwater pearls and cubic zirconia, or jadeite and diamond.
JNA: Who are your clients?
So: My customers are mostly from Hong Kong. I don’t get bulk orders often; I create one or two pieces of every design. I also have some European clients whom I meet at international trade shows. At the moment, we are not eyeing new markets. We want to target mainland Chinese buyers, but the competition is too stiff. It’s a very big market and we have to sort out which particular segment we want to tap. I definitely want to enter the China market but I have to do my research first.
JNA: What is your growth outlook in 2016?
So: The market dropped significantly in 2015; even the big brands and chain stores suffered so we also felt the impact of the global economic slowdown. But my strategy is to continue offering high-quality products because that’s what people remember. When they need go to a party or buy a present, they remember me and come to me. We also come out with fresh collections every now to then to keep our inventory attractive to clients.
JNA: How can up-and-coming designers contribute to the development of the fine jewellery trade?
So: Some people think I am quite brave to have pursued my dream even at a later stage. I was in a totally different field; I had a steady job and income as a public servant. I gave everything up and entered the jewellery business using my own savings. It’s never too late to follow your dream. My contribution is perhaps to serve as an inspiration to other people. Since I come from a different field, I’m also indirectly injecting fresh and progressive ideas into the jewellery business.