"Anything new, from any corner of the world, can be my source of inspiration; constantly adding value, constantly creating novelty, my life is filled with endless colours."
This is the epigraph to the roll-call of prizes won by Eva Shiu, a renowned jewellery designer who, since 1998, has amassed over 30 local and international awards in jewellery design. Eva has been in the profession for almost 14 years, of which 12 were with Chow Tai Fook Jewellery, where she is now a supervisor in the research and development department.
"I am glad to be working with a major jewellery company in Hong Kong, and one that gives me full encouragement and support to take part in jewellery design competitions," Ms Shiu says. "Large jewellery companies can afford to display their award-winning jewellery on the catwalk and at roving exhibitions, making the most of their investment and the effort of the designer. On the other hand, small jewellery companies in general do not see a great return from taking part in these contests."
Ms Shiu's company, Chow Tai Fook Jewellery, has a rapidly growing presence on the Chinese mainland. They started opening shops in China less than four years ago, and now they already have about 200 shops in many cities, including remote markets like Urumchi. However, their workshop in China is close to home - in Sha Tau Kok, Shenzhen. This is also where she works.
"The jewellery designer does not work in a vacuum. He or she must work closely with the workshop to make sure that every step in the production process is in adherence to the design," she explains.
As a supervisor, Ms Shiu's role goes beyond design work. "Now I don't need to do the design drawing myself except when I design for competitions. My role is to gather inspiration for my staff, and to guide them in their design work. On top of this, I need to keep abreast of changing market trends and customer demands," she explains.
For career advancement, a designer needs to have a solid background in gemology
"Design trends are constantly changing; they vary with time and place. Broadly speaking, jewellery in the past was more complex and elaborate, and often tended to have an imperial feel. Today, designs have a much more simplistic look. In terms of customer demand, Westerners are fond of Chinese motifs, and jade jewellery has a particular appeal to them. On the other hand, customers from the mainland do not go for the Chinese feel, because they can easily get it back home. Rather, they like Western design concepts with a taste of novelty," Ms Shiu points out.
"Even within Hong Kong, shops in different districts have different product mixes. Our shops in, say, Kowloon City have a more localised clientele, whereas our shops in Tsim Sha Tsui must cater for the more diversified tastes of tourists from all corners of the world.
Designed to succeed
What does it take to be a successful jewellery designer? "Primarily, a jewellery designer needs to have a keen interest in design," Ms Shiu explains. "Today, unlike in the past, he needs to be able to carry out computer-aided design, or CAD, on top of manual drawing. While manual drawing can be done faster, CAD can give the viewer a more three-dimensional perspective of the piece of jewellery designed, and it also streamlines the workshop procedures. CAD, however, is complicated and takes at least half a year of constant practice to fully master the skill.
"For career advancement, a jewellery designer needs to have a solid background in gemology. You need to know your materials very well, and in the jewellery business, you are in touch with a dazzling variety of gems. Strictly speaking, every gem has its unique personality and a good designer brings out the best of each stone.
The jewellery market in China is growing fast, and has a great appetite for imaginative jewellery designs. A number of Hong Kong based jewellery companies have set up offices and workshops on the mainland, and there are good opportunities for Hong Kong designers to go north. As jewellery designers need to work closely with the workshops, there are more and more openings in major cities as a growing number of workshops move across the border to enjoy lower operating and space costs.