Over the past decade, the designs of the acclaimed Taiwan-born jeweller Anna Hu have been worn by stars including Oprah Winfrey, Scarlett Johansson, Hilary Swank, Naomi Watts, Emily Blunt and Madonna. In 2013, Hu’s Orpheus jade ring sold for $2.59 million at Christie’s Hong Kong, breaking the world record for a Chinese contemporary jewellery artist at auction.
From 3 to 13 July, Christie’s will offer three unique pieces of jewellery designed by Hu in an online sale, with all the proceeds going to the families of healthcare workers who lost their lives fighting against Covid-19.
First up will be a necklace of fancy colour and colourless diamonds, fashioned in 18k white gold and 18k red gold and centred on a 27.02-carat Fancy Brown-Yellow diamond. Also offered are a 18k red gold ring with fancy colour and colourless diamonds, centring on a 1.59-carat Faint Brown diamond, and a pair of earrings, each one centred on a pear-shape 3-carat diamond.
The brown and colourless diamonds were mined in Yakutia, a region in the far east of Siberia, and were provided by Diamonds That Care, a social responsibility initiative from the world’s largest diamond mining company, Alrosa.
To mark the event, Christie’s talked to Hu about her career and the inspiration behind the three jewels.
When did you develop an interest in jewellery design?
Anna Hu: ‘I was born into a diamond-supplying family and my father is a gemologist. So it was fate that I would be a second-generation child in the jewellery and diamond industry. But I actually trained as a classical cellist.
‘I was accepted into music school and majored in cello — until I injured my shoulder aged 18. To raise my spirits, my father secretly signed me up to a Gemology Institute of America course in the same building as his office in New York. I fell in love with it during my first class.’
What was your early career like?
‘I completed an internship at Christie’s and two further jewellery-related degrees at Parsons School of Design and Columbia University. My first job was at Van Cleef & Arpels — I adored its history and craftsmanship.
‘My background in music is what differentiates me from other jewellery designers. I don’t design jewellery — I compose jewellery’
‘Then, one day, I received a call from an executive at Harry Winston. I hadn’t lived in Asia since I was 14, but they wanted me to develop their jewellery archives, and open stores in Taipei and Beijing. Between them, Van Cleef and Harry Winston taught me everything, from sourcing a stone to the design and production of a finished piece.’
Why did you decide to start your own brand, Anna Hu Haute Joaillerie?
AH: ‘While I was pregnant with my first child, I took some time to focus on myself as a jewellery artist. As a student, I had studied 18th- and 19th-century jewellery history, from Lalique to Cartier. They all have such revolutionary iconic pieces, and I wanted my own voice in the history of jewellery.’
Tell us about your first boutique in New York’s Plaza Hotel.
AH: ‘I was celebrating my birthday with Maurice Galli, a designer for Harry Winston, when he told me that the Plaza Hotel was opening a space for a boutique jewellery shop. The first contract was for two years — I thought that if I didn’t like it, I could always go back to working for a big company.
‘I was young and inexperienced, but I was firm in the belief that I would make beautiful jewellery and the boutique would survive.’
How many pieces of jewellery do you make a year?
AH: ‘It depends on the scale and technology involved, but no more than 30 pieces.’
Does your background in music influence your designs?
AH: ‘My background in music is what differentiates me from other jewellery designers. I don’t design jewellery — I compose jewellery. Each note is equivalent to a gemstone, the melody is the curve of the line, the harmony is the combination of colours, and the rhythm is the technology in the details.
‘I have never designed anything without looking to classical music. For this project with Alrosa, I was inspired by Rachmaninov’s ‘Piano Concerto No. 3’. When I designed the earrings, for example, I was imagining the sound of the jewellery moving, creating a percussive sound.’
How did the project with Diamonds That Care come about?
AH: ‘I presented some of my jewellery at an exhibition at the Moscow State Historical Museum, where I met an executive from Alrosa. Soon after, they got in touch about a charity project for Covid-19, and asked if I would be interested in designing a special set of jewels to launch Diamonds That Care. I said yes immediately.’
How long did these three designs take to produce and where did you make them?
AH: ‘Normally these pieces would take eight to twelve months, but we made them in a month and a half.
‘I hand-picked the very best jewellers in Paris to create these three pieces, and their craftsmanship and undivided attention to detail — from the early computer CAD stage, right through to the hand-making of every part of the jewels — enabled us to realise them incredibly quickly.’
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What was the inspiration behind the designs?
AH: ‘I thought the designs should be heart-shaped as a symbol of love. When I asked Alrosa what kind of diamonds they had in mind, they said brown — but I think they are more like a Champagne-peach colour. These stone need to be seen — they’re very attractive.’