A Young Jewellery Designer with Exceptional Style and Great Promise
Once in a while a young jewellery designer comes along who completely shakes our perceptions about what art jewellery should look like and gives art jewellery a completely new path to go on. Gearry Suen is one such jewellery designer.
Gearry Suen, Winner for Overall Excellence from the Royal College of Art (RCA) and RCA Jewellery and Metal Designs, MA, crafts stunning jewellery pieces that are at once highly creative and very technically advanced in their design and craftsmanship. His jewellery pieces are contemporary, abstract and very confident. He draws his design inspirations from a wide array of sources, starting from Mother Nature and going into Surrealist Art. His one of a kind pieces are a joy to behold. They are unique, fascinating and speak to the viewer at a very visceral level.
In my interview with Gearry, we discussed his jewellery design and crafting processes, his love for very high quality coloured gemstones and diamonds and the new projects he is working on currently at Gearry Suen Jewellery, now that he has graduated from RCA.
Gearry, the jewellery pieces you have designed and crafted are absolutely breathtaking! Tell us a little about what led you to becoming a jewellery designer?
When I was very young, I loved painting and crafting things from clay. In fact, I used to paint on my wallpaper in my house. My father realised I should get professionally guidance so I started learning water colour painting and traditional Chinese ink painting. While I was studying how to paint, I got the idea that I did not want to make an art object that would only be displayed on the wall. I wanted to find some connection between the art and the human body. I wanted to create Art that would stay with you, that you could bring with yourself wherever you went. That is what made me think of doing something in art but not just painting. I also love minerals. There is something magical about them especially when you think about the people digging for them under the ground. My father collected many crystal minerals, and they were so unusual and beautiful, as if they were from another world. So, when I graduated from High School, I started to find out more about Art Jewellery which was different from traditional jewellery. In art jewellery you can put more art and design. The more I found out about art jewellery, the more I felt that I could do more with my inspiration and that I could create something that will make me really happy and excited. So, after High School I decided to study jewellery making or designing jewellery.
My hometown is Harbin, which is in the north of China, near Vladivostok in Russia. If we were to cross the ocean from there, the other side is Alaska. Harbin is a very cold place but winter in Harbin is beautiful. When the river freezes, we cut out chunks of ice from the river and make ice castles, sculptures, cathedrals. The lighting in the ice sculptures is controlled through the computer and at night it looks so lovely and very dreamy. My hometown was like utopia, giving young children so much artistic inspiration. When I was eighteen years old, I moved to London and learnt gemstone setting, wax carving and making rings. At nineteen, I started my university in London at Central St. Martins to do my Bachelor in Jewellery Design. After finishing my Bachelors, I started studying for my Masters in Arts at the Royal College of Art and in August 2020, I graduated. My course was called Jewellery and Metal and I studied making both jewellery and metal sculptures.
Everyone around me at these universities was very talented. Some of my classmates were much older than me and some were even jewellery teachers at other universities. However, they came to RCA to learn more and practise more. I learned a lot from my classmates.
You handcraft your jewellery pieces, but you also use VR headsets and 3D printing in order to fully bring your piece together. Please tell us a little about your jewellery design and crafting process?
Not all my pieces are designed with VR. But if for some pieces I have a connection with a sci-fi story, that’s when I start to use VR. Last year when I was at RCA, my classmates and I were just playing with Virtual Reality video games when I realized you could do a lot of sculptural work with one of the games. Other people used this VR programme to design monsters and heroes of the video games. This programme could create a lot of details by zooming in and you could create details at a microscopic scale. It made me realise the possibility of using this technology in jewellery design and it made me feel very excited for bringing this new technology into the jewellery industry, to support or inspire, jewellery making.
With this technology I feel like challenging myself- doing something fun and crazy but still making art which will become jewellery one day. I start with an inspiration or structure in my mind then I start with some brief sketches on paper, of different angles and sides of the piece. Sometimes, I start with clay models instead of sketches, to understand what the piece might look like in real life. After that I start a little research on the history of jewellery so I can understand how to link the metals, how to make the surface look better, just to find some technical support. If some projects come to require the use of VR technology, I use a programme called Oculus Median. With my VR headset on, I can create anything in the virtual world. Once I have the virtual model ready, l can print it into a special green wax which I can then manually perfect to the finest detail. After the wax model is prepared, I can then cast the model into titanium or gold or any other metal. Then I can polish it and start with the stone setting and finishing the piece. So, its like a combination of VR technology and hand crafting. The hand is our soul, it is humanity, so no matter how much technology or AI develop I don’t want to be totally dependent on that. When you make something by hand, in a way you give it a soul.
You surprise jewellery lovers by using beautiful but very non-traditional materials in your jewellery pieces. What are your favourite materials and gemstones to work with and why do you like them?
My favourite material to work with includes some precious woods which give the piece some softness and at the same time I also appreciate all the possibility that titanium brings. Sometimes if you want to design a big piece of jewellery, and you make the piece from gold it becomes very heavy and people find it difficult to wear. It becomes jewellery sculpture only. However, if you made a piece with titanium, you could plate it with gold, so the piece will still look like gold, but it is super light and super comfortable. I love rose-cut diamonds because they are a little thin and give you the feeling that you can gaze through them and you can see something behind them. Their thickness can create transparency and layers so it can be a playful material to work with. For instance, you can put rose cut diamonds next to old cut diamonds and brilliant cut diamonds and create a very interesting combination., I love conch pearls, they have a bubble-gum colour that is very fresh and futuristic, and I love the softness and smoothness of conch pearls. I also like Padparadscha sapphires, as their colour reminds me of conch pearl colours. I like all the colours of pearls, especially when I see them all together, but I really love dark gray, Tahitian black pearls. I also like Paraiba tourmalines, that greenish blue is very futuristic, like an energy crystal on an alien planet in a sci-fi movie.
Sometimes I work with a lot of different materials because I feel that my work has fluidity. I like to see things coming together and creating harmony- I want to find balance. Sometimes titanium is very colourful, but it also brings a very cold and hard feeling, but when I put sandalwood, opals and pearls next to it, it softens the hardness, bringing a balance.
About the Conversation Earrings, my inspiration was Time. We understand Time as linear – past, present and future. But to some people time can be a loop, the future is the past and the past is the future. So, I wanted to make something that brought both the past and the future together. I wanted to show how the past was inspired by the future and also how the future was inspired by the past, that they depend on each other. This is a conversation I wanted to talk about through my earrings…its like the past and the future are having a conversation and want to create something new together.
Your Conversation Earrings as well as your Chimera Earrings, are outstanding in every possible way! They bring together so many different elements, in design, in the philosophy behind the design, in the choice of materials and gemstones. Tell us a little bit about where you draw your inspiration from and how easy or challenging is it to translate it into a piece of jewellery?
About the Chimera Earrings, this pair of earrings was inspired by the Hieronymus Bosch’s painting, The Garden of Earthly Delights, where he painted the Garden of Eden as well as Hell or the Inferno. In the Eden Garden, there is a very strange animal, which looks like a Unicorn but could also be a deer, or giraffe. That made me think of the monstrous creature from Ancient Greece, the Chimera. In fact, some philosophers have speculated on what represents the 21st Century Chimera and have realised that it is an abstract symbol of unity, all the different ideas, sexuality, religions, nationalities, cultural backgrounds and even politics. So, everything together is just a chimera.
I also reflect through my own experience, as a Millennial or a Gen Z. We are born and living in different countries but thanks to the Internet, we know a lot about everything around the world. From an early age, we have the opportunity to move to different countries to study, to live, and explore. We meet many different people and I feel that we don’t represent independent cultures anymore, we represent everything that is happening right now. In a sense, we are a combination, a Chimera. That’s why I wanted to create these earrings, which I feel are like myself.
In these earrings you see a man’s eye in the jade carving, there is titanium, as well as rose cut diamonds. In China we carve a lot of white jade – it elevates the gemstone. I put all those elements together because I want to express the feeling that I am very open minded and that I contain all the ideas in me, and I just want the world to see that. It’s a very abstract theme and I wanted to express that surrealism.
One of my passions it to deconstruct jewellery that has already been made, and using certain elements as inspiration for novel pieces of jewellery. However, I also get inspiration from paintings and fashion photography. Some photographs look so cool, a very beautiful model in a very strange pose wearing edgy clothes can be a source of inspiration. Sometimes they add some sci-fi elements to it and sometimes a very vintage feeling and I want to capture all those colours, feelings and sensations into the jewellery. So, I try to find the gemstones and materials that match those colours and I also try to understand how I can transform a 2D photograph or a painting into 3D structural jewellery.
As a young and award-winning jewellery designer, who does not shy away from using new technology in jewellery making, what, in your opinion, is the impact of modern technology on jewellery making traditions and how does hand crafting fit into all this?
I feel that in the past some people allowed technology to become more dominant than hand crafting, forgetting that they are the designers and the real soul behind each piece. Also, depending too much on technology made them lose some very precious hand crafting skills. I feel that as jewellers we must learn the traditional hand skills first before we turn to technology, which should only help us accelerate the hand crafting skill. The hand skill is like a rope to climb to the top. Without it, you cannot reach the top and you will just lose yourself. We need to appreciate something from our history first, to educate ourselves before we feel strong enough to say that I won’t be lost by technology when I use it. Also, the more we learn about hand skills the better we will understand what hand skills can never do. In this way technology will help us do the things that hand crafting cannot achieve. We need to use the advantage of both sides to support each other. There are a lot of things that technology can never do. For instance, if you want to create something very organic and natural, technology can never do that. On the other hand, when you want to create something very accurate, with very microscopic details, the hand may not be able to do this, but with the help of technology it may be possible. So, you have to use the best side of each other to support each other.
What is your favourite jewellery piece you have designed and crafted so far and why is it so special?
When I start to design any piece, it starts to become my favourite. But when I start to make it, it brings me so many difficulties and challenges, making me struggle. It’s like starting a new relationship. In the beginning you love this person so much but when you are together for a long time, there will also be fights and arguments and those moments will make you question the relationship. Once I have finished the piece, I realise it’s not about hate or love. In relationships too, it’s about getting used to the good and not so good of the person, it’s about becoming a family. I really love all my finished pieces and once they are finished they give me a lot of memories, both bitter and sweet. They are family.
Gearry, when you got your award, what did it feel like?
There were three people who were supposed to win the award. So, when they were announcing, they announced the other two winners’ names first and I was telling myself that it’s fine and I almost closed the Zoom meeting but then they announced my name. My first thought was to call my parents and my friends. You know, this is the first real award I have ever won in my life. It has given me so much motivation!
Gearry, now that you have graduated from RCA, what projects are you currently working on and what’s next?
At the end of September, I participated in the Goldsmiths Fair. It was an online exhibition I made some pieces especially for it. In the UK it is a very prestigious jewellery exhibition and jewellery designers who hand craft their pieces are the ones who participate. I have been attending The Goldsmiths Fair for the past couple of years. I would go and see my teachers’ and tutors’ work but this year I was chosen, and I am so surprised and I was happy to have exhibited my jewellery at the same show as my tutors and teachers.
Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy day to answer my questions! Wishing you all the best for the future and waiting to see how you will continue to wow us with your stunning jewellery pieces!
Featured Image: The Conversation Earrings, Crafted with Titanium, 18K Gold, Antique Sandalwood, White Diamonds, Pearls, Padparadscha Sapphires, Emeralds, Spinels, Tanzanite and Coloured Diamonds.
All images used in this post are the property of Gearry Suen Jewellery. Any person or organization not affiliated with Gearry Suen Jewellery may not use, copy, alter or modify any of the images used in this post, without the advance written permission of Gearry Suen Jewellery.