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Daring to be different
Published on Thursday, 19 Aug 2010
Cecile Tu wants her designs to be thought-provoking.
Photo: Felix Wong

Bold sculptural form is the signature style of Cecile Tu Ching-na's design. The founder and proprietor of cecile tu contemporary jewellery explores abstract concepts through her jewellery, which often features unconventional materials. Tu quit her teaching job at a secondary school to receive training in jewellery design and production in London in 1990. She completed a jewellery design degree at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in 1993, and obtained a master's degree in goldsmithing, silversmithing, metalwork and jewellery at the Royal College of Art in 1996.

How did you start your business?
I returned to Hong Kong in 1997 to explore the local market for contemporary jewellery. To save money for my studio, I taught arts courses six days a week. In 2000, I rented a residential unit next to where my family lived and set up a studio there. I was also encouraged by the fact that more than two-thirds of my early items were sold at a gallery in SoHo. I recognised my ability to create added value through design.

What were the turning points in your career?
I relocated my business to a first-floor shop space on Elgin Street in 2003 so that my customers could view the collections whenever they wanted. I later moved to a ground-floor shop on Aberdeen Street which attracted walk-in customers. My client-base expanded quickly, encompassing tourists, expatriate architects, designers and office workers. I have just bought a retail space in Sheung Wan.  It will provide a more stable environment for my design work.

How do you balance design, production and management?
I have an assistant who helps me look after retail sales. I want to be able to put as much time as possible into design work. I also subcontract production to workshops to minimise business risk. I go to exclusive jewellery craftsmen in Hong Kong for the production of higher-end pieces. Production of less expensive designs is contracted out to medium-sized workshops on the mainland.

What is the design value of your work?
At design school we were told to calculate the design value based on the time spent on research and development. After six years of operating my business, I began to identify the value of design of my work. If the demand persists for a particular design, this design will continue to generate income regardless of how old it is. The design value of a particular item can be multiplied by the number of years in which customers continue to purchase it. Some retailers launch new designs every month, while I sell the same ones for several years and only discontinue them when I feel bored with them.

What do you want to achieve through your design?
I communicate my thoughts through my work, and hope that my design provokes others to contemplate things such as life and characteristics of different cultures. Similar to other art forms, contemporary jewellery reflects the development of civilisation. I believe people can become more civilised and sophisticated if they appreciate contemporary jewellery.

What are your plans?
I would like to gain more international exposure and exchange ideas with other designers by participating in exhibitions elsewhere, such as London and Shanghai.

What's your advice for young people who want to enter the creative industry? They need to clearly identify the long-term market potential of their products. It takes confidence, perseverance and a vision for innovative product designs.

 


Highlights

  • Won the Selfridges' Prize to work with Dunhill (1996)
  • Awarded the 40 Under 40 honour by Perspective Magazine (2007) 
  • Commissioned by the University of Hong Kong to design and produce the gemstone-encrusted gold trowel for a foundation stone-laying ceremony (2010)

 


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