- by Heloise Wilson
SYMBOLS, LEGACY, AND A COMMITMENT TO STORYTELLING
JEWELRY DESIGNER LI HUANG VIEWS HER CRAFT AS A BRIDGE BETWEEN THE PAST, OUR PRESENT, AND THE FUTURE
Have you ever wondered why the heart shape (or heart emoji nowadays) was shaped like this? After all, it does not resemble the organ in any way. The origin remains unknown but heart shapes have been used in decorative art by ancient societies pretty much forever. Some older examples include a pendant embossed with a heart-shaped fig leaf. Ivy or figs were often used as a symbol of fidelity or fertility. It could be a lead. For modern jewelry designers, these ancestral symbols represent certain challenges: “There are so many limitations for fine jewelry, especially in the mass market. People are always asking for classic designs but with a twist. I can’t invent a new heart shape. How many new heart designs can designers come up with every year? These probably are the biggest challenges I have to deal with.” This is Li Huang speaking. Li Huang is a fine jewelry designer living in New York City, originally from Shanghai. After a B.A. in Product Design obtained in her native China, Li graduated with an M.F.A. in Jewelry from the Savannah College of Art and Design. Passionate about arts and crafts since childhood, Li had a natural disposition towards design. Her interest in diamonds and gems is what solidified her choice to pursue a career in the field. Her approach is technical but also poetic, rooted in storytelling and a soft spot for history as she states: “I am always fascinated by stories behind each piece of jewelry… I also believe jewelry can express who you are, and deliver messages.” It is true that jewelry is not a necessity, however, it has never been absent from our history, “It carries our emotions and dreams” she adds.
Rings designed by Li Huang for the Jared Vera Wang Love Collection
Upon moving to the US Li first worked for Signet Jewelers — the largest jewelry retailer in the US, UK, and Canada. It operates under various brand names such as Piercing Pagoda or Zales. She also created scalable designs for the bridal industry for brands such as Vera Wang, Ever Us, Love and Beloved, and Neil Lane. We had a peek at her collection for VERA WANG LOVE, a series of engagement rings featuring sapphire gemstones and diamonds. The process behind each design requires a lot of in-depth preliminary work: ‘’I ensured that all new designs maintained core DNA elements of the band. Fashion and trend awareness is key along with hitting ideal carat weights and price points.” she mentions when sharing her process with us.
To deepen her knowledge of the market and represent the various groups she designs for she has also traveled with the company’s VP to international jewelry trade shows. Her workflow oversees every single aspect from market research to design and handling logistics, she walks us through the overall demanding process: “I’ll start with marketing research (new fashion trends or jewelry trends). The Clients’ sales report is very important too. Next, I’ll come up with 2–3 new design concepts and put up a mood board or inspiration board. After discussion with the creative director and other team members, I’ll start working on actual designs. I do hand-drawing most of the time. They have to be drawn in actual size and very precisely. So buyers can estimate the diamond weights and pricing. For factories, they will create 3D models based on my drawings. After submitting designs, I am also in charge of approving CADs and samples.’’ She also brings up sourcing or diamond weight as a challenge, everything has to be deeply researched before a design is pitched.
Earrings designed by Li Huang for the Jared Vera Wang Love Collection
Li now works for Lab Grown Diamond developed by the company Rosy Blue Inc. With the Lab, she continues to work for the top fine jewelry retailers in the US, such as Kay Jeweler, REEDS, Helzberg, or QVC. She still focuses on designing jewelry in both bridal and fashion. This time, she works with diamond and gem manufacturers in India while conducting her marketing and design research in order to offer to her clientele delicate, dreamlike jewelry to mark their life’s milestones. After all, it is Li’s motto and she shares it with a smile: “I wish my jewelry could express love, preserve precious memories. I wish people could place their feelings or stories inside of my jewelry.” If you have ever opened a dusty jewelry box in an attic of a family member only to find treasures or if you consciously and lovingly picked a ring to offer a partner for a happy occasion, you know what Li is referencing to. Some items are simply extensions of our love.
Over the years, Li’s work has received quite a few awards and has been showcased in notable venues. Her first exhibition was the SCAD Jewelry Trunk Show, a curatorial sales exhibition hosted by SCAD Jewelry Department followed by a Season Exhibition from Whitespace Gallery in West Palm Beach, Florida, and the Crafts American 11th West Palm Beach Fine Craft Show in 2014. In 2015 she earned first place in 1st Place in the Earring Category at Atlanta Jewelry Trade Show Design Competition and was selected to represent the jewelry department at the SCAD booth at Cobb Galleria Centre, Atlanta, GA. Today you might purchase some of her creations at any store and online stores for the following brands: Kay Jeweler, Zale, Helzberg jewelry, or Reeds jewelry.
Sitting down to talk with Li was so informative, who knew fine jewelry making required such an extensive process! After her conversation, we are reminded of all the films, books, paintings, and other works of art that were based around earrings or necklaces. Such objects are at the core of our humanity and stories. Li knows this very well, as she concludes “I believe beautiful things will last long.” Her words echo those of the great novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe: “Gems are mineral flowers. They are the blossoms of the dark, for what they lack in perfume, they wake up in durability ‘” Li is right, some things last forever.