Anna Hu: “Being a Contemporary Jewelry Artist is to Use Colorful Gemstones to Create a Symphony of Jewels”
Please tell our readers a bit about yourself.
I was born and raised in a gemstone family where my father specializes in diamonds, sapphires, rubies, and emeralds, and my mother in pearls. When I was little, I had always stayed with my father, helping him sort all the different kinds of gemstones – that was the very first step in this world, and that is when I started to learn the beauty of gemstones and jewels from my father. His uncompromised commitment to presenting the best quality gemstone to clients has always inspired me and has been my promise to my clients too.
And when I was a child, I had always dreamt of being a solo cellist. I had a solid background in classical music training, specializing in cello. It has always been my dream to perform on stage by myself and be the best, so I practiced very hard every day when I was little. That was the only thing I focused on in my life back then.
However, at age 20, I hurt my shoulder practicing too much. The doctor told me because of the injury, I would no longer be able to be a soloist. It was such a huge shock to me, and I didn’t know what to do next in my life as God had taken away my most precious passion in life.
My father encouraged me to take a different path in life, telling me that I had always had a talent for gemstones and colors. Since I was born and raised in a jewelry family in which I helped my gemstone and diamond dealer father sort out stones from when I was little, and I have always been so full of imagination that I could combine all the cards I have in my hand to become a jewelry artist. Then I finished my studies in GIA, Parsons, FIT, and Columbia, achieving several degrees in 5 years. I started working for Christie’s, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Harry Winston before I founded my own Haute Joaillerie Maison.
As you said, you received classic cello training growing up. And you even performed with Yo-Yo Ma at the young age of 14. What is similar and different between these playing cello and designing jewelry?
When I was little, I dreamt of being a solo cellist and had a solid background in classical music training, specializing in cello. It has always been my dream to be able to perform on stage by myself and be the best, so I practiced very hard every day when I was a child. That was the only thing I focused on in my life back then. I’ve found this very similar to what I end up doing now – jewelry design as both activities need highly dedicated devotion and passion. My passion for both music and jewelry has inspired and motivated me to achieve the best, and this drive has kept me going on even during the most challenging times.
The ultimate goals of both activities are to create art and create something memorable that would bring joy and happiness to people’s life. For me, there is really not too much difference between these two activities. Still, suppose one really needs to find the differences. In that case, I’d say playing the cello is to use beautiful musical notes to compose, while being a contemporary jewelry artist is to use those colorful gemstones to create a symphony of jewels.
What inspires your creations? And tell us something about some iconic pieces chosen by celebrities like Madonna, Natalie Portman, and your experience at the Palais of Monaco in 2016 with Princess Charlène and Prince Albert II.
Everything I see in my daily life inspires me – nature, be it lilies, orchids, hibiscus, art, literature, culture, architecture, etc., anything! When I work on my design rendering, I love to be stimulated visually and acoustically at the same time. Nearly every piece of my creations can be associated with a piece of music or artwork that I put myself imaginatively in. I see, hear, feel, and create – that’s how I translate my inspiration into the design.
Madonna was my first “celebrity client” who I’ve always appreciated. She was looking for an iconic jewelry piece to wear to the annual MET Gala in 2009. Her stylist walked past my boutique at that time in the Plaza Hotel and invited me to Madonna’s private residence with my jewelry creations. When I went to her place, I wore my Edelweiss Cross Pendant, which has always been my lucky symbol. Madonna saw the pendant right at the moment when she walked into the room and requested to wear that exact pendant to the MET Gala. Of course, I was more than pleased to give the pendant to her!
As for my experience with Princess Charlène and Prince Albert II of Monaco is yet another memorable one. I was so honored to be invited into their Palace when I was there for the Bal de la Croix Rouge in 2016. Their hospitality and charitable hearts have also warmed my heart and constantly reminded me to give back to the world.
What is so special about your haute joaillerie creations? Where are they made?
All of my haute joaillerie creations are aesthetic, authentic, and artistic. They are with museum distinction created with rare gemstones at prestigious French ateliers. As we all know and agree, when you think about making high jewelry, few could compete with France. As of now, I have been working closely with 7-8 Parisian ateliers. All of them adopt the high craftsmanship standard and quality in bringing the most beautiful jewelry pieces to the world, as they all work with the big jewelry maisons, such as Van Cleef & Arpels, Harry Winston, Cartier, etc. as well.
I love sitting down with the Heads of Ateliers and brainstorming together how we could use the most advanced and creative techniques, using interesting yet challenging materials such as titanium, brass, and bronze to revolutionize the traditional idea of high jewelry. The process is very fulfilling for me. My ateliers always said to me, “Anna, we love your designs – they are so different from the mainstream maisons, and hence give us space to challenge ourselves in craftsmanship and techniques; yet every time when we work on a project, it is always so painful because you would push us to achieve something that we thought impossible. But once we finish, we’re always so inspired and can’t wait for the next project. You prove that nothing is impossible if you set your heart strong enough on your goals!”
Your Yin Yang Hand Ornament is now part of the permanent collection at Musee des Arts Decoratifs, and now you have been the very first Asian jeweler included in the Paris couture calendar, and you are invited to TEFAF Maastricht in both 2022 and 2023. How do you feel about it?
Those are such important moments in my life. I feel so honored and proud to be the cultural ambassador representing Asian culture on the international stage by sharing my Chinese-inspired art creations with the world and being recognized by Comité de la Haute Joaillerie and included in the Paris Couture Calendar.
I am extremely blessed that one of my creations is now collected and displayed in one of the most important museums in Paris – Le Musée des Arts décoratifs, which is internationally known for the richness of its decorative arts collections. I am also so grateful to my patron, Cindy Sherman, who unconditionally supports me and generously donated this piece to the Museum. She has a true vision of the arts. And one day, she came and saw me to imagine this very unique one-of-a-kind piece together, and I thank her for this.
I’ve always had this important mission in mind and have been determined to become the bridge between East and West, and I will continue doing so as long as my jewelry empire stands.
As a contemporary Chinese jewelry artist, describe what it feels like when your pieces break global auction records.
I’ve always felt so honored and grateful to have the blessing to represent Chinese culture through my jewelry creations and share it with the world. For every achievement or recognition I received, I have to attribute to my upbringing stemmed from the more-than-5,000-year of Chinese culture. I’m proud to be the cultural ambassador of China on the international stage by bringing my Chinese-inspired art creations to the world.
How and when did you move to Monaco?
I have been blessed and lucky to become a resident in Monaco in 2019. It’s been three amazing years here in Monaco. I feel so peaceful and am always full of joy and energy to create every day I’m here. Monaco is a country full of love – love of the people here, love of the beautiful sky-to-ocean blue, and love of endless inspiration for me. I love Monaco – many of my important collector pieces were all inspired and created when I was in Monaco.
Your work has been featured in exhibitions, such as the one at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in 2012, early on in your career, and has sold for fabulous prices at auction. How important was that international recognition of your talent not only to you as a jewelry artist but also as part of the Chinese diaspora?
Along the journey of my career, I’ve always felt incredibly grateful. My perseverance and efforts were seen and recognized by collectors from around the world early on when I stepped into the international jewelry field – this was very encouraging for me, as I was relatively young at the time but determined to make being a jewelry artist my lifelong career.
Being part of the Chinese diaspora, I believe I was born with this mission. I grew up being nurtured with China’s 5000 years of history and culture, combining it with my in-depth research in art history after studying in the US and many years of living in Europe – led to my unique style of creations with “East meets West” philosophy. I’m honored to be the ambassador that brings the two cultures together. With my work recognized internationally, I feel content knowing that I have contributed to the promotion of Chinese culture in the global art field. On a bigger scale, I truly believe eternal and classic “beauty” is not a matter of space and time, but “beauty” is simply a universal language.
Since 2019, you’ve worked closely with the power-high jewelry house – Moussaieff. What is it like working with Mrs. Moussaieff with all her breathtaking gemstones and soaking up her incredible knowledge?
I can only use “excitement” to describe my feelings while working with Mrs. Moussaieff. This has been the most inspiring moment for me since I founded the Maison 15 years ago. It’s like you’ve finally been able to work with someone who you’ve admired for the longest time, though thousands of miles apart, who is not only your mentor but also your idol. The sweetest thing ever happening to me is that we’re finally working together and creating something so beautiful. After all, she is a respected and important female figure that holds the title “Queen of Diamonds” in the jewelry world mainly dominated by men.
Her unparalleled wisdom, legendary life experience, rare gem collection, and unique vision of the beauty and value of gems – is like an amazing jewelry history book that spans across the century unfolding in front of me. It is like seeing another version of myself, or maybe I should say “future self.” I deeply hope that when I reach her age, I can still hold the same level of motivation and enthusiasm for gems as hers.
The most beautiful thing is that we both realize our passion for jewelry design. We don’t need to hide the fact that we’re workaholics. Regardless of our age and time difference, we often discuss and plan the infinite possibility of the coming day and night. This unique collaboration combines rare gems, exquisite craftsmanship, and one-of-a-kind designs. It is also an innovative integration of extraordinary gemstones and Eastern Chinese cultural design. Together, we start this fascinating chapter of the women’s jewelry empire. A collaboration like this can only make one so excited.