Accessories play a “dot the eyes” part in fashion styling. Come again? “Huà lóng diǎn jīng (画龙点睛)” is an idiom meaning to “dot the eyes of the painted dragon”, the Chinese icing on the cake, so to speak. Temper Magazine’s Minyoung Lee explores the past, present and future of China Jewelry, with her selection of five must-watch brands to add that finishing touch!

Accessories, in their very nature, mostly pursue a rather aesthetic and expressive purpose rather than a protective one.

“Dotting the eyes,” by Chinese visual artist Zeng Fan (范曾) .

Whereas a garment has taken a vow to remain faithful to its practical role in protecting human bodies from the wild and harsh conditions randomly cast at them by the environment, accessories, in their very nature, mostly pursue a rather aesthetic and expressive purpose rather than a protective one. The first ornaments ever to have been retrieved in such fashion are figurines or statuettes, crafted from the bones or teeth of animals, and hail from the Upper Paleolithic Age [some 50,000 to 10,000 years ago]. China being that very big, older brother, too, has a lengthy story in fashion to share; a story in which you can easily find a chapter brimming with bobby pins, earrings and bracelets.

About Dynasties And Social Fees

Take the famous Terracotta warriors of Xi’An, for example. Even these guys are boasting various accessories. Their showing a little accessorizing love doesn’t mean that the soldiers actually loved to spruce up battle gear, but signifies how every tchotchke back in the day was far from a mere shiny or flamboyant piece of luxury and more of symbol representing social and/or private status. A precious metal social fee, so to speak.

Chāi (钗) from the Qing and Ming Dynasties. Courtesy of LBobo
Chāi (钗) from the Qing and Ming Dynasties. Courtesy of LBobo

In China, punctured stones and bones, apparently the first accessories, were excavated at the Zhōu Kǒu Diàn (周口店) or in plain Latin the “Homo Erectus Pekinensis Site” near Beijing. The Shang Dynasty (second millennium B.C.) and its subsequent Zhou successor, aka China’s Bronze Age, featured remarkable metal crafts and casting skills. A little jewelry fun fact of the day: The traditional hairpin (Zān (簪), Jī (笄)) saw the light of fashion during the latter dynasty. As its primary purpose was to firmly fix hair and (official) hat together, the Zān could be used to refer to the social identity. For women at court, there was also the Chāi (钗), one hairpin formed of two separate fragments.

The art of decorating did not end with a pin or a quick fix back in the day either. In ancient China, jade symbolized good fortune and the defeat of disaster. Accessories of the period were quite the statement symbol and often resonated with a shamanistic theme. Building up a collection of Chinese jade was particularly prominent across the middle and southern areas of what we now call the Middle Kingdom, whereas the nomads tracking and trekking the grasslands up north preferred pure gold.

Qing Enamel. Courtesy of Huitu
Qing Enamel. Courtesy of Huitu

The Manchu Qing (1644-1912), then, proved to be China’s last dynastical fashion shout. This dynasty had a way of dressing and wardrobe styling all of its own. The Táng Zhuāng(唐装), a type of Chinese jacket as well as an overall wardrobe reference encompassing the qípáo (旗袍) dress, sprouts from this time and the notorious practice of foot binding soared in popularity turning tiny shoes based on barbaric soles into one giant social status orientation. Furthermore, people of the Qing Dynasty showcased a penchant for louder, grand and more glamorous decorations thus encouraging a trend of very noticeable enamel. Until the dawn of Republican China in 1912, trinkets, pearls and ornate silver accessories were living the high life.

China now has the fastest and the most furiously growing demand for small and shiny gems.

Chow Sang Sang Goldbars
Goldbars. Courtesy of Chow Sang Sang

About Jewelry And Shopping Sprees

The big turnabout took place in the late 1980s. Recognizing the massive potential of the field that is jewelry, the newly installed Chinese government began to allocate copious amounts of resources to the accessory industry, christening it “official handicraft art”. By the 1990s, with a few imported accessory labels brought in to boot, the Chinese began buying into the concept of “The Brand”, with Chinese tastes some 20 years onwards shifting gears at the speed of light. Allow me to add a proven “statistic” here for the lovers: China in 2002 had the world’s highest demand for platinum jewelry – though admittedly that demand soon faded. Moving on, in 2016, China became the world’s largest consumer of gold – though admittedly that consumption pattern dropped by 7 per cent less than a year later.

China now has the fastest and the most furiously growing demand for small and shiny gems. According to the Diamond insight report 2017 by DeBeers group, the Chinese diamond jewelry sector managed to triple in size within one decade, facilitated by the rising growth of third-tier cities and the millennial generation who like to treat themselves to diamonds more often than the nation’s middle-aged ladies.

Accessories made in China to this day maintain their spirit of chinoiserie, using the staple China Red 中国红 or retaining in their designs traces of Chinese tradition such as roof tile patterns or the symbols of the evergreen tree, the peony, and so traditionally forth. Chinese jewelry brand Chow Sang Sang (周生生) in 2013, for example, released gold bars with the engraved drawings of the carp (鲤鱼送福), the nine dragons(九龙腾飞), as well as several paper-cutting art (马年中国剪纸) motives. And thus we arrive at SS18.

SCREW Designer Pollia was one of the designers starring on “Creative Sky”, a fashion designer contest on CCTV6.


About Five Brands And Accessories

Temper Magazine presents you with five Chinese accessory brands dug up by yours truly from treasure chest that was SS18 Shanghai Fashion Week!

Angs Jewelry Studio
  1. Angs (谙诗)

Angs defines itself as a “lyrical poem”. Founded by two jewelry designers, Wang Qian 王谦 and Zhang Shaofei 张少飞, who used to design for the big houses like Swarovski, Angs started out in 2005 as a mere Weibo account — @angs设计小学, now renamed 谙诗. The two graduates from the China Central Academy of Fine Arts are also the collaborating designers at the Cultural and Creative Center at China Art Museum.

2. YIN(设计饰)

“There is nothing more exciting than simplicity,” says this brand. Yin specializes in handmade 18K gold jewelry of minimal design. Two Ogilvy colleagues, Dora and Ayur, founded the brand since they couldn’t find one what they were actually looking for. Each one of the brand’s collections and lines takes on the tag of “Yi”, “Yin” or “Ying”, all related to the brand’s name — including the YINgagement ring (yīn (姻) means “marriage”). These consumers-turned-designers publish regular stories about their wearers on the brand’s official WeChat account: @YIN设计金饰.

3. Yàn Yù(艳钰)

Yàn Yù devotes itself to development of the imperial hand-crafted art and Chinese intangible cultural heritage “Filigree Mosaic (Huā Sī Xiāng Qiàn,花丝镶嵌),” which carries some 2000 years of history. The brand cherishes the value of the Big Eight Artcrafts (Yān Jīng Bā Jué, 燕京八绝) from the long gone days of the Yanjing – former name for Beijing — Period when the city was deemed a fashion capital. It also employs the traditional Chinese concept of the twenty-four solar term (èr Shí Sì Jié Qì,二十四节气) to create its collections. Long story short: They aim to make the Filigree Mosaic great again.

SCREW Design

4. SCREW (Sì Wù,肆物)

Screw is a highly cost-effective brand displaying humble yet intricate accessories, loved and worn by many a Chinese celebrity. Designer Pollia (杜若) herself already is a famous figure for her appearance, being called the “beautiful designer” and generating an abundant fan following on Weibo. Convenient as proven by the fact that she does her own brand-modeling. She was one of the designers starring on “Creative Sky”( Chuàng Yì Xīng Kōng, 创意星空),” a fashion designer contest TV show on CCTV6. Every one of her concoctions is infused with a witty anecdote.

YVMIN Studio

5. YVMIN (尤目)

YVMIN Studio stems from the teaming up of two CAFA — Central Academy of Fine Arts — graduates, fashion designer Lǐ Mín (李忞) and jewelry designer Zhāng Xiǎo Yǔ(张晓宇). Carrying affordable price tags, the brand seeks out all beauty possibly related to the human body and calls itself a “total body decoration lab.” Though the kitsch accessories take their motives from everyday life — like food, insects and school life – the designers say that the fantasy of surreal space and the curiosity for the future (world) provides them with an endless source of inspiration.

There’s no time like the present and China’s jewelry designers are making their way onto covers and celebs from Shanghai Fashion Week to Cannes to Amsterdam. Their future is now. Nevertheless, one must always bear in mind that whilst the right piece can dot the outfit i’s, overkill will hurt the eyes. And whilst triple ear cuffs may be trending again in 2018, beware before you wear!

The design lies in the details and the look in the accessories. In finishing things off, Temper encourages all to put on that thinking top hat and leaves you with the following to ponder: “Trendy is the last stage before tacky,” Der Karl. Quite the social fee to pay.

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