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An ecstatic venture

By Fiorence Chan

Austy Lee (photo) sat across us at a posh display showcase inside his boutique in Sheung Wan for an interview in early July. His all-black poise, with a pair of biker boots, a kurta shirt and military pants, accented the lustrous gem-set gold jewellery on him.

The Hong Kong-based designer established his namesake brand aUSTY LEE and the shop in 2017, after gaining substantial experience and skills in the industry for over 20 years. During his days with internationally-acclaimed names including Adler, Lane Joaillier and Wendy Yue, he had the luxury to assume different roles in the companies from merchandising to jewellery design, stone-setting and brand building where he managed to evince his unbounded creativity and innate business talent.

Immerse oneself in a psychedelic state of mind, savouring the profound visual impact from Austy Lee’s jewellery which comes as an amalgam of religions, gothic art, European styles and art deco. “My jewellery pieces are no ordinary ‘jewellery’. I’d rather say they’re more of decorations or fashion items. I use forms quite different from others thanks to my product-design background,” he told Hong Kong Jewellery.

Contrary to the city’s mass-produced generic styles for export, Lee’s fantastical jewellery is handcrafted, one-of-a-kind and usually set with oversized gemstones. “In my creation process, design always comes first. Considering the complicated nature of our products, we have our own atelier right across the street, while some of the production are done in the Mainland,” he said.

Colour plays a pivotal role in Austy Lee’s jewellery. He saves no effort to make use of a wide variety of exotic coloured gemstones to create a bold colour-blocking effect. “We aspire to create fine jewellery for everyone. The gem materials we use are all natural. We won’t go for the most expensive species in order to keep the prices reasonable and approachable,” he said. Besides white diamonds and ‘the big three’, jade, tanzanite, opal, moonstone and coloured diamonds are never out of sight on his jewellery.

What makes Austy Lee’s jewellery highly recognisable is, apart from the psychedelic colours of the gemstones, the vivid shades of the metal which is easily mistaken for titanium. While many jewellery designers are fans of the prevailing trend of titanium, Lee stays loyal to gold for most of his creations.

“Titanium is strong, lightweight, highly corrosion resistant and does not tarnish easily. It may be anodised to create a variety of bright colours. However, it is difficult to remake, repair or resize titanium pieces, which is quite a disadvantage for everyday jewellery like mine. I prefer using rhodium-coated 18-karat gold and silver for the best aesthetic and practical results. After all, it still takes some time for people in the city to really understand and hence appreciate titanium,” explained Lee.

His unorthodox approach to design has gained admiration overseas as well. For instance, upscale department stores including Harrods and Harvey Nichols are carrying his jewellery in the UK.

A keen advocate of creativity and craftsmanship, Lee keeps himself abreast of the latest development in materials, technology and skills to explore more possibilities in jewellery design. In 2017, he was invited by the Hong Kong Baptist University to lecture on jewellery design.

He stresses that an extensive and systematic course is fundamental to jewellery design. “We need a thorough understanding of different materials and manufacturing skills. I feel obliged to share my inspiration, knowledge and experiences in design and merchandising with the younger generations, broaden their horizons by learning from celebrated designers around the globe, and encourage them to think out of the box,” Lee said.

Sometimes we need a moment of hallucination to see the light beyond the dark, the joy under the pain. Take a stride in Austy Lee’s psychedelic universe and travel between delusion and reality. (Photo courtesy: aUSTY LEE) 

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