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What a Gem: Chinese Jewelry Artist Dickson Yewn

In 2011, Chinese jewelry artist Dickson Yewn was relatively unknown beyond the confines of the most exclusive collecting circles. Then First Lady Michelle Obama was photographed wearing one of his rings during a state dinner honoring HM Queen Elizabeth II in the U.K. It was the celebrity moment that put him on the map: from that moment on, the Hong Kong-based designer’s name was as recognizable — and coveted — as other Chinese high jewelers such as Cindy Chao, Carnet by Michelle Ong, and Wallace Chan.

Dickson Yewn
Dickson Yewn

 

But if the name Dickson Yewn is not yet familiar to you, Yewn: Contemporary Art Jewels and the Silk Road, a new title from ACC Art Books that published earlier this spring, is the perfect introduction to his work.

Dickson Yewn Book Cover
Credit: ACC Art Books

Historical Influence

Within its 276 pages, you will discover how thousands of years of Chinese history and culture manifest in his designs. Noted author and jewelry specialist Juliet Weir-de La Rochefoucauld takes the reader on an intellectual, art historical, and sensual journey as she traces Yewn’s early career and rise to acclaim. Quotes and commentary from Yewn, and her own scholarly research, help the author to explain to readers how this unique artist is continually influenced by the trappings of the Chinese Imperial court—silks, embroidery, painting, architecture, porcelain, cloisonné enamel and more.

For example, square rings with geometric latticework rub shoulders with sautoirs inspired by imperial swords. Ancient silk fans lend their shapes and imagery to pendants set with bejeweled peonies, camellias, and plum blossoms. And Jade is a central feature of more than a few of Yewn’s jewels, including Mrs. Obama’s ring, owing to its deep symbolic meaning in Chinese culture.

Dickson Yewn Ring

Floral Lattice Moon Gate ring in black rhodium-plated gold with jadeite, diamonds, pink sapphires, and tsavorite garnets | Credit: ACC Art Books

Butterfly Dreams

Butterflies are also a passion point for the designer. Since 2015, he has been creating a series of 60 butterfly shoulder brooches that mimic how the creatures appear in nature – limiting the series to 60 butterfly types relates to the importance of the number 60 in Chinese astrology – a full sexagenarian cycle represents a new beginning.

Each jewel is a faithful representation of an array of exotic butterflies, rather than the “poetic, stylized versions seen throughout the history of jewelry,” writes Weir-de La Rochefoucauld in the text. Immortalized to spectacular effect in the book, the brooches are also inspired by “The Butterfly Dream” by the ancient Daoist/Taoist philosopher Zhuangzi Chuang-Tzu (369 BCE–286 BCE).

In Yewn’s own words, presented in pull-quote form in the book:

“The reason I am doing this is to give life to my desire to protect and speak out for the misunderstood and mistreated creatures. They are one of the two most used design motifs in the world alongside flowers. Why are flowers in jewelry so faithfully imitated and yet for butterflies, they are butterflies of the imagination and not those from nature?” – Dickson Yewn

Dickson Yewn Brooch

Apollo butterfly shoulder brooch in mandio wood detailed with oil pigments, black rhodium-plated gold, white gold, and sterling silver with black diamonds, onyx, brown diamonds | Credit: ACC Art Books

 

Dickson Yewn Brooch

Orange Tip butterfly shoulder brooch in American ash wood detailed with oil pigments, black rhodium-plated gold and sterling silver with ice diamond, black and light brown diamonds, and onyx | Credit: ACC Art Books

Miniature Monuments

One unique aspect of the book is that the designer himself served as its artistic and creative director. As such, each page has been thoughtfully composed to convey an idea, capture a feeling or otherwise immerse you in the design themes that inhabit Yewn’s mind. Images and photographs of ancient vases, screens, snuff boxes, and textiles are placed alongside the jewels that were inspired by them so that the reader can better appreciate how each jewel is a miniature monument to Chinese culture and history — with a contemporary twist.

Some truly spectacular examples, plucked straight from the book’s pages:

Dickson Yewn Ear Pendants

Glorious Peony Jadeite ear pendants with diamonds in black rhodium-plated gold and white gold | Credit: ACC Art Books

 

Dickson Yewn Bangle

Peony Pavilion bangle in black walnut wood, mother-of-pearl, black rhodium-plated gold and yellow gold with tsavorite garnets, yellow sapphires, and diamonds  | Credit: ACC Art Books

 

Dickson Yewn Bangle

Cloisonné Flower bangle in black rhodium-plated gold and yellow gold ink with yellow and blue sapphires, tsavorite garnets, and diamonds  | Credit: ACC Art Books

Dickson Yewn Jewelry

Imperial Sword sautoir II in black rhodium-plated gold, white gold, and yellow gold with white jade, tsavorite garnet, brilliant- and rose-cut diamonds, cabochon rubies and sapphires  | Credit: ACC Art Books

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