In the waiting room
What is a sentiment and what is its elusive value? Or is it, perhaps, not elusive at all?
Jewellery is the most stable currency known to man, it was what, on many occasions, saved the lives of aristocrats fleeing from revolutions in both France and Imperial Russia. Despite its stable monetary value, jewellery is, also, a sentiment. Whether it is an engagement ring from Sarah Zhuang or an antique restored crown, jewellery is a vessel filled with memories, anecdotes, stories and even scandals.
Welcome to the safe room
Jewellers Sarah Zhuang, Alexander Laut and Dr József Takács reflected on the true value of jewellery and its potential as an investment.
GAHSP Media had the chance to interview all three Creatives one-on-one, creating a fictional room, the safe room, that stows away treasures and makes it possible for the answers to form a conversation and build a full perspective.
DrTJ: I was seven in 1967, when my parents met goldsmith Lajos Bartha and his wife. At the time, there was an engraver’s workshop on the street next to our house, where I could watch him work for hours through the large shop window. A nice profession is the engraver, the master said, “what the goldsmiths do is even more beautiful; there are 30 different professions in it alone, and some of them deal with gemstones”. That statement decided my future.
SZ: I grew up in a family that has been in the jewellery business for over two decades. After my mother retired, my sister and I took over the family business. Our family business was more traditional and mature, so I decided to launch my own brand to really express my design philosophy.
AL: The stones and the jewels were always my passion. The turning point of my career was when I met the son of Harry Winston, Ronald Winston, who invited me to work at the time as a consultant. I spent some time with him, as you can imagine I saw the most amazing and incredible jewellery. At some point, after I stopped working with the Winston house, I decided to continue my own career, starting to create jewellery under my name with the blessing of Ronald Winston, he said “you saw my work, you should try
to do it on your own.”
Dr. Takács József, a geologist-mineralogist and master goldsmith, has worked for the Hungarian Science Academy as a researcher, was active at the ELTE University Mineral Institute and was the Head of the Education Ministry. After these experiences he founded the Victoria jewellery store, while today he is building V-Pearl, another brand, together with his children.
DrTJ: The first day, at the age of 14, when I entered the goldsmith's workshop, the master immediately entrusted me with an interesting task. A huge monstrance (ritual vessel used in Roman Catholic) was made, the top of which was decorated with a small Holy Crown. I had to make a small pillow out of copper under it. The master took a look at the piece and then looked around. What was he searching for? He was looking for the big hammer. He hit it, completely flattened the pillow, then told me to remake the piece. The second one I made still adorns the top of that monstrance in the collection of the Matthias Church. On the wall of the workshop there was a quote of József Attila that read "it is only worth working just exactly, beautifully, as the star goes in the sky."
Sarah Zhuang founded her eponymous fine jewellery brand in Hong Kong in 2017. Sarah is one of the pioneering functional jewellery designers in Hong Kong and Asia Pacific.
SZ The very first line I created was in 2013. I was taking a jewellery design course at Gemological Institute of America at the time, and had to design a piece during the final exam. I liked that design a lot but I couldn’t take the exam paper home, so I memorised and re-created it when I went back to the office.
Alexander Laut is currently based in Lisbon, however, when asked about his routine, he explained that he would travel about three times a month globally. He prefers to work with rare natural stones like diamonds, rubies, sapphires, Paraiba tourmalines, which are always easy to spot on the displays of the most coveted Auctions.
AL: Back in the 50s, Winston said “unfortunately if you don’t have 10,000 dollars, you have nothing to do in my store.” It was kind of a snobbish thing to say, but it was true, because the goods he worked with were not less than 10,000 dollars, but, nowadays, with inflation, they’re probably 100,000 dollars. Instead of going for mass production, I decided to do an exclusive line, very small, where everything is one of a kind. And I still only work with natural stones, I have a very limited production, maybe 60 pieces a year.
How much will it cost in ten years? It’s very difficult to know, but it makes sense, if we’re talking about stones which no longer exist in nature. If you look at auctions, it gives you a rough idea on what is in demand right now. It’s not a secret that a lot of jewellery at auction houses is being sold to jewellers, who remake them, so not to the final clients.
Although the career paths of our Interviewees root in different locations, we could sense while moving forward in the conversation, how much their opinion about the importance of jewellery and its value are aligned, as well as their takes on the emerging technologies in jewellery design and synthetic stones.
SZ: Diamonds don’t wear out, so an old diamond is every bit as good as a new one. However, if you want to resell a piece of diamond jewellery, it most likely will depreciate over time. Personally I think what makes a piece of jewellery special is its sentimental values, there is always a story - and that to me is priceless.
DrTJ: A piece of jewellery should have style, individuality, it should express an idea, have gemstones in it, along with engraving or enamel. Such good quality, valuable pieces can still be sold after 100 years. To the collectors, I can only suggest that you choose the best pieces. I mainly buy diamond jewellery because few people really understand it. My favorite styles are Art Nouveau and Art Deco. Jewellery like that is not only special, beautifully crafted, well-worn, but where appropriate, can be sold at tenfold. Artistic freedom and individual approach are all nice, but the needs of the buyer must also be taken into account. In the Far East, they know this and bring jewellery to Europe that is in demand.
SZ: I wouldn’t say I collect on purpose but when I see beautiful gemstones that give me ideas/inspirations I do get very drawn to them. Sometimes I’ll buy them and come up with designs and wear them myself. They’re usually big and colorful gemstones.
AL: I collect, I collect works of designers that are no longer around. I like when they have a small collection, but nowadays, because I’m in my fifties, I’m focusing on myself as much as I can to leave a small legacy behind.
I’m always telling people, before making serious investment in jewellery, educate yourself. We’re doing a great deal of educating from our side, but, then, it’s your money, your risk, and you need to know what you’re purchasing. That is why every stone I use comes with a gemological certificate from established laboratories in Switzerland or the United States.
dTJ: Jewellery craftsmanship is transforming more and more. Today, we are here to design jewellery that suits your needs on one continent and is manufactured on the other continent. The Bocskai lawyer was also asked whether to “copy” or “scan” the law to make a copy. No, I said, we will make it with the same technology as the original from plate, wire, tube, gemstones to be authentic.
SZ: I think there is a growing demand for lab-grown gems and diamonds. Personally, I love natural diamonds because of the way they are formed, it’s quite an incredible story to tell. I think there is something beautiful about knowing that the diamond you’re wearing has been in the earth for millions of years.
After realising how much value jewellery and natural gems can carry, we couldn’t resist asking about the most expensive pieces that our Interviewees had a chance to create.
DTJ: I came across many valuable objects. I worked for the Hungarian National Museum, the Kalocsa Treasury, the Vác Treasury, private individuals. In several cases, pieces in the order of 100 million (HUF) were found to be counterfeits. Perhaps the most valuable was a high-purity 100-carat yellow diamond on the Israeli diamond exchange, which was later sold for $ 6 million at an auction.
SZ: The most expensive piece I’ve sold was a diamond bangle called “East meets West” at the price of $549,900 HKD. It was an award-winning piece, sold to a Japanese collector.
AL: The most was one million US dollars. One piece. For me, it was very exciting. It was also exciting for my family. It was a very complicated matter, it was a special occasion and it involved a lot of paperwork, a lot of contracts. I told myself I probably shouldn’t get involved, but my family insisted. It is very important for every jeweller to produce something for one million, it’s kind of a mental and symbolic border, and I agreed, and it was done. To be honest, I didn’t make much money out of it.
Jewellery collecting, along with retail and design, is an affair that entails plenty of risks, and the only way to conquer it, is by creating a theoretical and practical foundation that encompasses both classroom teachings and industry insights.
AL: I’ve already mentioned to many of my colleagues and friends, I’m very open to masterclasses, maybe speaking in some universities or design schools. Now we live in a very complicated world, but I’m very optimistic that everything will get back to normal, hopefully soon. I’m open to travel and tell my story, inspire young people, young jewellers.
SZ: When I first started taking jewellery courses in Hong Kong, I found it quite difficult to find the right information that I needed. It wasn’t until later on that I realized there are so many different roles within the jewellery design industry, from designers to CAD illustrators to craftsmen etc. I think it’s really important for young people to learn more about this industry so they can decide what they want to specialize in. Over the past few years, some young people who are interested in the jewellery industry have approached me and asked about my experience. I'm always happy to share and, hopefully, shed some light.
dTJ: As V-Pearl, The School of Experts, operates its own adult education institution for the training of professional appraisers and has been a part of MOME for 38 years. Adults are more enthusiastic about learning, which may be due to tuition, but more easily for college students. Adults have more specific goals, they know what they want to achieve. Digital education has provided an opportunity to try out methods that even those who take part in it can hardly believe. Based on the exams completed in August, we see that online education was more effective and the exam results were better during the pandemic than during the regular offline courses.
Conversation in the safe room. Written and edited by Gennady Oreshkin and Julia Horvath. Translated by Julia Horvath