Frenchman calls China his playground
Nicolas Favard, a French jewelry designer, was wearing two asymmetric earrings on a December day — one bulky and the other, a slimmer one with a stud.
He says ornaments should enhance one’s style and complement the wearer’s personality.
“They (my earrings) show that I have a bit of this and a bit of that,” he says. “But designer jewelry expresses things beyond what words can say.”
At 35, Favard has spent 11 years in Beijing. When he first arrived in the country in 2004, few understood what tailor-made contemporary designs were about.
“After the 1960s, people lost the habit of wearing jewelry. Back then, people bought what they saw in magazines,” Favard says at his workshop in western Sanlitun.
“They wanted brand-name things that reflected their status,” he adds.
When he started teaching jewelry-making at the Central Academy of Fine Arts a decade ago, students tended to look up to European designs for inspiration. At the time, students also preferred working on ideas alone and were inclined to leaving the handcrafting part of the process to professional goldsmiths.
Favard, however, started his career as an apprentice with a local jeweler in his hometown, La Rochelle, at the age of 16. He was trained rigorously in techniques and the nature of different materials. In Europe, the craftsperson is often also the designer, says Favard.
Favard’s impression of Chinese ornaments before he set foot in the country was a ChairmanMao badge — he would later develop designs based on the badge.
He knew so little of the country’s traditional techniques and ideas that he would later become fascinated with them.
It’s hard to pin down the culture shock he experienced in the Middle Kingdom.
“The Chinese and us approach things differently,” he says. “The first things we notice are different.”
Taking in an Asian point of view during his time in China, he also worked and learned from craftspeople from different ethnic groups, each with their own aesthetics and ways of handling materials.
During a recent field trip to Southwest China’s Yunnan province to meet the Bai ethnic group, Favard was surprised by their thinking. The ethnic people first build a house with one side lying on the ground and erect it when finished. The Bai jewelry-makers hollow out a metal piece differently, too.
“It’s not an item or one technique that goes into my design, but the philosophy behind it,” he says. “I would like to merge European and Chinese concepts.”
also seeped into how a pair of “eardrops” he designed dangle and rotate.
“It is in circles because a round shape is essential to the Chinese.”
Whenit comes to color pairings, it is pale and jade blue, he says.
“So it reminds them of Chinese landscape paintings.”
The designs, different metals, gems and other materials are often mixed together for neweffects.
His jewelry has enjoyed evergrowing popularity in the last few years. Worn by stars like Denise Ho, some of his jewelry were on display at the Beijing International Contemporary Jewelry Exhibition in December.
“China is like a playground now. It’s a place of experiments where you can try out so many new ideas,” he says. “It is very lively.”
Society is increasingly welcoming designed objects that express individual styles and glamour, he says.
In the past fewyears, his students at the CAFA have turned from European designs to look into their own backgrounds and cultures, working much more with their own hands too, he says.
“While they look at what’s happening in Europe, it doesn’t change what they’re doing (here),” he says.
“My clients, too, are taking to more modern design to express themselves.”
Favard’s business now comes mainly from wedding and engagement rings.
“There are often only two people in the world who know about the proposal— themanandme,” he says.
The groom invariably hopes the ring will carry the couple’s unique story and identity.
“I try to understand the couple more and design rings that express this.
“As designers, we don’t like trends. But following one’sownstyle and individuality — that’s definitely a trend.”