Aine Breen’s Poignant Art
turning point came when she took up a course in Chinese calligraphy to seek a creative outlet. An accountant by profession, she had settled in China with her husband for two years. The calligraphy course triggered her love for making jewellery bearing decorative graphics laden with meaning. Thus, her brand Liwu was born, inspired by her travels, new friends and cultural exchange.
Now based in Ireland, Aine beleives that travelling is highly motivating for budding entrepreneurs, and exploring new countries can inspire the idea of starting a business. “I strongly believe that space and time to reflect on your life and work can provide some much-needed clarity and can empower one to succeed as an entrepreneur,” she says.
What does Liwu mean? And why did you choose this name for your brand?
Liwu means gift in Chinese. I chose this name as all my pieces come with a ‘meaning card’ explaining the Chinese character, therefore making great gifts. Our tag line is ‘Small Gifts, Big Meanings’.
Is your work influenced by Chinese calligraphy only?
Yes, it all began when I arrived in Beijing for work. I was eager to find out more about Chinese culture and so, I took a course in calligraphy. I found the character for love very beautiful – it meant ‘life to the heart and grace to the body’. That impelled me to design a jewellery piece with this character. But how would I do that? I was not trained. So, when I returned to Dublin, I enrolled for silversmithy classes, sketching... and here I am two collections later with a thriving jewellery brand. Today, I work with great silversmiths here to produce my collections.
How many collections revolve around the Chinese characters?
Just one. The range includes 20 pieces with four different meanings: ‘Love – life to the heart, grace to the body’, ‘Happiness’, ‘Three Lucky Stars’, and ‘United Eternity’.
The ‘love’ character in Chinese actually sparked the idea for Liwu jewellery. The written characters are so full of meaning that the Chinese often do not express their emotions in the spoken word in order to ‘save face’. For example, I realised that the Chinese do not say ‘I love you’ as openly and freely as Westerners.
This is because ‘love’ is regarded as such a highly emotional state. So my pieces are laden with subtle messages. It is a very personalised affair.
Tell us something about yourself. What are your interests?
I am from Ireland, and I always loved art in school. I also adore travelling, which is why I went to live in China when the opportunity arose.
When did you start making jewellery pieces? How was the response from your clients?
I started in 2014, and it was all very positive. I sell online, in 10 stockists and at craft fairs and pop-ups.
What would be the price range of your jewellery?
The price range is from 69 to 149 euros. All pieces are made with sterling silver and 18-karat hard gold-plating. The pieces are hallmarked at the Assay Office in Dublin.
All your pieces are about communication between the taker and the giver...
Yes, I aim to design thought-provoking pieces which allow individuals to make a hidden statement or message between the giver and the receiver. The pieces are delicate, simple and beautiful.
What inspires you? Also, tell us why travel is so important and how does it shape/impact your area of work?
Meanings inspire me. Places inspire me. Culture and language inspire me. Travel inspired me to change my career and realise my potential and do something I am passionate about.
Who is your target audience and the woman you design jewellery for?
I design for women who love simple, subtle and meaningful jewellery that people can gift to each other. My collections revolve around Happiness, Love, Three Lucky Stars, Eternity, Progress and Serenity, all covered in a classic delicate quality aesthetic.
My other collection Native features Celtic symbols inspired by Ireland, where I am now based by the sea with my husband, two daughters and a number of animals.
How has your journey been so far?
The journey has been great. I am doing what I love and making many people happy along the way when they buy a piece of jewellery that means so much to them or for someone to express how they feel or wish for them.