By Ong Chin Huat
Qeelin Jewellery is a playful fusion between Chinese symbolism and Western modernity. Here’s more on China’s very first luxury jewellery brand.
When Maggie Cheung wore one of Qeelin’s very first jewellery pieces – a Wulu earring – during the 2004 Cannes Film Festival to pick up her Golden Palm award for Best Actress in the cult movie In the Mood for Love, little did Dennis Chan know that this exposure would launch the jewellery brand into becoming a symbol for modern day Chinese luxury.
“It wasn’t planned at all. It happened by coincidence,” says the founder and creative director of Qeelin who adds that at that point in time, Qeelin had yet to be launched and that earring was just a prototype which he loaned to the actress simply because she wanted something special to wear at Cannes.
But as luck would have had it, the timingw as propitious. The world’s high fashion and showbiz glitterati who were assembled at the prestigious international film festival were taken in by the sensual curves of Qeelin’s gourd-inspired earring. Thus, Qeelin was born and Chan seized the opportunity by opening Qeelin’s very first point-of-sale at a corner in the Hotel de Crillon in Paris.
Fast forward to today and Qeelin is owned by global luxury goods titan Kering, which also owns the likes of Gucci, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta and Ulysse Nardin among its constellation of star designer brands. According to Qeelin’s CEO Christophe Artaux - who was in Kuala Lumpur together with Chan for the opening of Qeelin’s first store in Malaysia at Suria KLCC - Qeelin started off as a niche brand which he and Chan have been working hard to make more mainstream.
With their intention to take the best of China to the world, Chan and Artaux can rest on their laurels for just a bit as Qeelin is regarded as China’s very first luxury jewellery brand. Named after a mythical Chinese animal, Qeelin’s classical approach to jewellery making, like its commitment to using topnotch materials and exquisite craftsmanship, is tempered with a sometimes playful and contemporary edge, setting it apart from other jewellers. “The design reflects my personality,” smiles Chan. “I believe that wearing jewellery should be fun and playful!”
Case in point: apart from the iconic and best-selling Wulu range, there is the Bo Bo, a depiction of China’s most loved indigenous wildlife, the Giant Panda. Made in 18 karat gold with black and white diamonds, Bo Bo isn’t your average layabout. He’s an endangered species who loves skiing, practising Kung Fu with a nunchaku, or hip hopping complete with a dollar sign pendant as seen in the limited edition Neko Bo Bo with a waving arm, inspired by the Japanese Maneki Neko or Lucky Cat.
And then there’s the Roobot line of robot pendants which was inspired by Chan’s own collection of vintage toys; for dog lovers there is the Wang Wang range which has a chihuahua named Peekaboo, a French Bulldog called Pierre, a Schnauzer which glitters by the name Morgen and a friendly Golden Retriever who answers by the call of Bella, all made in 18 karat gold with diamonds and sapphires.
Producing one collection every two years, Chan says there are several additions between collections such as the newly launched Wulu bracelets with interchangeable leather bracelets in different colours.
According to Artaux, Qeelin jewellery is made in different places around the world, depending on the item. “We have different workshops which we have been working with for years in Italy, Hong Kong and other parts of Asia,” he reveals.
With Qeelin’s head office based in Hong Kong, Chan’s background as a product designer has come in useful for his role as the creative director of Qeelin today. “What I was doing before couldn’t fulfil my dream,” says Chan who owned a design consultancy company in Hong Kong before he launched Qeelin. “I wanted to create something which had an international appeal yet showcased contemporary Chinese design. My dream is to bring modern Chinese design to the rest of the world.”
Well, he’s succeeded brilliantly because today Qeelin jewellery has been spotted on celebrities and influencers such as Rihanna, Irene Kim, Gigi Leung and Wang Ziyi. Mainland China actress Nazha is Qeelin’s brand ambassador and they couldn’t have found a better person to represent the brand as China is the biggest market for Qeelin. “We have 20 stores in China followed by Hong Kong as our second largest market where we have seven stores and South Korea where we have three stores,” says Artaux. He adds that the reason why Qeelin prefers to set up their own stores to sell their jewellery is because of the lack of an organised multi-brand distribution network in Asia Pacific.
When asked why Chan chose jewellery as opposed to other fashion items, he says that he always liked something intimate. “Jewellery touches your skin and is worn close to your body and has meaning attached to it and you can pass that emotion to the next generation.” Artaux adds that Qeelin has a unique positioning in the market as there isn’t another jewellery with such a combination of East and West. “It’s a playful fusion between Chinese symbolism and Western modernity which sets us apart … this has been the engine of our development and growth.”
The KLCC store
With KL being Qeelin’s 36th store in the world, Artaux says the brand is experiencing a fast paced development in recent years and his aim is to keep up that growth through distribution expansion.
“We plan to open eight to 10 stores in 2019 throughout China and Asia.” But in the next breath, Artaux drops a sweet-smelling bomb. “In the first quarter of 2019, we will mark a milestone for the brand by opening a store in Place Vendome in Paris.”
Place Vendome is of course a location which is highly coveted by the biggest high-end jewellers with Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Boucheron, Bulgari and Chaumet having boutiques at that glamorous square in the City of Lights. It’s a stamp of approval by the fashion cognoscenti as well as announcement to the world that Qeelin has arrived on the international luxury stage.
“The majority of our customers has so far been Chinese but it’s by no means the only people we are catering to,” states Artaux emphatically. “We don’t consider ourselves as just a Chinese jeweller. Our mission is to unleash the potential of the brand. We want to cater not just to the existing established luxury customers who might collect Qeelin as a second or third piece but also to newcomers of the category who recognise Qeelin as a very modern brand which speaks to them.”