Jewelry can be like armor: a bracelet to improve luck, a necklace to emphasize elegance, a wedding ring to ward off suitors. So it’s only appropriate that Québécois designer Yves Lemay switched careers from forging shields to crafting high-end jewelry. Lemay worked at one of Canada’s storied jewelers before starting out on his own in Shanghai, and he has since garnered acclaim for his elaborate, baroque designs. With a jewelry design academy here and plans to expand into Thailand and Kazakhstan in 2018, we talk to Lemay about jewelry trends, how automation affects his art, and his craziest piece yet.
What brought you to Shanghai?
I was trying to find opportunities in the field of luxury and high-end jewelry. I believe high-end, customized items and services will one day do very well. Not to say that it’s been an easy ride, but a golden age of customization would eventually be reality.
You’re originally an armorer. What similarities are there between crafting armors and designing jewelry?
Generally speaking, armors have very little in common with jewelry. But the very high degree of precision and professionalism required for the design, the articulations, the polishing makes armory almost like the twin brother of high-end jewelry. I can’t really call it a switch, more like a transition into jewelry so I can understand why it also requires such high levels of precision. I did this so I can eventually return to my first love, armory, and take it to higher levels of perfection. I have a dream that one day I would create the most intricate and beautiful armor in the world made out of gold and platinum, and set with a multitude of diamonds and colored gemstones.
How has being an armorer influenced your jewelry style?
I like to make things that last. I like to see my clients come back to my studio for new projects, not for repairing or fixing previously done jewels. My jewels, while still being elegant, will go down through generations.
How has technology changed the way you work over the years?
Technology is great! I love machines and the possibility they offer in terms of design flexibility and level of perfection. As much as I love working with my hands – I constantly sharpen my arts as a polisher – I embrace technological advancements. Far from seeing them as the mechanization or automatization of my art, I like to see them as means to push the boundaries of design, precision, and efficiency. As a matter of fact, I am a teacher and reseller of a 3D jewelry design software.
What are some jewelry design trends now?
Sapphires, rubies, and emeralds will always be in vogue, but they’re now facing increasing competition from natural colored diamonds. There’s also a tendency now to decorate around the center stone with many accent gemstones, sometimes even in many layers. This shows a refinement in terms of taste as well as an increased average wealth of the city’s upper class.
How does Shanghai stack up in to other cities in terms of jewelry design?
Shanghai, together with Beijing, stand out in China in regards to having high-end, custom-made products and services. Locals had more than their share of big brands exposure and purchases over the last two decades, and they are now looking for more exclusivity and personalization. Having some jewelry custom-made by your jeweler is a sign of refinement and status in some social circles. You’re the only person in the world to own such a work of art. Priceless, isn’t, it?
What’s the craziest design request that you got from someone?
I had quite a few crazy requests in terms of design and materials over the years. I am now designing an engagement ring that will have hidden inside its structure a functional whistle.
Yves Lemay has a jewelry design academy in Shanghai, and some students have gone on to create their own jewelry brands. Here’s one by Lemay:
“Angie Wu, her brand is AWU. You can find her designs at Lane Crawford stores in Hong Kong. I’m super proud of her and we are very good friends. Highly recommended!”
What does it take to be successful as an entrepreneur here?
See each day of your professional journey as a drop of water crashing on a rock, which will over time carve its way through it. Patience et longueur de temps as we say in Québec. One has to be ready for years of constant work in order to succeed in Shanghai. The city isn’t for the weak, but if you stay the course, it will make you stronger.
Check out www.yveslemayjewelry.com for more information.