Originally from China, but now based in London, Isabella Liu is an emerging force on the international contemporary jewelry design scene. In early 2015, she scooped up an astounding five prizes at the Goldsmiths’ Craftsmanship & Design Awards, a British-based event that is often described as the “jewelry Oscars,” and she is also the proud recipient of bronze and silver medals in Italy’s A’Design Awards, among other international accolades.
Her latest jewelry collection, Mending II, with which she won her Goldsmiths’ honors, takes its inspiration from an ancient East Asia practice of mending broken porcelain or ceramic objects using gold. Though the technique is most well-known as the traditional Japanese craft practice Kintsugi, Isabella was surprised when through her research for the collection she discovered that the practice originated in China. “The skills came from China around 600 years ago. You can still find these skills in China, but Japanese people have preserved the craft better,” she explains.
That cultural practices can at times so discreetly cross cultural borders is something that fascinates Isabella Liu, and her musings on the power of transcultural exchange feature strongly in her design philosophy. “Aspects of arts, heritage or culture move me no matter where they come from. These inspirations can always cross the boundaries of nations, races, and ages. When people look at my work, so long as its good–pure, authentic, and creative–no matter where they are from they can understand the concepts right away,” she explains.
While praising her international education opportunities, Liu also freely admits to being strongly influenced by her Chinese heritage. As a child, Liu lived close to the Hubei Institute of Fine Arts, and her parents enrolled her in painting and craft classes that were taught by retired art professors or teachers. When she turned 18, she moved to Beijing to train as an oil painter. These experiences gave Liu a strong grounding not only in the arts, but also in traditional Chinese culture. “I think if you want to be successful on the international stage, you need to understand your national culture well. Things always start from home,” says Liu. It is common for Chinese designers to “try to express their concepts and their knowledge in their design,” Liu explains. As a result, for a large number of the contemporary jewelry designers from China, “you can tell straight away that they’re Chinese when you look at their work.”
While jewelry design training in China is still focused on the teaching of technique over theory, top arts universities like the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing are today employing leading international design educators, says Liu. “The understanding of current jewelry trends and education is opening up [in China]. In China right now, the energy is really strong,” Liu notes. “Only once the internals of China become really creative, innovative, and wealthy will we be able to promote ourselves at an international level. We don’t want people to think that ‘Made in China’ is the only label for China. We want to see this change to ‘Created in China’,” she enthuses.
To date, Isabella Liu has focused the majority of her time on a contemporary (rather than commercial) jewellery practice. “I try to use jewelry design as a form of my own language. It’s kind of like the pen of a writer; in my current stage, I haven’t been impacted so much by the commercial side of the jewelry industry.” However, she does not rule out the possibility of a commercial jewelry line in the near future. “I don’t think there necessarily has to be a conflict. If a really good piece of jewelry, even something with a very simple design, has authentic considerations behind it, the work will sell well. You can preserve the artistic values, while also taking the market into consideration,” she enthuses.
About Isabella Liu
Isabella Liu is a jewelry designer and artist. She was born in Wuhan, China, and is currently based in London. Her training in Jewelry Design and Related Products, along with her education in Fine Art and Fashion Design allows her to combine a range of artistic disciplines and apply them in her current practice. Liu completed a BA degree in Jewelry Design and Related Products at Birmingham City University’s School of Jewelry, and is working towards an MA in Arts and Cultural Management at King’s College London. She has worked within the arts and jewelry industry since 2012, and has held positions at leading companies such as Debut Contemporary, Babette Wasserman, and Fei Liu Fine Jewellery.
In 2014, she set up her own studio, Isabella Liu Jewellery, in London. She has won awards for her work from A’Design Awards & Competition (2013; Italy), ENJOAI’T (2014; Spain), and Goldsmiths’ Craftsmanship & Design Awards (2015; UK). Her jewelry and small object collections have been exhibited both nationally and internationally in the UK, China, Italy and Spain.