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A gem dealer’s journal: Dive in the life of an auction master with Stewart Young

A Gem dealers journal Asia Lounges auction Billie Hughes blog burma color color type creations garnet gem gems gemstome Gemstone gift interview jewellery jewelry lotus gemology Natural Gems origin ruby sapphire Simon Dussart sotheby's SSEF Stewart Young tiancheng treatment

Hey Loungers, 

Today we’ll be welcoming in our column for the first part of a twin interview Mr. Stewart Young. 

Stewart has been working for some of the most famous auction houses in the world and has more recently been at the helm of the rise of Hong Kong’s fastest rising auction house: Tiancheng International.

Today, Stewart is at the helm of his very own high jewellery brand but that will be a story we’ll be discussing in part two of this interview so stay tuned to learn more about it. 

Without any further delays we give today’s guest: Stewart Young!

 

Stewart Young

We introduce you to Stewart Young

 

AsiaLounges: Hi Stewart, first of all I would like to thank you for being with us today and, as it is customary with our interview series, I’ll start by asking about you. Who are you Stewart Young?

Stewart Young: Hi Loungers, I’ll start the introduction by going back to my childhood. I grew up in a happening city, Hong Kongthen moved to Vancouver, Canada, by myself at age 15. For what I remember as well as to what I’ve been told by my family, I have always been very creative and curious of my surroundings. I used to hang around my grandma while she was sewing on her antique Singer machine and was forbidden to touch it lest I wanted to hurt myself on it.  That may have been one of my earliest memory of arts and creativity. At the same time, While my mother stopped working when I was 5, in order to take care of my sister and I, I was already fascinated with her jewellery, coloured stones and the bling bling. Here again, my fascination stayed at just that as I was not allowed to play with these either for obvious reasons. Nevertheless, the Stewart Young that you know today would not exist without these two beloved ladies as they have taught me my two trades. The first one, clothing industry which I practiced for over 15 years and the second, jewellery and gems which I have been practicing for over 12 years now.

I studied art and fashion in one of the most multicultural town I know: Vancouver. The reason behind such ethnic mix is that many Hollywood super production are shot there. This brings us to my past in the cinema industry. I was brought into this world by Disney for the shooting of “The 13th warrior” with Antonio Banderas and Omar Sharif for whom I had the pleasure of making the costumes. This was a superb opportunity for me, specially as I was freshly out of the school. Imagine how proud I was to get rewarded by the Lioness Designers Fashion Competition award right after. These two experiences helped put me and my carrier on a pedestal and eventually put me on my current track: those of a jewellery and fashion expert.

 

Here is a very young Stewart basking in the lime light as he celebrates his Lioness Award

Here is a very young Stewart basking in the limelight as he celebrates his Lioness Award 

 

AsiaLounges: We mentioned in the introduction your background in the movie industry, can you please tell us more about it and how it has, or at least that is how I see it, shaped your vision of marketing and product presentation?

Stewart Young: I have been working in the film industry as a Stylist and Art Director and, as you can imagine, it’s the kind of work that teaches you how to be a team player as well as to react quickly to sudden changes. We used to travel often, meet people from all over the world and therefore, I am now used to dealing and working with people from very diverse ethnic and social background. It was really interesting and allowed me to acquire a very solid management skill set that allows me to multitask easily. It is thanks to what I learned there that I was able to organise two jewellery charity auctions but we’ll talk about this a little later in the interview if you don’t mind. 

 

AsiaLounges: What drove you to your first change? By that I mean what drove you to move from film making industry to the auction houses, field in which we had the pleasure to make your acquaintance? 

Stewart Young: As I said earlier, I have been infatuated with the world of gems and jewellery for as long as I can remember. That said, what further developed my curiosity and taste in this area are my travels with the film industry. I remember purchasing a beautiful gold and jade pendant in Hanoi, I was there for about 6 months to oversee a French production. This pendant was beautifully handcrafted with a “Qilin” and, while both my tastes and knowledge in the jewellery field have improved since, it is  no doubt this piece that push me to study more about it. 

Upon returning to Hong Kong after that trip, in 2005, I decided to enrol in the Baptist University and learn more about jewellery design in general. While I was a student there, and after seeing my work, one of my instructor proposed to introduce me to Sotheby’s HK. I immediately agreed to an interview and went there with a box containing a series of rings I had made as well as a series of fashion drawings. That got me through the door and, while I had no idea what was requested of me then, I decided to stick around for a while. That while lasted 12 years and carried me through two different auction houses. 

 

AsiaLounges: Speaking about the various auction houses you went through, could you tell us in more details what differentiate them from one another? 

Stewart Young: The traditional auction houses tend to be more conservative, everything they have acquired are basically diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds and jadeites through their auctions. Doing so will guarantee them stable sales results as all these gems are in high demand. When I joined Tiancheng in 2014, I wanted to give buyers a totally new experience. While we included the traditional stones mentioned earlier, we also brought in new designers, one-of-a-kind creations and hoped to provide a platform for young designers as well as for rare and collectible stones. The results, as you may have seen, have been spectacular. 

Allow me to give you a specific example of this difference. Someone offered me a large 25 carats colour-change cobalt blue spinel with a lab report claiming it to be the largest gem of its kind ever tested. Without any point of reference given the lab's statement, I honestly told the client that I did not know how to price such a gem as it truly was one of a kind and that a gem of this size and type had never been auctioned before to my knowledge. In order to be as fair as possible to the seller, I proposed him to ask to other auction houses for their opinion while I'd check in the market for reference and possible price points for such material.

About a year later, we agreed to auction the stone at a price I felt was fair. We took into account the newly found facts that it was originally sold, some 55 years prior in a renown departement store, as a colour change sapphire and later returned to the shop as the client had serious doubts as to whether the stone was indeed a sapphire or not. Please remember that back then, virtually no labs were testing colour gems and mistakes were more frequent than they are now. Low and behold, the stone was subsequently placed in hibernation for over half a century before making its way to us. 

The second point was that all the gemological labs and specialists I have visited in order to research this gem, all agreed on the rarity and the exceptional character of such a gigantic cobalt spinel, it was truly a one of a kind. 

Last but not least, traditional auction houses either refused to take in the stone given the lack of information on such a stone or simply made "low ball" offers which were near ridiculous.

Eventually, the 25.79 carats untreated Sri Lankan colour change cobalt spinel, that I dubbed "the Electric Romance" due to its vibrant scintillations and changes in colour, was offered for auction at US$100.000 in by 2015 by Tiancheng auction house. The record breaking gem attracted collectors and gem lovers from all over the world and was finally sold for about two and half times the original estimate! (US$225.000). The exceptional result of this sale was an absolute shocker for the industry and eventually made the news in Denmark as well as many other media around the globe.

 Colour Change cobalt Spinel 25 cts ++

Here is the official Tiancheng Auction picture of the "Electric Romance" - Photo Courtesy of Tiancheng International

 

AsiaLounges: I have yet to meet a single person that did not like the catalogues you were coming up for Tiancheng International, where do you find the inspiration for these super cute artwork?

Stewart Young: Your comment makes me happy as it is exactly the intended effect with this catalog design. I had this crazy idea, when I started at Tiancheng, that a catalogue does not need ton be that cold and boring jewellery book. It can be telling you a story, it can be arty. Rather, I think it not only can be but it really should be! What is jewellery and art without a bit of a dream behind?! So yes, I created this catalogue while hoping that people would keep them on their shelves even after the auction had passed. 

In the end, the collection were done the same way. I threw in visual ideas and themes while co-designing some of the jewellery, writing articles and taking pictures that would catch the attention of the reader instead of just using the usual top / side view of the piece. We worked toward giving back these beautiful art pieces their soul, their spirit. Photography alone was taking us a lot of time as you can imagine, we could only take two shots per day but, we are quite pleased with the results.

 

 Dancing Pig Pendant

The fairy pig pendant that was co-designed by Stewart and his team for the auction - Photo Courtesy Tiancheng International - 

 

AsiaLounges: Further to the previous question, we now know that you were the architect behind these beautiful campaigns but, were you also the “hound” behind the hunting of all these stunning gems and jewellery pieces? Were you deciding on the spur of the moment what type of goods to come up with? Where you also in charge of the creation of the collection and how was it decided?

Stewart Young: It is important to remember that we start a catalogue or a collection by decided a theme, that comes later. I usually travel first and, while I’m meeting with potential consignors, I usually end up finding cute objects such as: a frog pendant, a pig ring or a monkey ornament. From there, I brainstorm ideas with the team and start looking for objects that could be used for our photography. As many of my friends can attest, it is not rare to see me ask to borrow a particular item from their home furniture in order to organise the photoshoot. 

Every season we spare about four weeks for the photo shoot and an additional two weeks of retouching but, before that, I usually prepare a set up that I shoot with my smart phone in oder to give a proper guide line, a story board of sort, to the professional photographers. During the official shoot though, I usually stand on the side monitoring the lights, the reflections and adjusting the position of the items. I must have been a fairly mean boss at times because of my perfectionist side. That said, I think that we are all better for it now and all got rewarded for it, if only by receiving stellar reviews and feedbacks over our catalogues.

 

106.85-Carat Clam Pearl, Tsavorite Garnet and Diamond 'Prince Frog' Pendant 

 

106.85-Carat Clam Pearl, Tsavorite Garnet and Diamond 'Prince Frog' Pendant - Photo courtesy of Tiancheng International - 

 

 

AsiaLounges: Could you explain us in a few words how do auction houses work? I don’t think that the majority of our readers are privy to auction houses modus operandi and truthfully, neither am I. 

Stewart Young: It is good to remember that an auction house, regardless of which one you are talking about, does not only specialise in high value items. In its 200 years of existence or so, this business model has been focusing on the reselling, through auctioning, of used belongings. This is why one can see a lot of second hand jewellery items at relatively low price if compared to their market value. I was stunned to discover how many wealthy people are willingly underselling items if only to get rid of their “junk”. This system is therefore open to both new and seasoned buyers that are here to buy the gems found in these older pieces of jewellery at a good price.

As a jewellery specialist, my job is to appraise the value of a piece that will be consigned for auction. For example, should a lady walk in with a ring featuring a bright red gemstone inherited from her granny and looking forward to sell this item. Unfortunately, she has no idea what type of gem  she has nor how much it may be worth. While she may assume it is a ruby, it is our duty to provide our client with a series of possibilities obtained by both experience and visual indications. In this case, we may confirm that it is a ruby and hint at the fact that it is likely of, say, the coveted Burmese origin. In order to confirm our findings, we request her approval to send the piece for testing by an independent gemological laboratory. In the likely event that the ruby comes back from testing as being what we believed it to be, a natural, untreated, Burmese ruby and thus commanding a significantly higher price than its treated counter part, the auction house then reserves the right to propose to this lady to auction, to sell this piece to the highest bidder, while being guided by the auctioneur for the reserve price. 

Auctioning is a safe way to resell used jewellery as we are not in the business of buying in selling perse. We propose this lady a way to sell this piece at a potentially higher price than we originally estimated and get only a fraction of the total sales revenue in the form of commission. 

 

AsiaLounges: For the few times I visited your auction, you seem to have a particular attraction to lively colour, colours that we at AsiaLounges love too, yet that are not necessarily considered to be the “best” colours in the gem trade (I.E. royal blue and pigeon’s blood red). Why is that? 

Stewart Young: I’ll start by saying that there are obvious cultural differences between people and countries. For example, in Europe, antique jewellery and diamonds tend to sell well. Conversely, in Asia and in Hong Kong in particular, where people have a deeper understanding of the gems, have been more exposed to them and where they have a significant cultural importance, diamonds are seen as somewhat boring. Hong Kongers will therefore rather purchase coloured gems of high value such as rubies and sapphire which are perceived to be a better investment and are truly rare. When it comes to the colour, the same logic applies. To be successful, an auction needs a range of colour and gems. From the classic Royal Blue and Pigeon’s Blood, which are usually quickly seen as too dark to wear in jewellery, to the more scintillating and joyful Cornflower or pastel blues. At Tiancheng for example, we’d go even further by also proposing also other types of top collectable gems such as: spinels, jadeites and nephrites as well as opals or moonstones. On occasion we also proposed “everyday” type jewellery that had a much friendlier price than their precious counter parts which allowed us to keep the catalogue fun and attractive. 

 

 13.86-Carat Fire Opal, Orange Sapphire and Diamond Ring, Stewart Young

13.86-Carat Fire Opal, Orange Sapphire and Diamond Ring, Stewart Young - Photo courtesy of Tiancheng International - 

  

AsiaLounges: I understand that you are an ardent supporter of our friends over at Lotus Gemology. What attracted you to their, then, new lab as opposed to the traditional “big boys” of the industry such as SSEF or Gubelin? Was it their philosophy, something else entirely or perhaps a mix of several reasons?

Stewart Young: I quite honestly like their Gold Report but, more than that, and as a gem lover, the fact that they describe colours with more than just Royal Blue and Blue as other labs do, is important to me. I can personally relate better to Indigo Blue or Peacock Blue than other just Blue colours. I mean, in one case I can totally relate to the colour of the ink while in the other I can vividly picture the feathers of a peacock’s neck and tail. 

Further to that is their Hard Cover Report which, as you can imagine, I have come across quite often. It is quite pleasing to have a gemological lab that wishes its clients to understand a little better the gems by providing them a modicum of history on the gem type, where it has been found etc. We are gem lovers, not patients in an hospital, so it’s nice to see that the Lotus team helps us live the dream a little more by providing that information. 

  

AsiaLounges: As we mentioned in the introduction you have now left the auction industry in favour of the jewellery world. What are the reasons? Was it the need of fresh air or the challenge that initiated the change?

Stewart Young: As I mentioned earlier, I am not a schemer or a planer, I like to feel the energy that comes from both novelty and the creation process. Add up to that the fact that, as time passes, I feel an increasing urge to build something for myself, to pass it to posterity if you wish. I have been producing designs for others before, be it the auction houses themselves or some of my clients. I believe it is now time for me to work on and design my very own pieces, my babies.

Added bonus to working for myself, it has freed a lot of time for me to be with my family and friends. So, if you add that to the time that I now have to design and create, that makes me a happy man.

  

AsiaLounges: Last question of this first part interview, I don’t suppose that the fact that you have opened your very own brand of jewellery means that you are completely out of the auctioning world. What are you next projects with the various auctioneers you worked with?

Stewart Young: My new works will be selling through auctions and private event which will be coming up soon. In the meantime you can follow my work in Instagram. Have had a private selling exhibition last year in September and i will continue to do that, the next one maybe only my sole design exhibition. My first consigned piece is on Tiancheng’s 29th May 2019 auction, hoping it is a good start for my business. 

 

AsiaLounges: Thanks a lot Stewart for answering this first wave of question and we are definitely looking forward to receiving your output on the gems and jewellery world in the second part of this interview. We have definitely learned a lot again today under your guidance and I can’t wait to read what’s coming next. 

Stay tuned Loungers for the second part is coming soon and I am convinced that you will enjoy it as much as we do!

As usual, should you have questions or request for the next articles and interviews, feel free to reach out at simon@asialounges.com and until then, 

See you in the Lounges,



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  • AsiaLounges on

    Thank you Rami for your kind words to Stewart, we’ll be sure to pass it on to him :)

  • Rami on

    Stewart is a breath of fresh air in the jewellery industry. Keep excelling at what you do best.


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