Here comes the second part of our interview with Stewart Young. After exploring the world of auction houses with him in the first part of this interview we are discussing today the rise of his brand. How is a jewellery brand created, what makes its DNA attractive to customers and what makes for a successful business in our trade. Without any further delay I give you today’s guest: Mr. Stewart Young!
Here is Stewart Young featuring a lovely Fairy Brooch - Photo Credit: Tiancheng International
AsiaLounges: Hi Stewart and thank you for being with us again today. Our first question to you today is: what pushed you to start your own brand?
Stewart Young: Much like how my career switched from the film industry to the auction house business some 12 years ago, I felt it was time for me to diversify and take on a new direction in my design profession. As mentioned in my previous interview with Loungers, having travelled the world and designed for various auction houses, I felt the need to focus on my designs instead of dealing with admin work and sales procedures. Therefore, upon completing the 2018 Tiancheng Spring auction in June, I decided to embark on a new journey with my own brand and designs.
Here is Stewart Young representing Tiancheng during a TV Interview featuring his Duck brooch on his lapel - photo credit: Tiancheng International
AsiaLounges: In the introduction we mentioned the brand DNA. In a few words, how would you define your brand? What makes it special and how did you come up with it?
Stewart Young: While working for Sotheby’s auction house, all my design works were kept anonymous until clients could gradually single out my works given their unique flavour. Their constant encouragements drove me to excel and kept my passion burning in this trade.
Having dealt with countless auction sales and catered to clients of all ages and affluence, I have developed a form of empathy toward my clients’ desires through observation of their “lifestyles” – listening to their life stories and designing based on their personal styles.
In my early days as a fashion designer, I’ve often received comments about how my designs “talk” to people. Similarly with jewellery, I have always believed that a good design will become a great conversation piece – that’s why my designs must be fresh, fun and inspiring.
AsiaLounges: We notice that the animalistic streak that was already very present in your marketing material at Tiancheng International remains very present in your designs today. Is there a particular reason for it?
Stewart Young: It was never a deliberate intention to focus on animalistic designs even though that easily makes up to 70% of my design collection. It all started when I created my first pair of panda brooches, back when pandas weren’t nearly as popular as they are today. I consigned them to an auction house barely covering the cost of the jewellery. It turned out to be a great success as private clients and high jewellery brand buyers bid for them, reaching over four times the originally estimated price. Thanks to my “animal instinct” in jewellery, I realised that the market was ready for more whimsical designs and I’m rewarded for being bold enough to go there.
I eventually brought this concept to Tiancheng International, giving their catalogues a unique look and feel that created much hype amongst clients. A good example of this trend would be the clown fish brooch which I made there:
AsiaLounges: From a pure marketing standpoint I’d be interested in knowing how you come up with your designs. What makes you think a design will work better than another?
Stewart Young: It’s my natural gift! To me, gems are like ladies. One needs to understand their needs and personality in order to make them shine. So yes, when I see a gem, it “speaks” to me and “tells” me how it wishes to be dressed, and the rest is based on my fashion sense. More often than not, when I see a stone, the design of the mounting comes to mind instantly and I can start drawing the moment I see it.
That being said, gems differ in value, some are expensive and some are less so. Therefore, with a good knowledge of the price of the gems, I can assess whether a stone needs a more glamorous canvas to adorn the charms of a mature audience or a more whimsical one for younger and less affluent buyers.
I recall a particularly challenging stone that was given to me for an auction - a fancy vivid blue briolette diamond. This high-value gem appeared a little too pompous for my taste and did not really “speak” to me at first. For three consecutive weeks, I scratched my head wondering what I should do with it. A whimsical design would not work for this expensive gem and time was running short as the auction date was soon approaching. I could have opted for a basic design but didn’t want to give up so easily. It was only at the very last minute, while on a return flight from Jakarta to Hong Kong that the inspiration came to me as I was cloud gazing. The image of the finished jewel came to mind instantly - lifting the blue diamond on a cloud like a set of white diamond briolette beads and pink diamonds to further highlight its uniqueness. Another Young’s creation was conceived in the Heavens yet again and you can witness here on his Instagram account!
AsiaLounges: All brands, including our own, have a target audience. What makes your audience special and how do you cater to them?
Stewart Young: I am sure a lot of brands have their own business strategies. As of now, I am just doing what I enjoy doing – a freedom to express myself in bringing new age jewellery into collectors’ jewel boxes. More often than not, I do not want to sell my creations because I enjoy wearing and holding them. It may well be how I make my audience special, because I am just like them.
A few years ago, I created a frog pendant for an auction which surprisingly caught the attention of a client from a country where we didn’t even advertise in. The client eventually won it for a high price and as a gesture of thanks, I sent him a wooden stand to display the large frog. Since then, the client has supported every auction and this is the encouragement of my unlimited creations.
AsiaLounges: In a few words, how would you define your company’s mission statement? What do you stand for? Some of our earlier interviewees were for example advocating for sustainable development, others for education of either children or end buyers. What about you?
Stewart Young: The mission statement of Young’s Creation is to bring happiness and joy to the people who own its design pieces. As you will agree, jewellery is not a necessity and serves no other purpose than bringing joy to the person purchasing or wearing it. Therefore, my clients’ first impression of what I’ve specially designed for them is paramount to me. I’m only happy when they are happy with their purchases.
Making huge profits or mass production is not my primary business objective as I would rather spend time sharing my experiences with people who are genuinely interested in gemology. To that end, I have conducted several seminars at HongKong’s Baptist University to help young people learn to appreciate gemstones. I strongly believe that all journeys start with a single step and I aim to help those around me through a series of small yet significant actions.
Classical horse jade carving that has been turned into a whimsical carousel brooch by Stewart Young - Photo Credit: Young's Creation
AsiaLounges: Has your stance on gemological labs changed since you entered the fray of jewellery making and gem buying / selling? Or is your philosophy on the matter remaining the same as when you were an auctioneer?
Stewart Young: Incidentally, my views of the labs has never changed – my experience in the auction trade has taught me the importance of protecting the end buyers. Therefore, the higher the value of the gem, the more reports it carries.
The requirement for multiple reports stems from the fact that lab reports contain expert opinions on what the gem is, where it is from and whether it has been further enhanced by the human hand. The real issue with lab reports is the fact that old gems, carrying reports from world class labs, may see their report information changing over time as the technology and gemological knowledge evolves. Therefore, it is not rare to see a 30-year-old report being contested today by the very same lab that originally issued it.
That to me is not the biggest issue the trade faces but rather how people judge gems by the paper they carry instead of focusing on their natural beauty.
This is why, when I talk to my clients or during my lectures, I urge my audience to judge the beauty of gems based on what they see in them rather than what they read on the report. Wishful thinking perhaps, but I hope not.
AsiaLounges: Speaking about the auction houses, are you planning on relying on them to advertise and sell your products or are you aiming at a more direct to customer sales tactic? Perhaps both? And why?
Stewart Young: I left the auction world about a year ago, in July 2018. Since then, I have been focusing on developing new creations of which 90% were made-to-order design pieces, sold to end buyers and through retail shops, while the remaining 10% were consigned to auction houses. This allows me to experiment on new trends at a relatively low risk since they are auctioned at cost price.
I find great joy in seeing my design pieces being auctioned and how people fight to acquire them through the bidding process. To me, that is the real excitement of auctioning pieces, I take much more pride in seeing how my pieces are being sought after rather than the profit generated. Again, to me the experience primes over the profit. Similarly, the energy that is seen and displayed in the auction room cannot be found in many other places! So Yes, I will keep a foot in the auction world one way or another.
The magical and whimsical world of Stewart Young's Jewellery - Photo Credit: Tiancheng International
AsiaLounges: Back to the gem side of your products if you don’t mind. What are your personal favourite? I mean regardless of what sells or not, if left to your own devices and in a perfect world where brand were not bound by sales for survival, what would be the perfect material you’d like to use?
Stewart Young: There is no limit to defining what I like most as I believe that colour is the most important character of a gem. I usually feel the spirit when I see attractive colours in a stone. Besides gems, I have an equally deep interest for art, furniture, antiques, etc. My creations are never solely based on gem materials, but also using other substances such as antique mother-of-pearl gambling chips, old ivory handles, etc to create wearable jewellery, which are currently not available for sale but perhaps in the near future.
I have recently been infatuated with opals, I love the colour play and this love proved to be contagious. I remember spending hours talking to a client who does not like opals about how it was virtually impossible to find another gem that can display so many colours regardless of the lighting levels. After some intense discussion, she was won over and ended up purchasing one. Ever since then, she has taken a liking to opals and even managed to hunt down a rare opal, featured in this photo, a high dome fire opal from a mine that has long since been extinct!
Opal and Diamonds ring by Stewart Young sold at Tiancheng Spring 2017 Auction - photo credit: Tiancheng International
AsiaLounges: Do you actually need to compromise between your favoured gems and market reality?
Stewart Young: I don’t believe in compromising. Over the years, I have seen how some inexpensive stones that were branded as cheap have now become valuable and highly sought after. Just look at the prices of Ice Jade, Spinels, Opals and Aquamarine. The one that probably surprises me the most is the increased value and demand of blue zircons. Therefore, I do not limit myself to the current market value or marketability of a gem. I usually buy what I like and keep them around for a while like a trinket or a lucky charm of sort.
My friends often tease me for buying “rubbish”. One such example is a red spinel I bought 15 years ago that was abandoned at the bottom of my drawers as I felt it was neither red nor valuable enough. It was until recently while clearing said drawers that I rediscovered how beautiful this gem actually is. Today, this has become one of the key pieces in my collection and I’m still bewildered as to how I could have nearly missed this stunning Burmese gem! Both its colour and lustre are top class - few would actually look down upon such a gem now.
The same can be said of blue zircons, 20 years ago one could buy them using spare change today that’s a different story. With the rise in popularity of the Paraiba Tourmalines, blue zircons are now highly sought after for their colour and, with a clever mounting, these stones look delicious and beautiful!
AsiaLounges: Where can people meet up with your stunning creations? How can they contact you?
Stewart Young: I regularly consign my designs to auction houses. However, my first priority is given to Tiancheng because it is where I started to build my base. You will see more of my creations in the upcoming Tiancheng auction that will be held in end November 2019. Other enquiries can be directed via email to email@example.com
You can also discover Tiancheng International at:
AsiaLounges: As a young entrepreneur (pardon the pun), can you give three advices to our fellow readers that may be interested in following in your footsteps?
Stewart Young: As I’ve once said in my seminar: Be passionate! Because if you are not, you will never thrive. Jewellery is a world where success is in the details! A piece of jewellery is never quite as simple as it appears at first. You have a play of colours between the different gems that the piece is created with, a play of colour from the various materials. It calls for an excellent memory for, no two stones are the same. You will always find a minor variation in hue, saturation or in the cut.
My second piece of advice is: Be Bold! Always try to be innovative in your jewellery creation. Do not be afraid of experimenting with new material. You will be surprised how excited your clients react towards new products, simply because these are the things that are missing in their collections.
Finally, be inquisitive! Do not be afraid to learn. The world of gems and gemology is a complex one. It takes years to understand as the learning process never ends. So be patient and be obstinate! Learning about diamonds is a relatively simple feat because it is all about colour and clarity, but the world of colours however, is one where your eyes and memory are constantly tested to assess values and qualities.
In summary, you need to possess a lot of passion, boldness and patience if you plan to be an entrepreneur in the jewellery business. Otherwise, you will find nothing but headaches selecting small gems from bags that are of no interest to you and which you will not enjoy doing.
Not your average duckie By Stewart Young obviously - Photo Credit: Tiancheng International
AsiaLounges: Thanks a lot Stewart for your time and involvement with this two prongs interview! It was truly a fun moment to work on this with you and we hope to see you again soon with us in the Lounges.
As for us, we will see you again soon too. In the mean time, should you have questions or topics that you’d like us to explore a bit further for you, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll happily study and write something out for you!
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That’s it for today,
See you again in the Lounges