Looking out the window on a late February afternoon, the sun slowly descended beyond the horizon of the trees’ silhouettes, unveiling a rich palette of warm reds, ambers, and pink blushes - and yet, just across the vast ocean, the day has only just begun for Samantha Siu, an unorthodox jewellery designer of New York City.
The first thing I noticed about Samantha, was her warm and kind demeanour which made for an effortless conversation on our Zoom interview. Humble and talented, yet assertive in her success, she reconciled an old friend, with whom I met for an overdue lockdown catch-up.
The second, more alluring, were five earthy jasper stones discretely settled on her blue mint turtleneck sweater, encircled by bulky, yet graceful, golden cable chains. At first sight, the necklace may appear of a modest design, but as Samantha explains, “it is so much more daring than you think.”
“Every jeweller has a story to tell,” states Samantha, and her story is A Love Affair - the designer’s enchanting collection, exploring her first love and their travels around the world together; celebrating culture, history, romance, and the designer’s upbringing through intricate wax-carving and metalwork.
Debuting her first jewellery collection at London Fashion Week in February, Samantha Siu’s pieces may be considered unconventional, yet revolutionary. Where traditional jewellery designers generally concentrate on the aesthetics of their pieces around the neck, Siu thinks of the back as her canvas.
“We can create different types of jewellery,” she says, “jewellery that is not necessarily what we usually see.” Her unique and functional craftsmanship accentuates the curvature of the neck and the back simultaneously with their reversible elements, whilst also establishing a modern take on back jewellery.
“I think every person has two sides of them,” explains Samantha, when asked about the aspect of reversibility in her designs. This unique component allows for a sustainable and contemporary design, dependant on the wearer’s personality and desire. The stones may be considered for “a more quiet you,” Samantha explained, and switched around for a greater statement - “it’s about seeing one thing from different perspectives.”
Yet her vision wasn’t entirely appreciated in its beginnings. Alike every young designer starting out, Samantha has heard that her pieces are ‘nothing special’ or ‘stones strung on a string’ - but the belief of achieving her dream and continuing her journey relinquished the skeptics. “An eyewear artist, Kerin Rose Gold, told me that the most important thing is to have blinders on,” she explained, “just focus on your work and believe.” Upon hearing the advice from a fellow artisan, Samantha grew thick-skin and concentrated on making her dream a debuting collection for London and Paris Fashion Weeks.
Each necklace from A Love Affair archive is specifically designed with natural gemstones and hand-crafted clasps, depicting a significant moment in Samantha’s journey. Whether a mythological Phoenix to represent rebirth or female entity in a relationship; or a ying-yang carp symbol alluding to the Chinese meaning of love and transformation - as well as being Samantha’s astrological sign, each necklace tells a personal story of the designer.
Every detail; shape, positioning, colour, and design, has a greater and more significant meaning than meets the eye. “Wherever I am; whatever I’m designing - is a representation of where I’ve been,” says Samantha, gently caressing her Eternity Necklace. “This necklace,” she continues, “is a representation of how I see China.” Brimming with earthly tones and shining gold chains, the Eternity Necklace’s two carps are intertwined, forming a circle - a very traditional symbol in the Chinese culture, which illustrates a balanced duality.
Recognising the importance of tradition, Siu was integrated into her family’s jewellery business with packing orders at one cent a piece from the small age of thirteen. But it wasn’t until much later where she was asked to join the family craft, urging her to venture out to learn outside trades of her own, where she considered other opportunities.
“I had an itch to create something different,” says Siu, who discovered her passion during her studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City, identifying a long-lost art of wax carving. A 6,000 year old technique has been forgotten by many artisans within jewellery design, yet it remains the most intricately detailed method for sculpting in this versatile craft.
The traditional technique has strong roots within the Eastern culture, where the brand’s craftsmen construct the necklaces to completion in Thailand, all while prioritising ethical conditions. Yet the decision to produce the collection through the lost art wasn’t entirely based on its history: “I wanted to explore my culture a little bit more,” explains Samantha, “it’s part of the story; it’s part of who I am.”
The sentimental production technique is extensive and complicated. The substantial process involves chiselling, assembling, and sculpting the clasps and stones by hand. With each new design taking approximately six months to create (the waxed clasp itself takes approx. 3-4 months), while the entire collection took 3.5 years to complete.
However, art and jewellery enthusiasts don’t need to reserve themselves to the 10-piece collection of A Love Affair. Samantha regularly works with her clients to produce one-off pieces, leading them through the entire process. “What is so symbolic about life, are the images we want to preserve,” she explains, further revealing her fascination with people’s sentimentality. “We become sentimental for different things for certain reasons,” she said, “because we have different touch points in our lives.”
When asked about what it felt like to be a young débutante of London Fashion Weeks, Siu responded, “this season’s Fashion Weeks is particularly special, because it’s where people start having hope again.” With the pandemic circling our lives, this year’s LFW continuing on a digital schedule was inevitable, yet that didn’t mean sacrificing talent and artistic visions - on the contrary, “creativity is at it’s peak,” said Samantha.
With the excitement of reopening the world and the potential of new opportunities, Siu feels hopeful about the future of jewellery design. Despite her concerns that more can be done within the industry to have greater representation, Siu shares, “I hope the brand will become a charging force that will allow new jewellers to think outside the box.”
Siu is not only passionate about the future of jewellery, but is consistently contributing to the bettering of our planet and people. Each sale contributes 10% to the brand’s sister non-profit organisation Phoenix International Foundation, which was born out of Samantha’s passion for teaching underprivileged children English in China. The chosen organisations “embody what our world should be concentrating on,” explained Samantha. They include; STEM Education, Medical Outreach, and Wildlife Conservation. “Those three things are really close to my heart,” said Samantha, “the partnerships go hand in hand with every project that we do.”
Samantha Siu’s collection explores the love story of her personal desires, memories, and the significance of helping to better underprivileged people and wildlife. Despite the intricate artwork signifying her romance, the collection represents moments that may be relatable to ones with a similar journey. “A Love Affair is not just about my love affair,” said Samantha, “– it’s about everyone’s connection to it.”
A Love Affair is Samantha Siu’s illustrative love story - what will your’s be?
Samantha Siu is the official bronze sponsor of the National Film Awards UK 2021 of the Best Screenplay category.
Images courtesy of Samantha Siu and Black PR.