Austy Lee’s Psychedelic Art Jewellery
In his jewellery, Austy Lee commands his designs with psychedelic, industrial elements, while using unique combinations of colorful gems, such as padparadscha, indicolite, and jade. His designs can be described as otherworldly, reflecting his formal training in the high-end jewellery industry as it blends his new-age vision. In this exclusive interview, Pietra Communications asks Austy about how he got started, and dives into the stories behind some of his most iconic pieces.
How did your childhood and life in Hong Kong inspire or affect your artistry and designs today?
I am always interested in everything related to nature. During my childhood, when most of my teenage friends were into cartoons, toys etc., my daily activities were planting, feeding different kinds of pets, hiking and catching fish in streams near my home. These are still my hobbies. Therefore, my inspirations mostly come from Mother Nature. The shapes and forms of my drawing are also inspired by nature. More than that, I am particularly interested in reading and researching about religions and cultures. So, a lot of my designs and jewellery incorporate with these elements as well.
Do you have any role models or designers that influenced your interest in working in the jewelry trade? Who and why?
Dries Van Noten, Dolce & Gabbana, and my uncle.
To be honest, my original career goal was working as a fashion designer. However, there were a lot of restrictions and difficulties working in the fashion industry, especially as an Asian fashion designer residing in Hong Kong. It would be a lot harder to create the designs that I want, not to mention gaining popularity in the industry.
Dries Van Noten does influence me a lot and is my favourite designer. His style is distinguished by a profusion of colours, prints and patterns. Also, his designs are Art Deco, Bohemian, multicultural, exotic etc., which are my favourite styles. As for Dolce & Gabbana, its Haute Couture has inspired me to know that extravagance and exaggeration can be applied not only to clothing but also jewellery. And my uncle, who used to be an engraver, specializing in carving jades and ivory, is also a man I am thankful for. He, by coincidence, introduced to me to a jewellery design and stone setting course, paving my way into the jewellery industry.
When did you know you wanted to be a designer and how did that realization come about?
At the age of 5-6, I dreamt of becoming a painter. However, a few years later I came into realization that it is difficult for a painter to make a living, especially during that period when everyone’s focus is on professional development. In my junior high school, I started to understand more about being a designer by reading some fashion/design magazines from my classmates. I still remember the first design brand and designer I read about were Dolce & Gabbana and Jean Paul Gaultier. Since then, I decided to become a fashion designer, and later a jewellery designer. The reason I wanted to be a designer is because I like drawing something beautiful. So, I guess it’s innate.
How did you come up with the name of Austy Lee for your line?
I have been in the industry for many years, having worked as a jewelry designer for different brands/companies. But no matter how much I would love my designs to be seen in the final products, there were always restrictions or, sometimes, amendments by the person-in-charge – I could not design what I really want due to the fact that I was the designer for other people.
In 2017, with the experiences I have accumulated all these years, from gemstones buying, assorting to jewelry designing, producing, I decided to develop my own designer brand, an eponymous brand, aUSTY LEE, aiming to bring people one-of-a-kind, fashion-forward high jewels, that are still affordable for every single family from different levels of the society, bringing them museum-grade, but wearable, art jewellery as a family heirloom.
How did your uncle’s influence in antiques and antique restoration affect your business and influence your work?
Appreciating antiques and their restoration have helped me understand more about the usage of different tools and materials in an art piece. A lot of techniques, the uses of precious gemstones, wood materials etc. by the craftsmen from the ancient times could hardly be seen nowadays. I appreciate their techniques, like the application of enamel, different types of inlays etc., and I always want to incorporate them into my art jewellery. Through antique restoration, I get to know more about antiques’ production process, thus supplementing my jewellery with various antique elements.
Your designs involve a variety of abstract psychedelic patterns. Where do you draw your inspiration from for these unique and eye-catching pieces?
I am very sensitive to the uses of colors, and my religion is Tibetan Buddhism. Its Thangkas and Mandalas are the main inspirations for those psychedelic patterns. The use of different colors and patterns in my jewellery is similar to those seen in Thangkas and Mandalas. The Psychedelic Light Collection, therefore, involves a lot of elements about Buddhism.
Your collection, The Garden of Myth, has a range of colorful works that utilize several gemstones; did you have a favorite gemstone to use for this collection? Which did you prefer to work with?
There are two –Indicolite and Emerald. Because both gemstones, to me, are very mythical. Indicolite’s blue color (Indigo color) is meaningful in Tibetan Buddhism. And Emeralds were involved in Egyptian and Jewish mythology.
Tell us about your fascination with Jade. Can you elaborate on why you love it?
Growing up infused with traditional Chinese culture, Jade has been with me since I was at a very young age. My mother gave me a jade peace buckle necklace for protection and blessing. And my parents would bring me to Chinese Arts & Crafts, which is a department store selling Fei Cui, different types of gemstones like agate, quartz, nephrite etc. In there, my fascination grew towards Jade and special gemstones started growing. Jades, to Chinese people, are the embodiment of the Confucian virtues of courage, wisdom, modesty, justice and compassion. I am particularly into carved jades like dragon, phoenix and some jade pieces used for ritual activities, as these have different forms, patterns, meanings and complexity. And I would love to preserve these Chinese values, modifying and incorporating them into my jewellery.
The Pinky Solar Mandala Ring from the Psychedelic Light collection is magnificent; can you walk us through the process of designing and creating a piece as intricate as this?
In the Psychedelic Light Collection, it involves a lot of elements inspired by the Mandala. In this ring, the form and pattern were derived from it, whereas the pink and red color represent sex, passion and the emotions of human beings. Most people are fond of these 2 colors, especially females. Therefore, this ring is created based on the interconnection between Mandala and people’s feelings.
Out of your many collections, is there one you feel most connected to, or one that has more meaning to you? Tell us about it.
Frankly speaking, I cannot choose one because each collection is unique, special and important to me. All of these collections are drawn from my visual diary, which is a sketch book I use to record everything I like and I have seen. For example, if I see a very beautiful orchid in the flower market, or an impressive Mandala, maybe even a special animal/myth that I have read in a book, I will draw them in this visual diary. And these sketches turn into my jewellery pieces. So, each collection is like my memories, my past and my life, very meaningful to me.
Do you have a piece of jewellery that you find yourself wearing more often? Which piece and why?
There are two pieces I have with me all the time. One is a double-terminal corundum sapphire pendant set with diamonds and 18K gold. I never take this pendant off from me because I have a fantasy towards rough, unpolished gemstones. Another kind of jewellery I wear often is emerald rings. I have a few of them with emerald sized more than 20 carats. It is because my favorite gemstone is emerald, and I love wearing rings with large emeralds as the main stone.
Tell us about your tutoring. What kind of tutoring do you do, and what do you enjoy about mentoring the next generation?
I teach Jewellery Design and Culture. Education is one of the things that I would like to contribute to the industry, as I see that the jewellery design industry is not flourishing as it used to. Also, I observe that a lot of the next generation are lacking in creativity and initiative. They produce what they are asked to, just to get good grades. But I see design as stepping out of the comfort zone, daring to try new things and blazing new trails. Therefore, I always ask my students to not only learn from classroom, but also brainstorm lots of ideas and inspirations from researching and observing everything that surrounds us. For example, getting to know more about how jewellery design has evolved in different eras, how jewelry has been valued by people with different races and cultures etc. These would help the design processes and explore new way of thinking. And jewellery design involves lots of techniques, not only drawing skills, but also product design techniques, problem solving skills etc., which are crucial in developing one’s own brand. High jewellery is more than just a piece piled up with lots of diamonds and gemstones; to me, every piece of jewellery has to have its own storytelling and its representation of one’s cultural values, beliefs and virtues. It’s also essential to have its uniqueness and style stand out in the market.
To be honest, it is tough tutoring while having my own business. But seeing the improvements and achievements my students have got, I find joy and satisfaction. And education is something I can contribute to bring changes and reinforcement in the jewellery industry.
Your work has gotten a lot of attention from the press and has been worn by several notable figures. Who would you like to see wearing Austy Lee next?
I am very grateful that my designs have been worn by famous people like Michelle Obama, Madonna, Katy Perry etc.; this has given me affirmation and encouragement to keep doing better. Having said that, I do not have a specific person that I see wearing my jewellery. Of course, having notable figures wearing my work is an add-on. But it would be more important and meaningful to me that whoever chooses my jewellery admires my work and feels joyful wearing my brand every day. It doesn’t matter who they are, or where they are from. As long as they are happy, that’s all that matters. And that is the motivation for me creating more beautiful designs.
What legacy do you want to leave behind, both personally and professionally?
I design with the aim of bringing changes to the industry, and even society. That’s my sole goal both personally and professionally. It doesn’t matter if people remember aUSTY LEE many years later. What more important to me is that my work can have positive impacts towards the perspectives people have for jewellery designs, or the techniques other designers apply, maybe even towards the cultures, values and vibes of the society. My passion is to create fashion-forward designs, bringing a whole new trend to the industry. With my belief in Tibetan Buddhism, if reincarnation does occur, I wish to see a drastic change in the design industry in the next few centuries!
To continue following Austy Lee’s story and keep posted on future collections of Austy Lee Art Jewellery, visit https://www.austyleeartjewellery.com/ and follow @austy_lee on Instagram or @austyleejewellery on Facebook.