Book Review: Symphony of Jewels: Anna Hu Opus 2
Seven years after Symphony of Jewels: Anna Hu Opus 1, New York–based jewelry designer Anna Hu is back with Opus 2. This collection of 100 of her designs from 2013 to 2018 is the second of ten planned Opuses that are a tribute to her idol, Beethoven. The Taiwanese-born designer calls her creations symphonies—she draws much of her inspiration from music. The daughter of a gem dealer, Hu was a cellist from ages 13 to 20, when an injury ended her musical career and she turned to jewelry design. She studied at GIA, the Parsons School of Design, Columbia University, and the Fashion Institute of Technology, and worked at Van Cleef & Arpels and Harry Winston, before founding Anna Hu Haute Joaillerie in 2007.
The years since Opus 1 have seen Anna Hu Haute Joaillerie grow in prominence. Hu now has boutiques in Shanghai and Taipei. In 2013, at Christie’s Hong Kong, her Orpheus jadeite ring broke the world record for a Chinese contemporary jewelry artist, with a final bid of $2.59 million, more than three times the high pre-sale estimate. At Christie’s Geneva that year, her Cote d’Azur brooch garnered the highest per-carat price for a Burmese sapphire ($78,400). In September 2017 she exhibited at La Biennale Paris for the first time, showing pieces from Opus 1. And in May 2018, Hu was the first modern Asian jewelry designer to not only exhibit at the State Historical Museum of Moscow but also have a piece in its permanent collection (her China Red Magpie Brooch, a version of Opus 1’s Blue Formosan Magpie Brooch).
Opus 2 begins with a foreword by François Curiel, chairman of Christie’s Europe and Asia. Curiel remarks on Hu’s transformations: from cellist to jewelry designer at the time of an internship at Christie’s, to successful designer with her own brand and multiple awards. He notes the evolution of her design from “bold and confident” in its first decade to one of “sophisticated aesthetics” and “contemporary elegance” in the second. “Her music never stops,” he writes.
The introduction, by jewelry historian Janet Zapata and jewelry expert Sarah Davis, describes the themes and symbolism of Hu’s jewelry: Chinese and Western art, music, and culture; water and sea life; the universe; and butterflies inspired by music and goddesses. (Hu has created one butterfly jewel annually since 2008; her last name means “butterfly.”) They note that the influence of music is evident in the sense of movement in her designs. Hu sees the jewelry that arises from her creation process like a phoenix rising from ashes, Zapata and Davis write, which to her symbolizes the creative fire of women.
In the preface, Hu describes her fascination with gemstones as a child—and a startling dream at ten years old in which a D-Flawless diamond was implanted in her heart, which inspired her to make jewelry to “bring happiness to people and brighten their souls.” Her jewels are not decorative objects, she says, but modern art with cultural relevance to both East and West.
Opus 2 is divided into five chapters: Ballerina Faeries, Chinese Inspiration, Duet and Trio, Contemporary Art, and Butterfly. Each one begins with an overview of the influences and inspirations for the jewelry within, with commentary on select pieces, along with a photo of a featured piece and several small photos of the craftsmanship process. The majority of the book consists of full-page photographs of Hu’s brooches, necklaces, bracelets, rings, and cuff links. The impression of movement is enhanced within the photos by shadows, reflections of light, mirror images of the jewels, and larger-than-life flowers and butterfly wings. Illustrations are used sparingly. The chapters close with details of each piece’s gemstones and metals, inspirations, and symbolism, along with its Chinese name; technique is only lightly touched upon.
Hu’s designs are exquisitely intricate. A 5.145 ct conch pearl “egg” rests in a nest of rose gold wire in the Red Magpie Brooch (the third in the series that began in Opus 1). The tiny diamond briolettes of the Enchanted Orchid Earrings move when worn, creating sound and reflections of light. A ribbon of diamond and white gold interweaves with petals of diamond and rose gold to create the effect of a flower in the Pétales de’Amour rings. The selection of gemstones is exceptional. Highlights include fancy-color sapphire and diamond, Golconda diamond, Kashmir sapphire, Burmese ruby, jadeite, Colombian emerald, Sri Lankan and Burmese star sapphire, tsavorite, Paraíba tourmaline, black and fire opals, pearls, and a 33.65 ct cat’s-eye alexandrite.
The index, while useful for its thumbnail-sized photos, lists only the page of each piece’s main photo rather than all pages where it appears. A second minor criticism also involves page numbers: they are absent except for on pages with substantial text. For example, page 63 shows the Pétales d’Amour Trio and directs the reader to pages 92–93 for more, but only one page in between is numbered, so the reader has to turn backward from page 98 or count the pages. This choice was likely intended to avoid detracting from the artistry of the full-page photographs—each one already has the piece’s name and number—but a better choice would have been to give the piece number rather than page number on page 63 and others like it.
Jewelry designers will enjoy Symphony of Jewels: Anna Hu Opus 2 for its extraordinary designs and modern East-meets-West aesthetic. Gemologists will appreciate the stunning gemstones. But the book is more than a study of beautiful jewelry. It also offers substance on the themes of her creations, from Greek mythology to Chinese culture and the Art Deco era. The reader could spend many hours with this book and find a new appreciation for the art, nature, and culture that are Hu’s muses.