Greater China
Appreciating Chinese designs and aesthetics
2017/08/27
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Zheng Jing, deputy dean at the School of Industrial Design of Nanjing University of the Arts

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Frank Wu, president of TTF Haute Joaillerie, speaks at a panel discussion exploring design ideas for 1-carat diamond rings infused with Chinese design aesthetics

The diamond ring, especially the solitaire, offers the least flexibility in terms of design due to its size. The top-selling product in China under the diamond jewellery category, the diamond ring might fail to sustain its popularity due to limited design options. In an attempt to address the issue and propose solutions incorporating traditional Chinese design elements in diamond ring styles, TTF Haute Joaillerie (TTF) initiated and co-hosted the HRD Antwerp & TTF 2016 Carat Diamond Ring International Jewellery Design Competition in partnership with government bodies and industry stakeholders, which included the organising committee of Shenzhen Fashion Week, Luohu District Economic Development Council and the Luohu District General Chamber of Commerce.

The diamond ring, especially the solitaire, offers the least flexibility in terms of design due to its size. The top-selling product in China under the diamond jewellery category, the diamond ring might fail to sustain its popularity due to limited design options. In an attempt to address the issue and propose solutions incorporating traditional Chinese design elements in diamond ring styles, TTF Haute Joaillerie (TTF) initiated and co-hosted the HRD Antwerp & TTF 2016 Carat Diamond Ring International Jewellery Design Competition in partnership with government bodies and industry stakeholders, which included the organising committee of Shenzhen Fashion Week, Luohu District Economic Development Council and the Luohu District General Chamber of Commerce.

In addition to the competition, TTF also held a seminar, presided by company founder Frank Wu, which explored the possibilities of designing a diamond ring infused with Chinese aesthetics.

It is common knowledge that Western aesthetics dominate mainstream design styles in multiple industries. According to Wu, jewellery designers, artisans and brands in China are far from being artistic in terms of jewellery design, not even in form. To solve this fundamental problem, the industry must think outside the box. Exploring the boundaries of Chinese philosophy and aesthetics might just be the answer, he said.

“Apart from the diamond ring, China’s jewellery market is the last frontier in the world of high jewellery, art jewellery and bespoke jewellery. We need to nurture it by encouraging creativity and promoting values against homogenisation,” said Wu.

Collections that combine Chinese design elements and Western style have been prevalent recently. Pieces making use of traditional Chinese motifs, materials and craftsmanship, and reinterpreted in modern Western designs, are winning the hearts of consumers. 

Zheng Jing, deputy dean of the School of Industrial Design at Nanjing University of the Arts, likewise noted the lack of creativity in jewellery design. According to him, the education system in China, from kindergarten to university – even its graduate degrees – was a product of the West. A diamond ring rooted in Chinese philosophy and aesthetics – one that is void and solid, black and white, and symbolic of indirect expressions – is yet to be designed. However, he is confident that this vision will eventually be realised.

Chinese aesthetics

Chinese philosophy and aesthetics revolve around the circle and curve concepts, remarked Zheng. Circle, a symbol of completeness and oneness in Chinese culture, can be seen and traced back to the Chinese classic, I Ching, as well as Bagua, which literally means “eight symbols,” and Yin Yang charts. 

In addition, Chinese philosophy, such as Taoism, stresses the belief that gentleness can overcome strength. Hence, the conviction that gentleness is the key to continuous and sustainable development. This gentleness, often represented by drifting clouds and flowing water, conveys beauty in China.

Chinese aesthetics are also divided into two levels, the first of which is imagery. This refers to the appearance, form or shape of an object, and how it looks like to its audience. The second level – artistic conception – is the feeling and experience an object imparts to its viewers. Chinese art puts a heavy emphasis on artistic conception, with an eye to enhancing the audience’s experience by elevating the artistic content of the piece, be it a painting, sculpture or a piece of handicraft.

There are various means to express or present imagery and artistic conception, including black and white, and void and solid, said Zheng. A perfect circle does not necessarily mean it is a circle; rather it is the art of achieving harmony through interaction and contrast, with no fixed standards, he continued.

Oriental aesthetics 

Today, China is flooded with products revolving around themes inspired by Chinese motifs. Traditional ornamentations, tattoos and shapes are applied to these products in the name of heritage. According to Zheng, this has nothing to do with heritage. 

“What we should do is revitalise traditional Chinese culture and find our own ‘formal languages,’” suggested Zheng.

Oriental aesthetics are not only about traditional shapes and ornamentations, but culture and philosophy. Zheng pointed out that the industry has to understand Chinese culture, philosophy and its aesthetics first, then apply this understanding in the creation of “formal languages.”

Zheng added that China does not have its own modern aesthetics and philosophy at the moment. 

“Many of the philosophies we have today took reference from or are a replication of Western philosophies. This is because we did not inherit the traditional Chinese philosophies we had, such as the Hundred Schools of Thought of ancient China, Buddhism of the Tang and Song Dynasties, as well as the Neo-Confucianism of the Song and Ming Dynasties. Therefore, when we want to introduce Chinese philosophies into jewellery design, we need to add modern elements, which means presenting traditional values in a modern way,” remarked Zheng.

Cultural knowledge

Chinese culture is well known for its cultural inclusivity, which can be seen from some of the most prestigious dynasties such as Han, Tang, Ming and Song, Zheng said. For instance, various cultures enjoyed rapid development during the Southern Song Dynasty. It accepted different cultures with an open mind, and transformed these cultures with its own aesthetics and philosophies, eventually making them part of China’s 5,000 years of civilisation. 

This culture of inclusivity may be applied in today’s world. Cultures, thoughts and trends around the world are all coming to China. It is normal to follow, take reference or even panic, said Zheng. “As long as we are willing to accept and learn from foreign cultures while staying true to our own philosophies, we can create a diamond ring for modern China,” he said.

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