By Sze Man Young
Translated by Elmo Wong
Designer jewellery brand Sue & Leo is making a name for itself with its one-of-a-kind fine jewellery pieces that cast the spotlight on pearls.
While foreign clients place a greater premium on design, many customers from mainland China are more particular about the quality of materials used in a jewellery piece.
Coming up with original designs is an adventure in itself, one that is self-ordained yet challenging. With its unique and distinctive pearl jewellery pieces, Sue & Leo, a designer jewellery brand run by the Cheng siblings, swiftly rose to prominence in the market. The brand is centred on baroque pearls, using 9-karat gold threads to highlight the lustrous gems’ beauty through fine lines. Owner Sue Cheng shared with JNA her vision for the brand’s one-of-a-kind creations.
How did Sue & Leo come about?
The brand is named after my brother Leo and me. The Chinese name means “opening up a new path” and “opening our business.” Similar to many others in the industry, we started with the wholesale of pearls. At the time, the weak global economy did not favour business growth and development. As jewellery was our main business, it was a must for us to reform and innovate to stay afloat. Last year, we revamped and renovated one of our shops and started producing jewellery of original designs with exquisite craftsmanship and good-quality materials. After a year of intensive promotions, during which we received a lot of constructive feedback from customers that yielded new design ideas, the result has been quite satisfying.
Who are your clients?
We have been doing business with international clients for 10 years. We have a shop in Hongqiao Market in Beijing, which gives us plenty of opportunities to engage with them. We are quite popular among European clients. Our jewellery pieces have original, bespoke designs, so most of the products meet our customers’ expectations. While foreign clients place a greater premium on design, many customers from mainland China are more particular about the quality of materials used in a jewellery piece.
What is Sue & Leo’s design process?
My brother does most of the design work. He creates what he likes with the materials available at hand. We insist on handling the sourcing and purchasing ourselves as well. In the beginning, we had over 300 designs, at least 50 of which were one-of-a-kind items. We streamlined our portfolio by removing those designs that didn’t do well. We currently make at least 100 new designs every month, some of which are extensions of popular lines. We plan to release a lot of brooches in the second half of the year.
Copying of designs is rampant in mainland China. How do you cope with this?
This is indeed a problem in the market. Copying of designs undoubtedly causes us to lose clients and hurts both our reputation and our business by offering the market poor imitations of our designs at lower prices. We are however confident that clients who see our fine jewellery pieces will understand why we are not competing on price. We also bring new products to the market, ensuring always that they are of good quality. This is the only way to achieve sustainable development of the business.
What is your outlook for mainland China’s jewellery market?
China’s jewellery market still has great potential. Growth depends on whether we jewellers can amaze consumers with our products. Only through constant creativity, innovation and development can the industry succeed.