Jewelry: Artistic License

<< Back to Robb Report, December 2002

After a pair of Michelle Ong’s briolette-cut diamond earrings shaped like grape clusters sold in a heated bidding war at a Christie’s auction for $189,500—more than double their estimated value—the defeated bidder asked the jeweler to create a similar pair. Despite his passionate plea, Ong and her partner, Avi Nagar, declined.

“The original earrings were purchased for their artistic value,” explains Ong, who lives in Hong Kong. “I wouldn’t copy them, not even for $1 million. It would be like an artist re-creating a similar painting.”

Ong’s view of jewelry as art has earned her status as one of the world’s leading high jewelry designers. “Her work is beautiful, elegant, and graceful,” says Simon Teakle, head of Christie’s jewelry department in New York. Admittedly, Teakle would relish the chance to acquire more of Ong’s creations for the auction block, but because the designer has been in business for only three years, few of her clients are ready to part with their Ong treasures.

While Ong has been designing jewelry for an international stable of private clients for more than a decade, it was only three years ago that she launched her Carnet collection, which raised her profile among serious collectors. Carnet is known for its intricate yet glamorous designs, such as the Black Lace collection, made of platinum plated with oxidized silver to create a sleek, black finish. The lacy yet modern designs sparkle with diamond accents. Among the standout pieces are a pair of Black Lace cuffs, which appear more like fabric than metal and are appointed with dozens of tiny diamonds.

In Ong’s endeavor to create unique jewelry masterpieces, she has been known to take risks. She recently had a 30-carat rough diamond cut down to 10 carats to create a rare portrait cut—a completely flat, unfaceted cut that resembles a piece of glass. “It’s a big stone, but very subtle,” says Ong. “In its simplistic setting, the diamond appears as if it’s floating on your finger.” With a price tag of $289,000, the ring is for a particular type of woman, she says—a sophisticated client who can appreciate the uniqueness and rarity of a portrait-cut diamond.

“My jewelry is a fusion of Eastern and Western influences,” explains Ong, a petite woman with fine features and cropped black hair. Her graceful manner stems from years of training in ballroom dancing, which remains her favorite hobby. However, these days there is little time for dance, as she travels between her homes in Hong Kong and London and meticulously supervises the production of her one-of-a-kind designs, which can take as long as a year to create. And if a finished design does not meet her standards, the self-proclaimed perfectionist will dismantle it and start from scratch.

Michelle Ong, through Lee Siegelson in New York, 212.832.2666

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