Yet underneath the mountains of silicon and plastic lie a multitude of gems, quite literally, in the form of jewellery created by some experimental young Taiwanese designers.

Although their styles differ greatly, many share a similar trend of experimenting with materials – materials not traditionally associated with the design of jewellery.

Take cement, for example. Grey, hard, strong. Brilliant for turning into the concrete that 90 per cent of buildings are made of in seismically active Taiwan. But a thing of beauty? Debatable.

Sean Yu and Yi-ting Cheng of 22 Design Studio would undoubtedly beg to differ. Having seen stunning examples of polished concrete architecture in Japan, they wanted to show how, through creative design, materials of all sorts can be manipulated for very different applications.

Their Concrete Ring series includes several pieces that combine high-density cement with 316L stainless steel, all inspired by architecture and urban life. Their Corner Ring has the smooth, rounded surface of a traditional ring but with the addition of a pointed corner on one side to reflect the multitude of street corners found in the concrete jungle.

In contrast, their Rock Ring has numerous edges that encourage the wearer to touch its surface and experience the versatile texture of cement. The designers created the angular surfaces to show how light and shadows can change the appearance of a material.

In the Twist Ring, a chunk of cement has been sliced into five layers, with each layer then rotated five degrees. This geometric design is an interesting example of how a simple chunk of cement can easily be turned into something altogether more complex.

Staying with architectural materials, although of a more decorative nature, haoshi Design Studio uses resin to create whimsical necklaces and rings. Designers Griffin Yang and Sweeny Chung want their pieces of jewellery to look like plaster statues, but as gypsum is too fragile, they use resin, which can be cast and carved.

First, Yang and Chung draw up a design, then a master carver creates a mould into which each piece is cast. After each casting, the master carver adds intricate details that give life to the pieces, many of which depict animals.

Their Animals in the City series aims to reflect the emotions of urban people. Just like humans, “animals each have their habitual behaviours and stories,” says Chung, who urges people to “choose an animal! It’s your best friend and will always stand by you!”

This eccentricity is even more apparent in haoshi’s Dress series where pendants resemble mini-human statues, each with their heads replaced by objects that we find in our everyday lives: a banana, a blender or a toothbrush.

“We use humour to pay attention to the small things around us,” explains Chung. “In our daily lives, our emotions are easily affected by little trifles and we often neglect some good things around us. They may be very small but they can give us joy and contentment.” Through visual art, haoshi’s designers are aiming to express their life philosophy.

Another designer whose life philosophy greatly influences his jewellery pieces is Greatman Lin of Moorigin design. “Nature is my inspiration,” says Lin, “it is perfect and flawless. Nothing man-made can compete with it structurally or visually. We base our designs on nature to draw our consumers’ attention closer to its beauty and the need to love our planet and environment.”

Elements of nature’s fractal geometry can certainly be seen in many of Moorigin’s necklaces. Patterns with high degrees of self-similarity are designed using techniques borrowed from advanced manufacturing technologies prevalent in Taiwan.

“Our designs are sculpted from using technology often used in the design and construction of the insides of electronic products. This way we can use a very precise and high level of detail to achieve a strong degree of aesthetics,” explains Lin.

Looking at the jewellery’s clean lines and structural shapes it is no surprise that Lin’s background is in graphic and animation design. It is a big jump, however, from designing on paper to creating a 3D wearable object, and a lot of testing was needed to find a material suitable for such intricate designs. “Ultimately, we decided on using stainless steel because of its durable, strong and resistant properties,” says Lin.

Taking testing of materials to the extreme are jewellers Peggy Hung and Ting-Ting Tsao of Bomb Metal and Fry Jewelry. The ‘Bomb’ – or ‘Boom’, as they also call it – represents the process of experimentation, and the ‘Fry’ implies that their work can be as fun and as experimental as cooking.

Mostly they use enamel on silver, enamel on copper, decal and anodised aluminium. “We like to use the colours and the texture of the materials to express the emotion of our works,” they explained.

Tsao’s pieces in particular are quite conceptual in nature. “I especially care about the relationships between people. In my Speaking series, I want to discuss the diverse possibilities between language, expression, listener and speaker,” she explains.

“Similarly, in my I Wish series, I focus on the connection between giving and appreciation,” she says, speaking of necklaces in the shape of half-opened gift boxes.

Hung, it seems, takes a less philosophical approach to her designs, preferring to focus on humour. “I love to incorporate some humorous and sarcastic elements into my work. For example, my Take Me Away series is comprised of several movable puppets that shake and make funny poses.

Those puppets could be your enemies or your boss.” Hung’s appreciation of dark humour is also seen in her quirky Animal Protection series, where cats and dogs wearing Elizabethan collars are simultaneously amusing and pitiable.

The works of jewellery designer Serena Chen are inspired by the environment immediately surrounding her home. “My house is on a small hill, which is surrounded by mountains. It’s very normal to see birds or to bump into squirrels in my back yard.

My Natural Breeze collection is inspired by the creatures or plants I see during my daily life.” Her Take a Rest ring, for example, shows a bird resting on a branch and is intended to prompt people into taking regular breaks from their busy lives and reflecting upon their true-life goals.

Chen’s necklaces, bracelets and rings are constructed from a unique combination of silver and suede, the latter choice of material being inspired by Chen’s seven previous years as a shoe designer in Taipei and Shanghai.

Her move into jewellery design happened by chance in Sweden, where at a friend’s studio she made her first silver ring and was prompted to apply for a course in metal and jewellery design at Stockholm’s Konstfack University College of Arts, Design and Crafts.

Returning to Taiwan she worked for several jewellery companies but, frustrated at having to reproduce other people’s ideas, she finally decided to create her own label. Perhaps this confidence to develop her own ideas came from her experiences studying in Sweden.

“In Sweden they allow students any possibility to develop their thoughts and are more open-minded. But in Taiwan, it is not like this. Furthermore, in Sweden students work on their own initiative, only seeking guidance from professors after they encounter problems.

"In Taiwan, however, students wait for teachers to tell them what to do and how to do it because they don’t have enough confidence themselves,” explains Chen.

This confidence extends to her design process: seldom does Chen draw sketches, preferring to transfer an idea from her head directly to a handmade piece. During the physical creation process she modifies her design.

Her casual approach applies also to her choice of tools, often abandoning typical wax carving tools in favour of knives and needles. “I think one year studying clay sculpture in my senior high school gave me a foundation that helps me a lot in wax carving!” she says.

While it is true that the majority of products coming out of Taiwan are aimed at seducing businessmen rather than fashion editors, that’s not to say that creative design in other fields is not occurring.

The confidence to experiment with both materials and themes seems to be a common trend among these particular jewellery designers, and consequently it is the uniqueness of the designs that is the cornerstone of their appeal.  

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