The Chinese have always been fascinated with the traditional jade and its many emblematic profiles. Confucius once attributed the semi-precious green stone to human virtues of integrity, fortitude and purity, while ancient civilisations that go as far back as the Hans dynasty would exploit jade’s vivifying properties and see late emperors clad in jade garments to prevent decay.
Today, you don’t have to be oriental to appreciate jade. Celebrities, the likes of Nicole Kidman and Jessica Chastain, have been seen sporting jade jewellery on the red carpets, and even celeb-turned-entrepreneur Gwyneth Paltrow has a thing or two to say on self-care and empowerment using jade eggs on a lady’s lady parts.
In Singapore, jewellery with this gorgeous green stone is also seeing a resurgence of sorts among younger generations of women. And one Singaporean label is quietly trumpeting a new trend in the world of jade accessories.
Enter Genevie Yeo, the founder of Gen.K Jewelry. Established in 2014, the Singaporean label takes pride in the unorthodox, taking a spin at traditional jade jewellery with modernised looks.
“I began conceptualising this idea [of modernising jade jewellery] back in 2014,” Genevie tells me in her flagship store at Pacific Plaza. But her affinity with and passion for the green, semi-precious stone goes way back to the early 2000s when her mother first gave her and her sister, Kayde Yeo, a pair of matching jade rings. Then, modernising jade bangles or rings was a relatively unknown and foreign concept. “My sister, who is also my mentor in jewellery crafting, encouraged me to start this business when I left my full-time job from Apple in 2015.”
In a highly interconnected and increasingly cut-throat world, Genevie’s decision to leave her full-time position at the tech giant was more than a pragmatic leap of faith. It was a liberation; a time off for her to destress and focus on other priorities. “I felt liberated leaving. I could focus on starting my family and my hobbies too,” she says with a quiet confidence. “I don’t regret making that decision.”
And perhaps that was for the better.
For the uninitiated, jade is unyielding. Containing two tough minerals (nephrite and jadeite), the semi-precious stone commands tremendous effort and time to be moulded and polished into exquisite accessories. The idea of adding whimsical details to an almost perfect jewellery may seem like a distasteful and atrocious afterthought, but Genevie and her sister had proven otherwise with their creations.
“People like these new details. When I first started, my sister and I only had simple coils around jade rings and bangles, and girls came up to me expressing their fascination. It was reassuring as it was surreal.”
In the label’s extensive repertoire of jade offerings, Genevie reveals that much of her creativity stems from the events that unfolded in her life. As a homage to the ladies who work in the corporate world, values and virtues of tactfulness, self-love, and independence inspired her to create the Five Gems Jade Bangle. Handcrafted with Grade A Burmese jade and embellished with five semi-precious gemstones — purple and green amethyst, blue topaz, citrine and rose quartz —, the otherwise understated bangle evolves to become a sleek, but symbolic and ornamental extension of its antecedent.
In another instance, Genevie draws influences from her first-born and second-born sons to create two symbolical rings in the Mother and Child Bee collection. Clearly, Genevie has a taste for the whimsy and she demonstrates this flair by pairing bee motifs with miniature garnet and citrine stones that rest elegantly on a white jade ring. Needless to say, the rings became a hit amongst mothers-to-be and new mothers.
To Genevie, jade is therapeutic and wearing jade jewellery echoes the ethos of having resolve and staying tough against the odds. Women who wear the label’s jewellery, Genevie says, are empowered to become better versions of themselves. “Jade is one of the toughest stone in gemmology, and we want our ladies to be tough on the outside as well as loving and kind on the inside too,” she adds.
In the ecology of fine jewellery where male craftsmen of Parisian or European backgrounds easily come to mind, Genevie is a jewellery designer who remains undaunted and unfazed at the industry’s seemingly inconspicuous prejudice against female craftsmen. “I don’t think the industry is male-dominated today. At the end of the day, gender doesn’t really matter because our consumers are discerning and have the eye for quality goods,” she shares.
“I am really thankful that I have really good teammates,” Genevie confesses sheepishly, referring to the all-ladies team who helms the front- and backend at Gen.K Jewelry. “It wasn’t easy managing the brand while taking care of my children at the same time. I am not saying that I am the best boss, but I guess I have a good personality?” she laughs.
Gen.K Jewelry has recently clinched the accolade of Editor’s Choice Awards 2020. Last year, the Singaporean label also sponsored an exquisite piece to an open auction, which was organised by HAGAR, to raise funds and awareness for those healing from the trauma of human trafficking. The delicate diamond-embellished, lavender jade pendant that contained two dove motifs was auctioned at $4,500.
As uncertainty follows us into the new decade, bringing along hidden surprises and unforeseeable misadventures, the image of an elderly woman wearing a piece of green jade on her wrist will continue to be a cliched appearance in pop-culture. But who knows, new renditions to the semi-precious jewellery may eventually take over one day. And maybe, just maybe, a new story to how jade — beyond being attributed to the Confucian virtues of purity and fortitude — empowers the modern woman may be told.
This story is Part One of three stories on the exceptional female merchants for hoolah. In light of International Women’s Day, we tip hats to the every day women who are narrating their own chapter of female inclusivity and empowerment in their own lives and in the 21st century. Here’s wishing all ladies a Happy International Women’s Day!