Hong Kong-born jeweller Anabela Chan recently flew into Dubai from her home in London to launch a year-long residency at Bayt Damas. The villa brings together high jewellery, art and fashion under one roof. The concept, says Chan, “is about creating elements of surprise and discovery, and so we were delighted to be invited to take this space”.
Viewed alongside her neighbours in the villa, which include illustrious brands such as Graff, Sabyasachi and Mikimoto, her glamorous jewels serve up one particular surprise. The dreamy pieces draw inspiration from exotic birds, mermaids, seashells, fossils and butterflies.
The colours are vibrant, the craftsmanship is flawless and the scale is voluminous. Her rings, earrings and necklaces are as lavish as high jewellery, but they are also somewhat provocative because they are created from aluminium, recycled precious metals and laboratory-grown gemstones.
Chan’s brand philosophy is built on sustainability. The gold and silver she uses is recycled and the aluminium originally comes from canned drinks. It is sustainably recycled, purified, shaped into fantastical florals and sea creatures, and then coated in vibrant iridescent colours.
Her pearls are sustainably sourced from the Philippines. Her diamonds are chemically identical to natural diamonds but grown in a laboratory at the Diamond Foundry in California, while the other gemstones come from labs in Japan, Korea and Belgium and are faceted exactly like a natural stone.
Reactions to the gemstones on view at Bayt Damas have been positive, says Chan. “It is very refreshing for them to see what these lab-grown gemstones can do at their full potential, in settings that have the craftsmanship of high jewellery.”
The price point is also significant, with rings and earrings from £1,500 ($2,000) and necklaces from £3,300. “To be able to offer this level of craftsmanship and design at our price point is a unique proposition.”
Clients, she says, “love the colours of our aluminium pieces because they are so unusual. The colours of the gemstones and the metal settings imbued with iridescence is quite magical.”
She recalls one shy young woman casually browsing the rings in Dubai. Chan encouraged her to try them on, because she wants customers to enjoy the experience fully. “It should be fun, not daunting. She put on the ring and she lit up. That, for me, is the magic. It’s how you feel, and she just bloomed. Jewellery has that power.”
The sumptuous colours and sustainable slant of her pieces resonate in Hollywood. Chan has become a red-carpet favourite for Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift and Rihanna, and her jewels regularly feature in music videos, including for Cardi B’s Up.
Chan herself cuts a strikingly glamorous figure, with brightly coloured jackets and blouses to contrast her long black hair, statement earrings and a signature slash of red lipstick. Perhaps that love of glamour is inherited from her great-grandmother, Wu Lai Chu, who was the first female action movie star in Shanghai in the 1940s.
Her daughter, Chan’s grandmother, Ren Yi Chi, the first female film director in Hong Kong in the 1950s and ‘60s, was a pioneering spirit and highly respected.
Chan was born in Hong Kong and educated in England, where she displayed a strong artistic flair. She originally studied architecture and joined Lord Richard Rogers’ prestigious firm, working in New York on the Tower Three project at Ground Zero in 2006 and 2007.
Fashion, though, was her passion, and while studying architecture in the early noughties she landed an internship with Alexander McQueen, working on print and embroidery designs during her holidays, evenings and weekends for seven years. “Whenever they needed help for the collections”, she recalls.
She spent some time designing for well-known British high street brand All Saints and then secured a spot on the Royal College of Art’s goldsmithing, silversmithing, metalwork and jewellery master’s course in 2011. After she graduated in 2013, Chan launched her eponymous brand, drawing on all the business experience she learnt at All Saints. She opened her first shop at Ham Yard Hotel in London’s Soho the following year and in 2020 moved to a bigger boutique on Sloane Street in Knightsbridge.
The interior of the new flagship store reveals an unexpected love for taxidermy, with a stuffed pink cockatoo and antique Victorian glass domes displaying butterflies, all of which inspire the dreamy romanticism of her collections. Her latest, which features among showcase pieces from her previous 14 collections at Bayt Damas, is called Mermaid’s Tale and is based on evocative marine photography. Iridescent blues and greens of fish and aquatic life on the coral reef are handcrafted into rings, earrings and necklaces.
This is her fourth trip to Dubai and her first business trip out of the UK since the pandemic. “This time it was really buzzing and vibrant," she says.