There's an almost eerie symmetry about Kim Mee Hye's jewellery designs that compels you to keep looking: the proportions pleasantly correct; the plain, flat lines polished to perfection. Get closer and the real source of intrigue is revealed. Each of her rings, bracelets and earrings has a precisely crafted, carefully hidden mechanism, that, when articulated, reveals a double character: a simple gold ring folds back on itself to become a hoop of glinting black diamonds; a plain gold bar softly unfolds into a glamorously long, paved earring.
'I like the idea of referencing powerful symbols in an uncluttered design, but one that opens to unveil a different side,' says the Antwerp-based designer. She admits that their creation is a lengthy process, from the design-development side and also because the mechanisms have to be rendered almost invisible. 'This way, the jewel becomes a whole in itself and, once you start wearing it, you forget about the dual aspect.' A keen sense of not being too precious about precious things is also at play. 'I liked the idea of being sophisticated, but also more casual in the same day, of creating jewels for women who don't consider fine jewellery as suited only to a particular occasion.'
Wallpaper*: Tell us about your recent book project with fashion photographer Quentin de Briey.
Kim Mee Hye: I am a strong believer in encounters. This was the case with Quentin and Steffy, the model who appears in the book and who is wearing my jewellery. I found both of them very inspiring, so I asked them to collaborate on a book that would present the universe of Kim Mee Hye; our own version of luxury. I knew Quentin personally and I was always following his work. I love that he manages to make such simple moments in life look sublime. In all honesty, this is how he appreciates them, with a sincere gaze upon the things and the people that surround him. In black and white, you can feel the sun, the heat behind each photograph.
Your designs have a minimalist appearance, but they have a double character, precision engineered to hide or reveal a double side. Can you explain the two-sided nature of your jewels?
My jewellery is made using precious materials, which are luxurious, but the form is simple and I think that reflects the dual character that exists in every woman. The uncluttered design is powerful and symbolic but it unveils a different side, such as a hidden diamond or an engraved word.
There is a careful articulation in your jewels - they fold open and close shut almost silently. Why is the engineered aspect an important part of the designs?
Each jewel is meticulously considered, so that it becomes timeless. My designs are part of a long development process, not only in terms of development of the design but also of the mechanism. And because my pieces are produced in Antwerp, where I live, I have total control over the making of them. My vision is to create a jewel that becomes a whole in itself, so that you forget about the dual aspect of the design when you start wearing it. Or you can play with it, according to your desire.
Given the complex, technical nature of your designs, was it important that your business is based in Antwerp - a city of historical significance as a key stone-cutting and technical centre for jewellery?
For a young brand, which doesn't have the recognition of a luxury brand like Cartier, I preferred working in Belgium, hand in hand with the skilled Antwerp craftsmen. The production costs are higher than other places but there is a definite 'premium' Antwerpian quality to the pieces that I am glad to be associated with.
Your jewels are super fine and super clean, yet very precious in the high levels of craftsmanship and materials used. Why did you focus on fine jewellery methods rather than just fashion?
My first pieces were created spontaneously, from the desire to produce the jewels of my dreams. Then it turned out that they were so much more beautiful made in gold, especially given the simplicity and the purity of the designs. I have never asked myself about the brand's DNA, it simply imposed itself, just like the timeless aspect of the collection. The challenge was therefore to show that I could establish myself as a new jewellery brand, viewing 'luxury' differently, thanks to a strong and contemporary aesthetic.