The Royal Jewellers S02 ep8 : Carnet Jewellery [Hong Kong]

Interview with Michelle Ong

A disciple of jeweller-genius JAR, who’s work is already fetching record prices at Christies/Sothebys auctions , HK-based Michelle Ong’s jewels can take over 5-6 years to create for her exclusive clients.


What is Carnet?

Ong: It’s a hobby turned into a passion where I want to make beautiful things. I just use jewels and
gemstones as a medium for artistic expression.

Ong: I started work as apprentice to a gemstone dealer we dealt in diamonds, precious stones and
it’s more on the wholesale side and you know I worked with him for quite a number of years and
then I thought I wanted more.

Ong: I was brought up here, I was educated here, a few years in university in Toronto and then
back here again and I believe university study is really for learning sake and I don’t see it as a
career development.

Carnet Jewellery

Ong: Thinking back, I was never ambitious, I really didn’t have my life mapped out. I enjoy
sociology so I studied sociology so when I came back I didn’t really want to be a social worker and
then there was this family friend who was the first importer of the diamonds in Hong Kong and his
son was in the business and he was emigrating and said you know what, this is something totally
different, come, and learn the trade, see whether you’re interested. And it started like this.

Ong: As my first day of work I still remember you know these little gems you know, I thought it
was beautiful, I always love beautiful things, the painting I love to go to museums, I like to see you
know fashion, but fabrics, whatever’s beautiful, so I thought why not, I tried I was a week there I
was fascinated with the gem, and you know then of course you have to go to the more technical
side with grading and this and that but to play with it, it was a pleasure. And then I found after a
few more years, I thought it was not enough and I wanted to create, I wanted to play with it, say ah
I could do this, I could do this and what I remember, one instance is what really made me start to
doing jewellery was that I was going to a big party and I thought, oh I wanted to buy something
like oh you know make something and I didn’t find anything I liked and that’s how I started.

Ong: That from the beginning I’ve worked with a workshop and this worker was still with me for
the last 20 years so we sort of progressed together as a collaboration, that’s why it was very
important and it’s very tactile and sometimes on paper it’s totally on paper, but you know to make
it come alive.

Carnet Jewellery

Ong: When I first started of course you’re influenced by this one, that one, you start off making
things okay didn’t work, it didn’t work, it comes with having the courage to find your own style
and to stick to it, that’s why Carney was born about, only about 10 years. But I’ve been in the
jewellery business for 20 years, over 20 years.

Ong: I’m determined and I’m stubborn. I want to do what I want to do, if you don’t like, so maybe
you’re not for my jewellery and I’m lucky to have a partner, a business partner, who believes in it
too because I have totally no idea about finances.

Ong: When I create I think you know what I would like to wear and for what occasions, what I can
wear with, so I, for me it’s the different angle, so sometimes we start from stones and sometimes
it’s just a concept. And you know, this I think comes to people say you know where do you go to
inspirations I think that is the starting point, say I cannot like break it down technically, I see this,
oh, I think of the design, it doesn’t work that way, I think we’re surrounded by things, a line, a
silhouette, and for example, I had a beautiful lace dress, it was an antique lace Spanish you know
so oh I would like to make something to go with it and I see certain patterns and I created the
earrings and bracelet and whatnot and afterwards when it’s done, oh it’s too much when you wear
the whole set to forget about the dress.

Carnet Jewellery

Ong: The mystery of creation is that you know you cannot say, you know break it down and make
it to be very, how do you explain, rigid and to say there’s certain set formulas. I don’t know.

Ong: You have to have total control so that’s why from the beginning I had to have my own
workshop and of course you know you’re trying to create something new, something different,
things that you’ve done like six months, eight months, I say forget it, break it.

Start again.

Ong: Yeah, it’s difficult.

Carnet Jewellery

Ong: The lack of formal training helped me a little bit because there’s no boundary, I mean there’s
nothing to say you cannot do until you push, push when finally with certain things it doesn’t work,
there’s one thing also I wouldn’t give up, why it doesn’t work and many things are like this. At
first I mean I have a concept, I went to the workshop and say it’s not possible, can you do this and
that, and I say no find a way.

Ong: I’m always interested to see what other people do, always, always. And with the years you
realise it’s okay to admire, to learn, to understand but stay away from it, you have to stay true to
your own style. I am a great admirer of Jar’s work, I think he is the best I mean they have his, you
know his determination, his commitment and no compromises, I wish I could just get a fraction of
this which I’m trying to do I mean I’d be very happy.

Ong: As a woman you know when I put on something I … does it make me look feminine, does it
feel that it’s part of me? I think that’s a very important element. I mean you can do, push
boundaries, but you know that is just the end result I mean there are ways to help you to achieve
this but at the end of the day I want a beautiful piece of jewellery on me.

Ong: When you see a piece that you make you know you work on for 2 years, 3 years, and some of
the things I didn’t want to part with it so I will hide it for a year. I don’t want to show it either. Let
me play with it for a little while first.

Ong: People want something unique, they want something different and they want the personal
touch, that is how I feel and it’s more and more so. We are now in … already since last October
and I love the place there, I love the store, but you’re talking expansion, I’ve no plans at all. I
mean this also came along as you know I didn’t plan, I didn’t do it, but it’s just that you know I’ve
got a business partner who has got a little bit of a Napoleon complex but I said that you know, no
expansion, if it compromises quality.

Ong: Suddenly the last two years you know a lot of things are focussed on being Chinese and
oriental culture, for me if you say you see certain influences, I’m sure, because I grew up in such
an environment on the other hand, is it something conscious? I would say no, when I design a piece
I would not think do I add any oriental element, is this Chinese, is there a Chinese symbol, it just is
part of my personal expression.

Ong: Even with J… I think people, he’s copied so much that people will copy and didn’t know that
it’s a Jar copy, I bet you they’ve not even heard of Jar but they are copying this you know, so it’s
different, it’s beautiful and Jar was telling me that you know all I see is Jar copies and Carney
copies, I say at least people know it isn’t always a Jar copy but they don’t even know it’s a Carney

Ong: I don’t know how you found me because basically my office, we never advertise, so in a way
it’s a pleasure people seek me out to say you know I’m interested in what you do you know, let us
know a bit more. I find it is really a real compliment.

Ong: In the beginning was the wholesaling business and he is totally a wholesaler so that’s when
we first, in the first few years of my work in my first job we met at a function and of course he was
always trying to sell us, sell anybody anything, that’s how we met, trying to sell me a parcel that
was the beginning. And we got on to be friends and afterwards you know my family friend and so
called boss, you know retired and we said you know it’ll be interesting and I was starting to
making my little jewellery so we know, maybe it’s a good idea to partner up you know with his
expertise and with my creativity so. That’s it, for over 20 years.

Ong: I always tell my kids, look for something you really love that you want to do, don’t think
about the money side, because or else you will get up every morning you hate your job because I
do this for monetary reasons, you will never be good at anything, so I really don’t give them really
not, I don’t really give them any pressure.

Ong: The secret is that I don’t want to compete with anybody, I was happy, contented to making
my little thing and I can survive on it and I can stay open, that was my little aim, I had no ambition
to compete with anybody to have five shops, I was happy what I was doing and it came as a
surprise to me believe me that suddenly you know we were exploded on the scene and people
finally you know recognised this thing but I wasn’t seeking that from the beginning.

Were you looking towards people like Jar as your inspiration?

Ong: Oh he’s definitely my, definitely a big fan of his.

And obviously he’s a fan of yours too.

Ong: He is a good friend I mean he’s such a, such nice person.

OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Carnet Jewellery