Vision to change jewelleryWritten by Bronwyn Williams 12:37, Apr 06 2011
A jeweller's creative force is changing the industry.
'When an oyster swallows a grain of sand, it feels discomfort. It begins to ease the pain by applying many coats of pearl. It is rather ironic then, that so much beauty can be created out of such discomfort."
This paragraph was written in a love letter jeweller Chi Galatea Huynh penned to his wife many years ago. That small observation, used by Huynh to illustrate the triumph of love over hard times in life, became the starting point for a lifetime of the exploration of beauty.
It was that small observation that sparked the ground-breaking invention of a range of technologies never used before in jewellery making. These technologies, discovered by Huynh, have gone on to win numerous industry awards, and have been described as the future of the jewellery industry.
It all started with a pearl. Inspired by the paragraph he wrote to his wife, Huynh drilled a hollow in a pearl and placed a diamond inside, creating a unique style of jewellery.
The jewellery was hugely successful, and sold widely throughout the United States. But this wasn't enough for Huynh; his small discovery had started a creative force inside him that couldn't be stopped.
A few years later he began thinking, "what if I placed a gemstone inside an oyster, instead of a piece of grit? Would the oyster grow a pearl to cover it?"
He travelled to Tahiti, the pearl farming capital of the world, and attempted to get people interested but the Tahitian pearl farmers said it couldn't be done.
Unfazed, Huynh returned to his home of Vietnam. The warm Vietnamese waters were perfect for cultivating pearls, and he set up a small pearl farm and began educating the locals to become pearl farmers.
After much trial and error, Huynh created his first gem in a pearl, which he named Galatea. The Galatea pearls are carefully carved with intricate designs, exposing the coloured gem inside.
It is these small objects of beauty, this technologically advanced blend of science and art that has wowed the world. Since its discovery, Galatea jewellery has gone on to outsell Tiffany's in numbers, with 1500 stores across the US, and stockists in Germany, Japan, the UK, and now New Zealand.
Huynh still has his Galatea pearls produced in Vietnam to support those from his homeland living in poverty, and is heavily involved in the international charity, Friends without Borders.
Huynh's business partner Jeffery Appling was in New Zealand last week putting the finishing touches on Galatea's introduction to the New Zealand market.
Appling, an internationally renowned jeweller himself and educator of the US jewellery business, was first introduced to Huynh after he gave a lecture focusing on the Galatea technologies.
"I was asked to give a talk on the future of innovative jewellery design. I decided to talk about what inspired me, and what was going on in the world at the time. That was Chi's work."Huynh heard that somebody was speaking passionately and publicly about his work, and wanted to meet the man.
Huynh saw Appling's creative vision and knowledge of the industry as invaluable, and the two became best friends and business partners.
"We feed off one another," says Appling. "The physics, the gems, and the creation of art – we have a shared vision. We want to create something that is so powerful, so unique and beautiful, that the wearer of a Galatea piece will be flooded with endless compliments every time she puts it on."
While it took a while for the industry to cotton on, the Galatea technique is gaining ground.
"When Picasso first came out, people didn't get him," says Appling.
"They didn't understand Picasso's work. Anything this new, this radical is always going to take time to be understood. But look at Picasso's art now," he says.
By contrast, Appling describes the mainstream jewellery industry as very old hat.
"There is nothing unique out there; the industry is 10 to 15 years behind the technology. Everything is forged the same way, everything is brand driven. The Galatea technology is a new way of looking at jewellery design, and it's simply the way of the future."
While the exact designs are patented, Huynh and Appling are happy to share their technology.
They see it as their responsibility to educate and inspire others, and have held lectures on the process at the American Institute of Gemology.
"We want everyone to create, not just ourselves," Appling says.
"By sharing this with others we can hopefully see more of this technology in the future.