June Lau of Novel Fineries Chats Bespoke Jewellery at Her Physical Store
March 28, 2023
This interview is part of The Beat Hong Kong’s International Women’s Month coverage. Through highlighting women’s voices, we are celebrating and uplifting the women around us through their stories and multifaceted experiences.
“And then they were like, ‘Okay, now you need to set up a company and a bank account, and we want 600 pieces of these.’”
June Lau recalls the utter disbelief she felt after winning the Lane Crawford creative call-out in 2016, joking with The Beat Asia about her panicked inner monologue, “It’s all freaking handmade, what do you mean you need 600 in two months?!”
The tall order of a few hundred painstakingly hand-embroidered butterfly pocket squares marked the start of June’s journey in developing her bespoke luxury brand - Novel Fineries.
Tucked away in the basement of The Peninsula Hotel Hong Kong, the first pristine brick-and-mortar Novel Fineries shop proudly displays all the glittery trinkets she has collected and created over the years.
Resembling a modern-day apothecary of heirlooms and uniquely individual pieces, June stands behind a glass roundtable like a friendly mage of jewels – beaming at her clientele at the prospect of bringing their imaginations to life.
Speaking with The Beat Asia about her progression from pocket-squares to fine jewellery, June Lau shares with us her personal hopes for lesser-known artisan craft techniques, and the importance of telling stories through bespoke items.
June’s first foray into fine accessories began with the innocent gift idea to convey the simple sentiment: “you give me butterflies”.
She remembered the local aunties of Suzhou, who she had met during a site visit to China as a product engineer. Occupying the side lanes and streets, they sat for hours with their needles, displaying gorgeous embroidery to catch the heedless eyes of passing tourists.
What started as a charming personal project grew into a budding friendship with the local artisans and embroidery masters of Suzhou, who taught her the intricacies of reversable Su embroidery.
“You don’t really see double-sided embroidery anymore because it’s so underused and so expensive, as they don’t have an apprentice willing to do the job. People don’t use it to manufacture, but it’s so incredibly beautiful and it’s a certified heritage art form.”
It wasn’t long before June fell head over heels in love with different crafts around the world, alongside the stories behind each community and artisans she recounted having the fortune to meet.
From a small town in India whose tribe specialised in beading, to leather producers and braiders in Italy, delicate lacework made in France, and tying Obi knots in Kyoto, Japan – Novel Fineries became a hub of international heritage arts rooted in history.
After befriending ruby merchants in Myanmar, she found herself suddenly acquiring a bunch of red rubies in the middle of the pandemic. At the same time, her Feng Shui master had advised her to keep a reminder of her auspicious animal as her phone screensaver to bring her protection.
“I’m not going to put a snake on my phone,” she told the Beat Asia, “let’s do some jewellery that I can wear.”
June reached out to a friend who knew their way around wax carving and added yet another skill to her already extensive repertoire of crafts. Each piece of the Serpentine Collection remains hand-carved in wax, each unique from the next – even if it was same in design.
“I don’t mind going the extra mile to make that design come alive,” she says with a shrug, “It’s more labour to do things my way, but if it’s not ready, it’s not ready.”
The first Serpentine Pinky Ring was met with positive feedback, with friends wanting their own snake-coiled rings before it had even hit the storefront.
“It actually went against my original philosophy; I didn't want to do jewellery. I always wanted to do things that were a little more niche” she added.
But there was something that jewellery, vintage goods, and old heritage arts all shared, and it wasn’t something she could ignore: they told a personal story.
With the glittery orbs in mixed and matched hues of blues, purples, oranges, and indiscriminate splintering of colours caught inside – the tiny planets of the Cosmos Collection described June’s journey into the spiritual.
In another telling, she revisits the butterflies in jewellery form, adding a double wave on both the wings, worn as a set. This kind of intentionality, June says, personalises the jewellery to her own tastes.
“On its own I feel like it’s a bit too elegantly styled for me, it’s a very Tai Tai [太太] piece, and it doesn’t really have my kind of flair in it.”
“I’m trying different styles to find a place within the jewellery world,” she says, “I don’t really look at other people’s jewellery. But I do take inspirations from nature – the designs you’ll find around my shop is always snake-related, sea-slugs, butterflies, baroque pearls. The more weird [sic] they are, the more I love it.”
Evidently, the store itself became a compilation of June’s adventures out in the world or in her imagination. From weird, to funky, sometimes spiritual, and often sexy, it had become a biography of her creative life thus far.
As a modern Hong Kong artisan, there was no place that could make her feel more at home than the tradition-honouring space of the Peninsula. In thoroughly exploring her own creative desires and visions, she knew exactly how to shape her aesthetic sensibility to the wishes of her clients.
“People come to me and tell me, ‘I just had a baby – I want to make a locket,’ I know she wants it now to wear herself, but 18 years later she’s going to give it to [her child]. It’s something that she’s going to wear and then pass on.”
In a sense, June seeks to create new pieces that have a lifespan of forever, in the same way that she sustains the old cultural artforms through reimagined uses and designs.
Her journey of creating wearable art has one intention, “for them to keep it forever and treasure it, build something with it.”
“I want people to come down to the basement and find their uncut gems. Because I’m here all the time, I’m able to help people create what they really want. We have so much story to tell in each piece.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Where: Novel Fineries, Shop BE4, Basement of The Peninsula Hotel Hong Kong, 22 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong
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