Almost two decades since its founding, Hong Kong jewellery brand Qeelin is flourishing. Co-founder Dennis Chan recently celebrated this good fortune with a private viewing event in Shanghai showcasing some of its most dazzling pieces. Zaneta Cheng joins the bevy of esteemed guests
“Did you know that Maggie Cheung won Best Actress at Cannes right after she started wearing the Wulu?” Dennis Chan, co-founder and creative director of Qeelin, asks me as he’s guiding me through the wulu-shaped entryway of the Qeelin Miracle Garden private viewing event into a greenhouse brimming with the Hong Kong-based brand’s most signature pieces. I said I did not but, superstitious as I am, this piques my interest. Someone else then points out that one of their colleagues got engaged a month after they joined the company and started wearing its signature good-luck gourd.
We all laugh at this but perhaps there’s something to this ancient symbol of good fortune. After all, Qeelin is the only brand out of Hong Kong that’s managed to open its own boutique on Place Vendôme in Paris – in 2019, seven years after being acquired by Kering and 15 years after its founding. And, in another first, the brand has just staged its first large-scale jewellery presentation in Shanghai with attendance from China’s finest celebrities and socialites. Brand ambassadors Liu Shishi and Liu Haoran were present throughout the evening and the dinner. Acclaimed Chinese actresses Lin Yun, Wu Xuanyi and Zhao Xiaotang were also present in full regalia enhanced by Qeelin sparklers.
The East-meets-West jewellery house took over a garden in Shanghai where, through a small archway, a small path
flanked by luxuriant crisp green foliage and a large floating Qeelin sign enrobed by fog periodically emitting from the edges of a lake, greet guests walking in. There are China’s Insta-famous and Qeelin’s own longtime devotees, dressed in their finery, all being escorted around the enclosure. Both young and old are wearing the brand’s pieces – a showcase in and of itself as to how Qeelin is worn across generations. There are large pieces and small pieces. It isn’t all about the Wulu, even though I do see a cornucopia of treatments and details. Large pendants sit regally on some necklines while daughters are wearing perhaps smaller but still intricately connected pieces with the lucky symbol. There is the Xi Xi, created after the mythical tiger usually brought out for Chinese lion dances to ward off evil. And I even spot a few Bo Bos, the panda Chan created with movable limbs.
Chan is ebullient. After all, when he co-founded Qeelin in 2004, it was with the singular vision to create jewellery pieces inspired by emblems of Chinese culture and bring them to the world. And so to be able to boast a standalone store next to the best of the best in his field in Paris and expansion plans across Asia lined up in the next year, ever more renowned brand ambassadors joining the fold, and an event hosting VIPs and journalists from across the region, is a testament to the brand’s success and Chan’s vision.
“I’ve had conversations with so many clients and they’ve given me so much inspiration,” Chan tells us jovially once we’re inside the space and spot crowds of well-dressed women sitting around trays of Qeelin’s high jewellery pieces. These ladies mean business. Longtime patrons of the brand, they’ve been making suggestions to Chan to introduce their preferred colourways to silhouettes they want to collect more of and to include transformable elements to pieces they love and to new pieces they might also love. “This is going to keep me busy,” Chan says with a laugh. “The ideas themselves are great but behind each idea is a great deal of time spent figuring things out.”
Nevertheless, as we tour the exhibition it’s clear to see that Chan enjoys the process. At the front are the showstoppers. A parure of pavé-interlocked Wulus greet guests. The diamonds are radiant and it’s a set that Chan bought immediately after the first pieces were created for his wife. The second stop features a selection of Bo Bos. These sparkling pandas come in the shape of a rapper (Chan loves to rap), a Bo Bo with a heart on it sitting on a boat (because Chan loves going out to sea), skiing Bo Bo, magic Bo Bo, and so many more. The infinite variety comes as a natural extension of Chan’s enthusiasm for his work and his appetite for life. Of course, there are still more spectacular pieces. The high jewellery interpretations of the Wulu show the shape dangling off a diamond-dotted chain with sapphires dotting a floral interpretation of the brand’s signature motif, encrusted in more diamonds. It’s a headturner and manages to do so without the “Chinese-ness” of it being in one’s face.
There are stunning sets of Xi Xi necklaces and pendants on display. These come out during Chinese New Year, for which the brand diligently launches new collections each year – something that, one can imagine, keeps Chan busy. Perhaps one of the more impressive pieces, which is somewhat smaller in size to the other pieces on display, is the drop diamond necklace featuring the brand’s own wulu-shaped diamond. Dangling off a small chain on its own, the carved stone is somewhat similar to a pear cut but with a distinct nip in the middle, giving clear definition to the small-mouthed, big-bellied shape of the traditional lucky Chinese gourd.
“I was once told by a spiritual master that there is nothing in Chinese culture that is more auspicious than the wulu,” Chan tells us. “It’s for good health, prosperity, long life, wealth and abundance, and it removes negative energy and bad luck. That’s why I chose it for Qeelin.”
In Chinese, the pronunciation for wulu phonetically resembles fulu, each syllable standing independently to mean fortune and wealth. If the evening of dance, magic, good wine, good food and impressive company are anything to go by, Chan placed the right bet all those years ago. And if the wulu’s reputation as the “gourd of longevity” is anything to go by, we’ll be seeing a lot more of Qeelin in the years to come.