When jewellery designer Dennis Chan founded Qeelin in 2004, he aimed to celebrate the symbolic themes of his native Chinese culture but in a contemporary style. “I’m fascinated by stories, and China’s 5,000-year history is full of rich stories, artistry and design," says Chan, who today is the chairman and creative director of the Hong Kong–based company. “My dream was to turn something traditional into something with a sense of modernity." Three years ago, Chan’s progress to that end – including his brand’s success in China and Paris – caught the attention of Kering, the French luxury goods conglomerate that owns Bottega Veneta, Girard-Perregaux, Gucci and more. Kering purchased a majority stake in Qeelin in 2013.
The brand’s breadth of offerings, priced from US$1,000 to US$300,000, spans 12 themed collections, as well as watches and accessories. Pieces include those in the Wulu collection, which is based on a figure-eight-shaped gourd that signifies good fortune and positive energy. Chan referred to the hard-shelled fruit years ago in his first design, and today it appears in many of his creations, including a diamond-and-ruby ring with a top that the wearer can spin like a dial. For the Yu Yi collection, he has transformed the traditional locket that new parents in China often place on their newborns into a gold pendant necklace bearing a diamond-studded cloud pattern. Chan has also given new life to the familiar dragon-and-phoenix image with his elaborate gold-and-diamond two-headed bangle; and pieces in his playful goldfish collection, called Qin Qin, include earrings and rings covered in black and white diamonds.
“The Chinese will recognise these symbols and know what they represent," says Chan. At the same time, he notes, the adornments will appeal to those who don’t know the deeper meaning behind them. Perhaps the Bo Bo series – panda charms with movable limbs, dressed in gemstone outfits – best represents the whimsy of his designs. “My Bo Bo is an evolution of the classic Chinese panda," says Chan. His favourite example, he says, is a panda in sapphire-covered golf attire.