Anabela Chan is a trailblazer in the field of sustainable jewellery. Alice Cairns finds out more.
Two years into her Jewellery & Metal MA at the Royal College of Arts, Anabela Chan took a holiday that would change her life.
“I’d just got married, and we decided to go to Sri Lanka for our honeymoon, since it’s famous for its artisanal gemstones” she tells me over coffee at her Chelsea store. “I was excited to see where the materials I was working with actually came from!
“In fact, it was a shocking and life-altering experience. I saw the terrible conditions in which people worked, and how little they were paid, in spite of the fact that they were mining some of our most precious commodities. For me, as a young designer, that was a heart-breaking experience. I couldn’t see any romance in an industry with such a terrible human cost.”
When she returned to the UK, Anabela was determined to find a new way to make beautiful, red carpet-worthy jewellery without the ethical and environmental consequences.
“That’s when I began exploring laboratory-grown gemstones, which are cultivated in a science lab rather than mined from the ground. This was eight years ago, and lab grown gems were almost unheard of, so Anabela Chan Joaillerie became the first brand in the world to champion laboratory grown gemstones paired with high-jewellery design and artisanal craftsmanship. I don’t see these gems as an ‘imitation’ material – I see them as a celebration of the overlap between science and art.”
Today, the industry has been transformed, with a new interest in ethics, transparent manufacturing processes and sustainability. However, Anabela has continued to find new ways to stay ahead of the curve. Her most recent collection, ‘Mermaid’s Tale’, is inspired by the ocean, and was created in collaboration with Anabela’s favourite marine biologists and underwater photographers.
“The collection is inspired by the ocean, made with ocean waste metals, and pledges to support ocean eco-systems. I created the collection using a lot of aluminium from beach clean-ups, including soda cans. The material can take on beautiful, rich colours, including vivid citrus shades and rainbow-hues. We’re the first to pioneer this technology in the jewellery industry, and for me that’s where the excitement is – to be able to turn something as humble as a soda can into precious and fine jewellery. It really is turning trash to treasure!.”
And the ‘Mermaid’s Tale’ collection is designed to do good as well as look good.
“For every piece we sell, we plant 100 mangrove trees in the West Papua region, which has really made a difference to the local marine life,” Anabela explains. “Mangroves are a crucial habitat for biodiversity, and they help to prevent coral bleaching too.”
It’s no wonder that with its stellar eco-credentials and its glittering, maximalist creations, Anabela Chan has become a favourite with the celebrity set. Her designs have adorned the necks, ears and wrists of Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Roberts, and many, many more.
“I’m a big fan of Rihanna and Beyoncé, so when they wore my pieces I literally jumped out of bed and gave my husband the worst fright of his life!” Anabela tells me. “We don’t do paid partnerships, so we don’t actually know when someone is going to wear one of our pieces. Sometimes I get pinged in the middle of the night, or I’ll see it on Instagram, and I’m like a little child again!”
But despite her popularity at glittering awards ceremonies, Anabela is at her happiest and most creatively fulfilled when she’s in nature. Little wonder that she’s itching to travel again.
“There’s no better way to experience nature. I still remember how a trip to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia opened my eyes to the most incredible colours and formations under the sea, and travelling through South America introduced me to the most incredible birds and insects and animals. It almost felt like you were in a scene in Avatar, where every corner you turned revealed a rainbow! I strive to capture a moment of that magic in my jewellery. I want it to be like a piece of art that you can wear!”
- I recently discovered the Fuji Grill at the Beaverbrook Townhouse – the food is amazing!
- I’m always browsing Papersmiths on Pavilion Road. I love stationary and I love to draw, so it’s heaven.
- Also on Pavilion Road, Ice Cream Union is a favourite. It’s just the best ice cream, with wonderful seasonal flavours.
Anabela Chan, 35B Sloane Street