Founder and designer Lillian Pau launched her sustainable jewellery line, Rhapsody in Gold, paying homage to her Chinese heritage through minimal, contemporary pieces. Hive Life sat down with Lillian to learn more about the inspiration behind her one-of-a-kind bespoke collection, eco-conscious approach, and how she aspires to push the boundaries of fine jewellery.
From apprenticing with illustrious designers to founding her own eponymous label, Lillian Pau continues to build her extensive portfolio with her new sustainable jewellery brand, Rhapsody in Gold. Hailing from Hong Kong, Lillian graduated from Central Saint Martins in London with a degree in Jewellery Design and a strong ardour for the craft. Working with many notable names in the industry well-equipped her with the ins and outs of the trade, and she later went on to establish her first fine jewellery line, Lillian Pau.
Aspiring to build a better tomorrow for her children, Lillian is constantly looking to make a positive impact through her work. In 2021, Lillian founded Rhapsody in Gold, taking an earth-first approach to fill the market gap for sustainable modern jewellery, made using recycled gold. In addition to her passion for creating responsible and timeless pieces, Lillian pays a tribute to her Chinese roots through her exquisite designs and curated collections, capturing the beauty of traditional characters and poems.
Lillian sat down with Hive Life to dive deeper into her journey founding her eco-conscious Chinese jewellery label, the process of sourcing sustainable gold, her unique design approach, and her vision for the brand’s future.
How did you first come across your passion for jewellery design?
I have been making jewellery since I was 18. My passion started when I was seven years old. My mother loved [accessorising], and I saw her wearing all these beautiful and tasteful pieces, whether it was plastic beads or silver, even the finer heirlooms, I was drawn to them.
Can you share more about your background in the space?
After graduating, I worked in London for some time with two designers, Solange Azagury-Partridge and Lara Bohinc. I worked on design and production for them. The jewellery trade within London is quite huge, and it was an [incredible] experience to learn from them, and the local goldsmiths.
Later, I moved back to Hong Kong, and was recruited as a buyer for Lane Crawford, and worked with many fashion-forward people, brands, and craftsmen in the city. At the time, Lane Crawford was selling more traditional jewellery, such as diamonds, and I [worked] on introducing more avant-garde brands to Hong Kong. I brought in Solange and Repossi, which were more [modern and stylish].
[I was always intrigued by] designing, and decided to start my brand, Lillian Pau, [which features] fine 3D-sculptural pieces inspired by modern architecture and art.
What inspired you to start Rhapsody in Gold?
When my first son was born, my father-in-law had put great thought into naming him. It is a cultural practice [in Chinese families], and most would consider every little element, [from] the time of birth, to the strokes of the characters, its meaning, and how it sounds.
It was so thoughtful and beautiful that I wanted to wear [my son’s name], but I could not find anything in Chinese characters. There were not many options in the market that were [simple yet] elegant. I [thought to myself] that I am a jeweller and can design something much better than this, and that was how the idea sparked for Rhapsody in Gold.
Being brought up in such a westernised environment, [it became] a way to reconnect and embrace our Chinese roots.
How would you describe your design aesthetic?
I believe that jewellery should look good on and off the body, it is where the sculptural design elements come in. For me, when you put a [statement] piece on the table or by your bedside, or even hang it in your jewel box, it would look just as [appealing].
Similarly, when I design jewellery for Lillian Pau, I try to incorporate that as part of the [process]. What makes my work unique is for each piece, the clasps are hidden. It [appears more] refined, stylish, and elegant.
Rhapsody in Gold’s designs are simple, using only plain gold with a focus on the [Chinese] characters themselves.
What is your vision behind Rhapsody in Gold?
We are a sustainable brand that is trying to deliver the best quality of products, while minimising the impact on the environment. As we grow, I want to continue this.
I [also] want to promote Hong Kong and Chinese culture, not only as a language, but as an actual form of art and poetry.
What is the inspiration behind your Bespoke collection?
We love Bespoke because it is a way for people to express what they want to say through the characters. It is meaningful to each individual as I design it personally “for you.”
Our clients will come to us with a character or direction in mind, we then discuss the [symbol], the meaning behind it, and what size and [placement] would work best. It is a conversation starter.
From ideation to execution, how do you go about designing each piece?
Each character can have a plethora of meanings- it takes a combination of different [strokes and variations] to form a word. I will usually research the characters and their meaning to understand them [better] before designing.
I will also do Chinese calligraphy to [learn] the proper way of writing those characters. That inspires the strokes, the point of connections, its thickness, and everything needed in the [final] execution.
Once I have the characters in mind, I draw them out and make sure it matches, and see how it sits [together]. We then test it with recycled gold, and once finalised, we deliver it to our client. The Bespoke collection will normally take around two weeks.
Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
It is [mostly through] art. I enjoy going to exhibitions and museums, and observing the architecture of buildings, and sculptures especially, which are my usual inspirations. Sometimes, it is simply the things that happen in our everyday life.
What materials do you create with?
We are now offering stones to be added on- people can pick from diamonds or other stones, and we make sure they come from a sustainable source. [Many of our customers] are concerned about the diamonds especially, we want to ensure their reliability.
The recycled gold is from sprues or old jewellery. For my other line, most of the clients come with jewellery that they do not wear anymore, so we take out the stones and redesign something for them using the stones. The leftover gold is then used to [fabricate new pieces] for Rhapsody.
[By doing so], there is no extra mining, or new waste produced. That is the beauty of gold, you can recycle and reuse it again.
What other measures do you take to practise sustainability?
For our packaging, we do not use any plastic at all, and my boxes come [without] a logo. I understand [it may seem important to] promote your brand, but for me, I keep it simple and [let the customers] know what it is.
[In addition], since all of our pieces are made-to-order, we carry [a small] inventory. I will [normally] get the order first, and work on it. Next, we do not make it in factories that use toxic chemicals, everything is handmade in our workshop in Hong Kong. Our [operations are localised] which makes it easier for me to [conduct] quality checks as well. There is no delivery, hence a [smaller] carbon footprint.
I hope to inspire other jewellers to get involved, and use sustainable gold if possible.
What are some of the challenges you faced starting a jewellery business in Hong Kong?
In Hong Kong, we have savvy shoppers who are only willing to pay for products according to the material, the gold weight, or the size of the diamond. There are [plenty of] options to choose from, and with big players in the market, such as local jewellers, and other brands, most are not [as willing to] pay for the design.
[For Rhapsody], that was the challenge we [had to overcome]. Once they realise it is a designer brand, they are more [rational about] it. But as an emerging label, they often overlook the amount of hard work put in, and how smaller [businesses] are struggling more than the bigger ones, as their markup is significantly higher.
We hope people will appreciate the design and thought-process behind our work, [including] all the sustainability factors.
What advice do you have for emerging designers looking to start their own label?
It is the hardest to start, and my advice would be to just do it. It is a learning curve, you will be met with plenty of setbacks, and you will move forward, but every step is a [teaching] experience.
Most importantly, if you do not start, you never learn. If you have an idea, put it out there and [see where it takes you].
Do you have any projects that you are launching soon?
We have some characters that are called the Poems, [which include] Happiness or Blessing and others, [which] are meaningful to everyone. I want to expand on that collection and introduce a few longer poems that connect with people more. It [functions similar to] good luck charms.
I have been hoping to work on some sculptural pieces for Rhapsody as well. I have been sketching and working on that, but I think that would be more of a counter piece as opposed to daily wear.
Do you have any advice for consumers before they make their next jewellery purchase?
The best thing to do is to ask and do more research on a brand, read about its values, and make a judgement call.
Moving forward, what can we expect to see from Rhapsody in Gold?
I want to spread Chinese culture for people to learn more about the characters and poetry. It is a piece that is so simple and easy to wear, and it is perfect for gifting. I hope that everyone who purchases a piece [loves and cherishes] it because it is meaningful to them.
Rhapsody in Gold offers complimentary worldwide shipping and customers can learn more on their website.