Remarkable Milestone: The Painterly Style Journey of Feng J

From the moment I met Chinese jewellery artist Feng about seven years ago, I knew that her talent would take her far. Watching her progress year after year, I was blown away by Feng’s ability to defy convention and disrupt the world of high jewellery with her now-iconic painterly signature style. In November, Feng presented 12 one-of-a-kind creations at the FAB Paris exhibition, highlighting a remarkable evolution of her work, including new gemstone setting innovations and three-dimensional finishes. Here, I want to share with you the creations that exemplify Feng J’s journey as an artist and highlight the gemstone techniques that she originated.

When a perfectly saturated mineral is unearthed, most jewellers will seek to cut the stone to maximise its carat weight and retain its value. However, Feng J has never expressed her sense of creativity through this commercial lens. Instead, she developed a ‘Coloured Gem Bank’ of richly hued stones that are cut for beauty and not for yield, resulting in a rainbow array of double rose-cut (very thin but with many beautiful facets) gems that are her pigments on a palette, ready to be applied like paint on a canvas. She layers these gemstones like a watercolourist to create ‘Floating Set’ compositions, depicting dragonflies, Ginkgo leaves and flowers, whereby gems appear to be suspended in mid-air. This effect is achieved by a lightweight skeleton gold structure that holds each double rose-cut stone in place, essentially allowing multi-tonal minerals to interact with each other and with light in a similar way to Impressionist art of such celebrated painters as Georges Seurat.

The Feng J exhibition space at FAB Paris in November 2023

Another factor that has always set Feng J apart is her nuanced appreciation of colour. Take, for example, her interest in elegant grey tones, such as the light-to-medium hues used by the 20th-century Italian painter Giorgio Morandi, who is a source of inspiration. These grey hues of gold, titanium, lacquer and gems may not be commercially significant, but they serve an artistic purpose for Feng as she composes her works. They have an air of subtlety and are combined with a whimsical translucency of gems that allows the wearer’s skin to contribute towards the final amazing look of a piece.

At FAB Paris, Feng J presented creations with her signature DNA but also showed evidence of how her style has evolved and progressed with time. This is what excited me most: the feeling that I was witnessing the evolution of Feng J, the advancement of her skills and the next phase in her boundary-pushing creativity. The first sign of change I discovered was a new setting innovation to sit alongside the ‘Floating Set’ called the ‘Standing Mounting’. First unveiled in 2022, this technique involves double rose-cut gemstones positioned vertically on the surface of jewels, as if they are growing upwards and outwards. The effect is like a cluster of plants growing towards the sun, with coloured stones emerging like petals in all directions so they don’t appear flat or tied down. This innovation has shaped Feng J’s recent work, notably adding incredible volume and dimension to pieces so they feel more like miniature sculptures than jewels. Libellule de l’Opéra Garnier brooch is one of them, and I want to start my introduction of the latest designs with it.

Feng J Papillon de Lumière brooch

‘Libellule de l’Opéra Garnier’ brooch is perhaps the most ambitious masterpiece. Embellished with four winged pom-poms of ‘Standing Mounting’ gemstones in shades of pale blue, grey blue, lilac and pink, it reminds us of two ballet dancers intertwined in a graceful pas de deux. Ballet continues to be a source of inspiration, especially the idea of two dancers moving in unison. We can see this through the two pear-shaped lake-blue tourmalines entwined together and the chalcedony tail of the dragonfly that’s inspired by pointe shoes. In this instance, the ‘Standing Mounting’ technique gives the dragonfly a unique energy, like it’s in the process of coming alive and bursting into motion. This is a creative continuation of the Blooming Dragonfly Diva brooch launched in 2022, which played a prominent part in the collaboration between Feng J and Opéra Garnier.

There are four more jewels presented at FAB Paris that embody the evolution in Feng J’s work and are the perfect examples of her uninhibited creativity. Since her five-year anniversary in 2021, Feng has revisited some of her most beloved motifs, such as the ginkgo leaf, anthurium flower and dragonfly, to create more elaborate and technically demanding jewellery creations. Of the 12 pieces she presented, six are positioned as ‘signature pieces’, and each of them required more than 14 months of craftsmanship.

A trio of Feng J creations, including the Pink Anthurium brooch with oval-shaped tourmalines (left), the Gingko Leaf of Firework’ brooch (middle), and the Pink Anthurium earrings (right)

Let’s continue with the ‘Gingko Leaf of Firework’ brooch, which is such an effervescent piece, set with pink, peach, green, lilac, grey and almost completely colourless double rose-cut gems exhibiting the ‘Floating Set’ skill. Each stone is differently shaped and sized to create an exploding firework effect with the ‘tail’ or stem of the ginkgo leaf crafted in twisted titanium and set with a bubble-gum pink sapphire. Because of its titanium structure, gemstones flair outwards at all angles with 6 layers, meaning the ‘Gingko Leaf of Firework’ brooch looks different from above and from all angles.

Feng J Gingko Leaf of Firework brooch in titanium with a bubble-gum pink pear-shaped sapphire

The next piece, ‘Je Suis La Brise’ (I am the breeze), captures Feng J’s goal as a creator to go beyond form and capture an “ethereal weightlessness, just like the passing of a breeze’. Think of this as an artistic mood that permeates all of Feng’s latest masterpieces, including this brooch with ‘colourful grey’ double rose-cut spinels in a titanium dragonfly-shaped frame. The head of the dragonfly is set with an oval-shaped Australian black opal with vibrant green flashes. However, if I had to pick my favourite element, it would be the asymmetrical body of the insect and its gem-set tendrils that wrap around one-half of its wings and extend outwards, as if it’s flying through the grass.

Another motif that Feng returns to is the anthurium bloom. In fact, her Blue Anthurium brooch with Paraiba tourmaline, double-rose-cut aquamarines, spinels, sapphires, and diamonds in 18k electroplated gold, was recently inaugurated into the Museum of Fine Arts Boston (MFA), alongside pieces by Hemmerle and Wallace Chan. Now, though, we can discover the Pink Anthurium brooch with peachy-toned double rose-cuts, oval-shaped tourmalines and zesty lime green gems set alongside green lacquer on a titanium frame. It’s both naturalistic and imaginative, almost like we’ve fallen down the rabbit hole where flowers are twisty and transformed.

Feng J Pink Anthurium brooch with peachy-toned double rose-cuts, oval-shaped tourmalines and zesty lime green gems set alongside green lacquer on a titanium frame

What pleasantly surprised me at FAB Paris was discovering not just brooches but also two rings, one being inspired by Anthurium and embellished with a neon-blue Paraiba tourmaline in the centre. The second one was shaped as a dandelion and had double rose cut gems set in titanium in a special way allowing for gems to make a lovely shuffling sound when shaken. This added an extra unexpected sensory experience to the jewel.

Finally, let’s turn our attention to the only necklace presented at the exhibition - Blossomed Night and Day necklace that showcases the ‘Standing Mounting’ in a distinctive monochromatic fashion, covering one half of the neck with black and deep grey spinels and the other with subtle pinkish stones. It’s inspired by the hydrangea bloom and its tight clusters of petals, which lead the eye to a sculptural flower crafted in lacquer on titanium and set with a cushion-shaped brilliant-cut spinel.

Feng J Blossomed Night and Day necklace that showcases the ‘Standing Mounting’ technique with black and deep grey spinels and a lacquer on titanium flower, set with a cushion-shaped brilliant-cut spinel

Feng J has achieved the enviable feat of curating a signature ‘Painterly Style’ that sets her creations apart from others who may attempt to mimic her innovations. With the ‘Standing Mounting’ now in her repertoire of skills, the evolution of her artistry in less than ten years makes me excited to see what this young high jeweller will produce in the coming decades. I can guarantee it will be remarkable.

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