I met my dear friend Anabela Chan years ago at a fashion trunk show in London, and I was mesmerized by her, as well as her beautiful creations. She is pure love, very creative, and very down-to-earth, and when she was maid-of-honour at my wedding two years ago, I saw that she is a force of nature too. This certainly has had an impact on her journey, the creation of her jewellery brand, and business. It was my absolute honour and pleasure to interview her for my podcast, Fashion Insiders, and I feel very touched that she agreed to be the first guest. It was also her very first podcast. Even though we’ve known each other for many years and she is a trusted friend, I still learned new things about her business. Here’s a peek at some of the insights Anabela shared with me.
Follow your passion: Anabela’s journey to jewellery started when she was just a teenager, and she had the opportunity to interview Royal jeweller Andrew Grima for her school project. Anabela was at boarding school in Brighton, and recalls, “Andrew and his wife Jojo were kind enough to meet me and my art teacher, Sue Stanway, at the Burlington Arcade, where he not only patiently answered all my questions, he showed me tray after tray of his incredible jewels and original sketches.” When Anabela showed Andrew Grima her sketches, he took them to his atelier and asked his craftsman to experiment with some of her designs. That was her first glimpse into the world of fine jewellery and this is something that stayed with her from that time onward.
Royal Jeweller Andrew Grima.
Photo source: Forbes
However, her career path didn’t immediately start off in jewellery. She went on to study architecture (where she also met her husband, Jimmy), and practice architecture followed by fashion design before returning to the Royal College of Art (RCA) after six or seven years to train in goldsmithing and jewellery. “I remembered that day when I became hooked on fine jewellery as a wide-eyed teenager looking at Andrew Grima’s beautiful jewels, and now here I was at the RCA studying jewellery-making—it had all come full-circle.”
Pencil Shavings brooch made by Andrew Grima.
Photo source: Bonhams
But there’s a little more backstory to this. When Anabela was working in fashion, she had a very successful career working for Alexander McQueen and later as a Senior Womenswear Designer for All Saints in London, and she was only 24. She was leading a team of designers, travelling the world, designing collection after collection, and suddenly her father had a stroke and passed away. This made her pause and reevaluate what she wanted to do in life, and from this came the decision to quit her job and go back to school to pursue her passion.
As Anabela recounts, “He [my father] was the smartest person I know and he built his career to provide for his family, and one day I had a conversation with him. He was in shipping and logistics, and while this wasn’t his dream, his career led him there and he was hugely successful at it. He never had the chance to pursue his own dreams, and he did what he had to do for his family, for us to have a good life, and I had the privilege to follow my dreams. I had to take the opportunity and do that.”
Be unique: Says Anabela, “We are the first fine jewellery brand in the world that champions laboratory-grown diamonds. It was about offering a different perspective in my industry, and anything that is different will have its own challenges. For me, having the ability to have my own store and space to tell our story was paramount to launching my brand, rather than going through the usual way of finding stockists and retailers. For me, it was always important to be direct to consumer, and to be able to tell what I do, and why I do it.”
Anabela Chan’s flagship store in Sloane Street, London. Photo source: Anabela Chan
How did lab-grown diamonds enter into the picture? “In my second year at RCA, I got married and we went to Sri Lanka for our honeymoon, and I made sure to visit diamond mines. It was something I was really looking forward to (I am trained as a classical gemologist). Before the trip, I was sitting with a friend of mine who is a footwear designer, and we were talking about this upcoming trip and the visit to the mines. She mentioned to me that her family is in the gemstones and mining industry, and I naturally asked her why she wasn’t a jewellery designer if she had all the resources available to her. She said to me, ‘If you had seen what I have seen, then you wouldn’t want to be part of that industry either.’ So that planted a seed in my mind. Having that conversation put my mind in a different headspace, and when I visited the mines and saw the conditions of the workers … it was a heartbreaking experience to actually see how people work in the ground; the adversity they face was life-changing for me. And that’s when I began my research into alternative materials. How can I create equally beautiful jewellery without the humanitarian and environmental issues that are associated with mining?”
From a soda can to fine jewellery: Anabela’s creativity, curiosity and dedication to her craft is evident in her choice of materials. She is very much focused on innovation, and one day she was sitting at her desk and, as is her habit, she was drinking San Pellegrino orange soda from a can. She began to study the can, thinking about how soda cans have been recycled over and over again, and how aluminium is used in jewellery. And from there, Anabela recounts, “I was thinking, why can’t I recycle this soda can to aluminium to be used in fine jewellery? So, I started experimenting. It’s about finding a solution, one that hasn’t been looked at before, to a problem you have.”
Rainbow Magnolia Earrings by Anabela Chan. Photo source: Anabela Chan