Hailing from one of Hong Kong and Macau’s most prominent families, Sarah Ho decided early on to carve out a path that’s truly her own. In a candid chat, she tells us about a life far removed from the trappings of society, the joys of her hard work rewarded, and how she would never dream of having it any other way.
Sarah Ho has lived much of her life at a fair distance from the shadow of her famous family. The granddaughter of the late casino magnate Stanley Ho, her father Robert is the oldest son of the patriarch and his first wife, Clementina. Yet Ho has shied away from the glitterati of the social circles of Hong Kong and Macau, opting instead for a relatively low-key life in London where she carved out her own path as a jewellery designer who runs a successful brand, Sarah Ho London (SHO), which this year marks its 15th anniversary.
I’ve had the pleasure knowing Ho over the years and, just as you’re drawn by the air of sophistication that envelopes her, you’re also enamoured by her self-effacing qualities and that hint of childish mischief. In an intimate interview, Ho opens up about her life abroad and on the journey she’s had so far as a jewellery designer, businesswoman, wife and mother. She also lets us in on how she and her family are settling into their new, sun-drenched life in Monaco.
How was it like living overseas at a young age? Did you like the obscurity?
Moving abroad to boarding school accelerated me as a person. I had freedom that I’d never experienced before, having lived a very restricted childhood growing up in Macau. I remember running across fields in the countryside and climbing trees for the first time. I wanted to experience life like everyone else.
When I was studying in London, I never told anyone about my family background – and it was great to be treated as a normal person, not being judged, as you’re born with all these privileges. Even [my husband] Sam didn’t know anything about my background until we got engaged and when he flew to Hong Kong for the first time to meet my family. That really gave him a big shock!
You and Sam make such a wonderful couple. How did you meet?
I met Sam early on in life. We’d been dating since we were 22 years old, so he’s been with me every step of the way during this amazing journey. He used to pick me up from uni or meet me during my lunch break if he had time. He also came to Antwerp to visit me for a few weekends during my studies there. And 2006 was not only the launch of my brand but also the year we got married.
Sam is my rock. We make a great team, and our skills are complementary, especially when it comes to travelling for shows and our VIP events and making sales.
Indeed, SHO has come a long way since you first started it in 2006. What was this journey like?
The first word that comes to mind is “rollercoaster”. It certainly hasn’t been an easy journey, but I’m extremely proud of what I’ve achieved. SHO has not only been a business development for me, but it’s also a personal one. It pushed me to do things that I never dreamed I would do. I’ve always been a very shy person – even at school I’d never speak up in class.
Having created my brand, it pushed me to do things that are outside my comfort zone and it’s still constantly challenging me to be a better businesswoman and designer. Without SHO, I think I’d be a vastly different person right now.
What was the most rewarding part of it all?
One of the most rewarding parts for me is seeing my work come to life from a simple idea to reality. I love it when I have time to design, as ideas come to me all day long, even in the middle of the night. I get excited when an idea starts to take shape while I’m drawing it out. If I get butterflies in my stomach, then I know it’s the one. Then I work closely with our workshop on the development side of the design, slowly seeing the piece taking shape in precious metal and gemstones. I can’t tell you how excited I get when we finish a piece.
By the same token, what was the most challenging part?
When I set up the company, I thought I just needed to be a good jewellery designer. I didn’t take into consideration running the business. My focus at the time was purely on creating beautiful and unique jewels. I was rather naive about the cost that’s involved in running a fine-jewellery brand, with PR, marketing and the investment in precious materials and gemstones. The overheads were incredibly high and at that time retailers in the UK would only stock more established brands. The only way to get visibility of your work was on a sale-or-return basis, which is extremely hard for a start-up.
To keep the business afloat, we had to keep our overheads to a minimum for the first couple of years until we started getting recognition from buyers. At the time, we operated the business in my one-bedroom apartment in London. I remember sleeping on the sofa bed in the living room during that time until we were able to have a small office.
Did you ever heed advice from your grandfather?
My grandfather was iconic in the world of business and I admired him for what he achieved in his lifetime. He’s a real inspiration and I hope I can achieve a small amount of what he did in my lifetime. I’m also hugely influenced by the work ethic and business acumen of the women in my family. My aunts have all been incredibly supportive in advising me on my work. Everyone is always interested whenever I’m home for a visit!
How good are you with compartmentalising?
I believe a work/home life balance is important. We’re a remarkably close family unit, and we enjoy spending quality family time together, whether it’s exploring new places and finding new restaurants, or having a long walk with the puppy and a picnic. When the children are at school or playing with their friends, there’s time for me to work and design, though I never really switch off.
After living in London all these years, you decided to move to Monaco. Why?
We moved to Monaco at the end of July last year, but the decision to move only really came about three months before. The move was a completely spontaneous decision we made during lockdown. Our plans were to move to the English countryside earlier last year but unfortunately things didn’t work out, so we decided to stay in London.
In May, a friend who lives in Monaco suggested that we should consider moving there, as it’s a great place to live, extremely safe for children growing up and the sun is always shining. From that moment on we started looking at the possibilities. Plus, it’s always been a dream of mine to live by the sea.
It all happened so fast. Was it an easy decision to make?
We flew to Monaco in June when the borders reopened to look at the options and immediately realised this was for us. We researched the schools, as the children’s education comes first, and they were quickly accepted. So, we searched for an apartment and before we knew it, we were packing up and making the move to Monaco by the end of July.
It all happened so quickly that it was a miracle! Our family and friends were shocked, and nobody could believe that, in the middle of an international pandemic, these were our plans. So, within three months of making the decision we were settling into our new life.
How different is it from life in London?
Monaco is very small, and life is at a much slower pace compared
to London, but it suits me. I think the whole of Monaco is roughly similar in size to London’s Hyde Park. Although it’s small, I really like it as I can walk everywhere. We also have similar restaurants, and it has a very international feel as well. In a way it’s like living in a mini-London by the sea and with good weather.
And you have quite a beautiful home in Monaco, too.
We looked at several apartments but as soon as we saw this one, we knew immediately that this was the one for us – and it has an incredible terrace, which is extremely rare to find in Monaco. We were in the right place at the right time.
I like decorating each new home completely differently from the last. I like the idea of a fresh start. With this place I wanted lots of colour – vibrant, exotic and with eclectic furnishings. Something about living by the sea has inspired me to go for a more bohemian style. We brought some furniture from London, then decided on a colour scheme and found new pieces to complement the style and ambiance we wanted to create.
The apartment is very light and airy, and I’ve created an area where I can design overlooking the terrace and sea. Without a doubt our terrace is my favourite part of the apartment. We have a lot of our meals here overlooking the sea and we can enjoy the sun.
How have you and the family been coping with Covid?
I learned a lot over the last year, especially appreciating the importance of time. It is, without a doubt, the most significant gift in life. During the lockdown I spend a lot of time for myself, taking care of my wellbeing, mentally and physically. I took the time to learn new skills and, most importantly of all, to spend quality time with my family.
For years and years, I was constantly saying to myself that I wished I had more time to do all these things, but with a busy work schedule this was always hard to achieve. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. In a way, I feel the pandemic has granted us the one thing we have always wished for – and it’s time. Having this time with myself, I now feel my priorities in life have changed, I now understand what’s truly important to me, which is family and a healthier lifestyle.
I think the pandemic opened a lot of people’s minds and to review their priorities in life. Things don’t have to operate the way we always thought they needed to. This is the time to reset ourselves so we can come out of this a healthier, better version of ourselves. If everyone uses this time wisely, just imagine the future ahead of us.