Inspired by the legacy jewels presented in Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels sale, Jennifer Ma and Henrietta Tsui-Leung tell us about the person whose legacy helped shape their taste and values, and make them the successful women they are today.
Jennifer Ma, Educator
My relationship with my mother is slightly peculiar, as it oscillates between 20 percent clash overcome by 80 percent love and respect. We have different communication styles and expectations, but ultimately there’s a strong bond underlying our relationship that keeps most things in perspective.
My mother’s values stem from my grandmother, who was a strong, clear-headed and highly intelligent lady who chartered a flight to flee Shanghai to Hong Kong in the 1940s, with my new-born mother and three of my grandfather’s concubines and their families in tow. From a very young age, my mom was taught a strong sense of resilience – you can lose everything overnight, but not your brain. Education was paramount, so when I had the chance to support my alma mater, Oxford University, in a fundraising event, I jumped at the chance to secure one of the rooms in my college to name it after my grandmother.
My mother, who’s trilingual, gave up her career in her twenties to take care of the family, a very selfless decision, which in retrospect she says she regrets as she felt she could have done more. So instead she constantly drummed into me the importance of keeping myself connected to the world and having the courage to embrace the freedom to pursue my own passion and maintain a sense of self-identity and independence. This is why my parents were encouraging from the outset when I decided to leave my career at Goldman Sachs to pursue a career in education. Without my family’s trust, I would not have had the courage to pursue this major turning point in my life.
As an entrepreneur, I’ve always been quite a pragmatic person, and I’m more focused on building my business rather than dwelling on fancy things. However, my mother inherited good taste from my grandmother and has always had a keen eye for Buccellati. My mother always said jewellery isn’t about size or value, but more about the craftsmanship and the story behind the piece. She likes hunting for special pieces when she’s on holiday in Europe. Most of her jewellery has stories behind it, especially the ones passed down by my grandmother. I especially like a pair of Buccellati earring studs, which I wore at a three-generation mother-daughter photoshoot, as I love the meaning the piece of jewellery held and its craftsmanship. It got my mother quite excited as Buccellati is one of her favourite brands!
Henrietta Tsui-Leung, Gallerist
My mother was my biggest inspiration. She was a super-creative person and, growing up, we used to create things together, from lanterns for the festive season to Easter eggs – and so on. She also encouraged me to learn French, which I did and am still fluent in to this day.
Sadly, when I was 16 she passed away from cancer, and it was a very difficult time for me because I was so close to her. But even though I was young, a lot of the things that she did, or told me, remain with me until this day.
She loved collecting – jewellery, porcelain dolls and ceramics – so the art of collecting was instilled in me at a young age. She had an eye for jade pieces, which she passed down to me. I don’t wear them often, but there’s a jadeite pendant with diamonds that my parents gave me as a child, which I’m thinking of passing down to my 12-year-old daughter. My mother also had a jade butterfly, which I wore on my wedding day with my qun kwa, and it kept her memory with me.
Because of my mother, I’ve always loved art and I took a lot of courses, from Chinese painting to oil painting. My mom loved art but at the same time she was savvy with numbers and so that’s also influenced me as a businesswoman. I want people to understand that women have the right to have fruitful careers too. This is something I’ll always fight for – for myself, for my daughter and my friends.
When you collect and source art, you have to study. Whenever people ask me about starting their own business, I always encourage them to continue their education. I pursued my PhD in China when my twins were only two years old, because I wanted to become an expert in ink. Education is important and so is mentorship. I remember watching my mother teach my brothers about buying stocks. So when I was young, I actively sought mentors too. I contacted Uli Sigg and asked if I could visit him. I took one of my artists from London to Switzerland to meet him and he brought us to a really nice place in the mountains for lunch. Now we’re good friends and he comes to meet me at my gallery whenever he’s in town.
When it comes to jewellery, I studied a book on Cartier. With jewellery, you can certainly look at the cut, the colour, how many carats and so on, and I feel that a lot of people pursue that. But if you study Cartier and the works by Van Cleef & Arpels, they’re often amazing where the design shines through. They’re so unique they can be considered art pieces, to collect and to keep.
This season, Sotheby’s is proud to present a collection of magnificent jewels that will be the perfect place to start building your legacy jewellery collection. There are important and rare gemstones, jewellery pieces by contemporary designers and prestigious jewellery houses, showcasing nature’s masterpieces in astonishing designs and craftsmanship. The auction will take place on October 7 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, with a preview exhibition starting on October 2