Elements' mission is simple: to give the world access to ancient Chinese craftsmanship before it’s lost forever. The youthful brand is doing this by creating innovative and wearable jewellery that’s made using traditional Chinese skills, including filigree.
Their designs are intricate, one-of-a-kind and steeped in history. We chat to the brand’s founder Tang Jing about why she’s so passionate about preserving ancient Chinese craftsmanship.
What led you to start Elements?
“Traditional handmade filigree is in danger of dying out. In Europe, rough castings and carvings are often called “filigree”, but the traditional hand-extruded process is almost unknown. In China, people are forgetting their traditions and looking to Europe for art, beauty, and quality. But I want to preserve traditional filigree and bring it to the world. So, my aim for Elements is to create filigree jewellery that’s wearable, help keep ancient skills alive and expand everyone’s appreciation of filigree.”
How is your jewellery made?
“Elements' designs are the result of epic, multi-day, multi-person teleconferences via Skype, involving friends and colleagues spread across Europe and China. There’s often days or even weeks of back-and-forth when creating our designs and figuring out how best to make them. I prototype pieces in my workshop, but the finished piece is made in southwest China by talented craftsmen whose skill surpasses mine.”
"Many of our pieces embody over 40 hours of skilled craftsmanship. If you just want a big gemstone on a chain, go elsewhere, because that’s not what we’re about."
What are your core values at Elements?
“I value the jewellery maker - the skill, the care, the tradition, and the pursuit of beauty. Many of our pieces embody over 40 hours of skilled craftsmanship. If you just want a big gemstone on a chain, go elsewhere, because that’s not what we’re about. We blend elements of Chinese traditional culture, patience, dedication, and skill to produce intricate and fine pieces. I really hope my jewellery can be thought of as art.”
Where do you create your best work?
“I do my best work in my workshop looking out over my flower garden. Nature and purity are central themes in Chinese art, and most English gardens are awash with flowers that were ‘discovered’ in southwest China, like camellias, gardenia, rhododendrons. These are the same flowers that inspired ancient filigree.”
How do you ensure your jewellery is ethical?
“I only buy gemstones from companies that can show ethical credentials. I look for ethical treatment of the environment, the workforce, and the communities around the mines. Like a gourmet meal, fine jewellery needs the best ingredients.”
"Like a gourmet meal, fine jewellery needs the best ingredients."
Where did you grow up?
“I was born in a small village in multicultural southwest China. My parents’ careers and my education brought me to Beijing and then to England. My parents were very much caught up in the wave of modernisation in China, and whilst I’m thankful that they rode that wave, it was a hectic childhood. I trained as a dancer, an actress, a painter, and a jeweller, always moving and meeting new people.”
When did you fall in love with jewellery?
“I trained as a painter for 6 years before going to university and studying under a Master of the Beijing Imperial filigree style. I've always had an interest in art, particular ancient art forms such as Chinese opera, water painting, and filigree. When I went to university and had every tool, machine, and material at my disposal, I fell in love with the process of making art - specifically jewellery. Like Plato’s aesthetic life, I don’t separate the idea of art from the act. For me, to make jewellery was to fall in love with it.”
"We should wear jewellery for ourselves to reflect how we want to see the world, not caring about what others see."
How do you want people to feel when they wear a piece of Elements jewellery?
“I want people to feel connected. As well as being beautiful on the surface, my jewellery should be something they can interact with and wear every day if they want to. More than that, I want to give my customers a connection with an ancient cultural Chinese heritage. I want people to see the personal touch in my pieces and feel a connection to the hard work and dedication of the craftsmen. We should wear jewellery for ourselves to reflect how we want to see the world, not caring about what others see.”
What’s been the highest point of your career so far?
“My proudest moment was exhibiting a traditional hand-worked silver teapot that I had made. My right arm could barely move after months of beating the silver, and I had an allergic reaction to the natural tree sap lacquer that I had used on the wooded handle. It was just art for art’s sake, not a practical work, but it felt really good taking it to an exhibition and receiving the acclaim of experts and teachers.”
What are your hopes for the future of Elements?
“My jewellery isn’t at the level of the ancient pieces in the Forbidden City and in museums. However, no one would want to wear these ancient pieces because they are so heavy and cumbersome. My goal is to bring together the best elements of modern and ancient design, to create a balance without compromise. But I am not satisfied yet; I expect to spend a lifetime trying and improving.”