Zeemou Zeng – The Conjurer

Zeemou Zeng is the master of his world. The exciting kinetic works of art designed by the award-winning UK-based jewellery artist are not confined to the boundaries of conventional jewellery making. Art and high-tech mechanisms – the edifice on which his brand is built – converge to generate seemingly simple but challenging pieces of his groundbreaking engineered marvels.

Zeemou’s distinctiveness lies in presenting abstract or allegorical representations through his bejewelled creations. He consciously moves away from presenting starkly realistic motifs and reimagines the concepts through a play of colour! His signature? The carefully chosen gemstones move and slide in a way to generate a new colour combination each time it is worn.

Zeemou’s Impressionists collection is inspired by the famous paintings of Monet, Renoir, Seurat and Manet, who used bold brushstrokes and colours to capture the movement and transient effect of sunlight and colour, which was a clear departure from depicting realism. Zeemou’s genius shines through in this line fashioned with white and yellow gold that features gems set with geometric precision – and of course, the signature Zeemou Movement. As the beautiful stones shift and slide, they mimic the fleeting movement of light, colour and texture, similar to the paintings.

All of his collections are infused with a playful element. The Melody collection produces ‘tunes’ when the gems roll within the framework of a gem-set piece, and the Eye collection’s main gemstone swivels from front to back to showcase a different gem on the other side. Solitaire International tries to get into the mind of this bright young designer in an exclusive interview.

Tell us about your early years … the turning point that made you take on jewellery designing?  

I originally studied interior and architecture design in China, followed by an MA course in Designer Making at the University of the Arts London. I have always, since I was very young, been passionate about art and designing. I think I made a wise decision to come to London and living and studying here has really helped me find myself and enabled me to follow my heart. 

Zeemou Zeng

You are a whiz kid, and an iconic artist! 

In my early career, I have been lucky enough to have won several awards, including “Bright Young Gems” by International Jewellery London, two Gold Awards at the Goldsmiths’ Craft & Design Awards, known as the UK ‘Jewellery Oscars’, as well as named “Young Jewellery Designer of the Year 2020” at the UK Jewellery Awards. I feel very lucky and honoured to gain recognition and praise from the jewellery industry. 

You established your namesake brand in 2017. How has the journey been so far?

Running my jewellery brand for the past few years has not been easy, but it has been a very enjoyable journey. I think everything is on the right track now. We are looking to expand our sales channels and grow our distribution. We as a team will work harder and always try our best to deliver even more beautiful pieces to our customers. 

The 18-karat yellow gold Impressionists ring titled Cobalt Black III  is set with black onyx. The ring is inspired by Luncheon in the Studio, a painting by Édouard Manet (pictured above). By Zeemou Zeng
Kyanite and diamond Eye brooch. By Zeemou Zeng

Your lines are based on diverse inspirations like melody, travel, Impressionist painters and more. We’d like to know the process from concept to creation … Do you work around a gemstone, or do you think of a theme and then go about sourcing the relevant gems?  

Both ways work for me as a jewellery designer. So far, we’ve launched four collections, all created by me based on different themes. Once the idea takes root, I source the relevant gemstones for each piece. I love mixing different colour gemstones in my creations. 

The Melody cocktail ring crafted in 18-karat white gold is set with pave diamonds and green chalcedony. By Zeemou Zeng

The Art of Travel hoop earrings titled Gem In Handbag are articulated with 18-karat yellow gold and set with Fuli Gemstones peridot. By Zeemou Zeng

To convert a concept like travel or melody or even Impressionism into a piece of wearable art, is a challenging proposition. How do you translate an abstract thought into a concrete idea?

I usually don’t take forms or shapes directly from nature – be it animals, flowers, or plants.

As a contemporary fine jewellery designer, I love to express my feelings, thoughts, and personal experiences through my jewellery creations. I see jewellery as contemporary art. I like to push the creative boundaries in my designs, resulting in innovative and often surprising design solutions, as can be seen in both the Melody and Eye collections, as well as the latest, The Heart collection.

Heart ear studs realised in 18-karat white gold, pave diamonds, drop cabochon mother-of-pearl, with top drop mother-of-pearl slide. By Zeemou Zeng
Checking the settings at the workbench. © Zeemou Zeng

From the time you began to until now, how have you evolved as an artist?  

I’ve been always interested in art. I started professional training in drawing from an early age. Later, I got more and more fascinated by working with different materials to create art works, metal, porcelain, and crystal glass, which is my most favourite.

The postgraduate course in Designer Making at University of the Arts London allows artists to re-assert the position of craft examined within the context of contemporary design discourse, society, and humanity, to develop a project from a proposal to the final exhibit, by exploring new and existing materials and processes. 

I usually spend a lot of my time on researching and designing. My designs are technically challenging and are much more complicated than they appear. To achieve our signature movement, I work with highly skilled people to hand-polish each element, making sure the final piece is perfect. 

You have an amazing hold over technical aspects of jewellery making …  Most of your pieces are kinetic and the gemstones slide, especially in the Impressionist collection, to create a transient effect of light and colour. How important it is for a jewellery artist to balance the act between being a designer and a metalsmith?  

It is very important. A good designer should not only be able to create beautiful designs, but also understand different jewellery-making techniques and have in-depth knowledge about gemstones. The more we know, the better we can use the knowledge in our making process.

My philosophy is to create unique designs which possess both functionality and beauty. I always trying to balance art and wearability in my pieces. A judge from the UK Jewellery Awards had commented about my work: ‘Zeemou Zeng is able to capture unique design concepts in wearable designs with real commercial appeal. His statement ‘showstopper pieces’ are uniquely his own.’ His words make me believe that I’m doing the right thing. 

A collection of Eye rings, pendant and brooch in white and yellow gold. By Zeemou Zeng

How long does it take for each piece to come to life?  

We only launch one new collection every year, as I’m aiming to present unique designs rather than creating something that’s similar or already available in the jewellery market.

I usually spend a lot of my time on researching and designing. My designs are technically challenging and are much more complicated than they appear. To achieve our signature movement, I work with highly skilled people to hand-polish each element, making sure the final piece is perfect. 

Peridots seem to be your fave gemstones. The Art of Travel collection spotlights on these lime-green beauties from Fuli Gemstones. We’d like to know more about your fascination for them.  

Peridot is one of my most favourite gemstones, and I love its incredible lime-green hue. Peridot is known as the ‘gem of the sun’ with healing powers that can ward off fear, insecurity, and anxiety, and the colour green symbolises hope and rebirth.

I think peridot is the perfect gemstone for the collection, as The Art of Travel collection is meant to motivate us to pursue our dreams, to inspire freedom and evoke happiness. 

You also have an affinity towards crystalware. Any reason?  How different is it from jewellery designing?  

I think is because of my interior design background that I love homewares and decorative arts. As I mentioned earlier, I also had my MA degree for creating art works by exploring different materials, including metal, porcelain, and crystal glass. I created the first crystal tumbler collection inspired by precious gemstone cutting. It is a collection combining traditional crafts and contemporary design perfectly blending quality and aesthetics.

Where does one buy your jewellery? 

Our jewellery is available on the Zeemou Zeng website, as well as on international luxury online marketplaces, such 1stDibs, Farfetch, and URSA London.

Your favourite jewellery designers … 

I admire jewellery designer Aldo Cipullo. I like jewellery pieces that make a statement but can be worn every day. Both functionality and beauty are cornerstones of my design philosophy. Cipullo, too, was a designer who balanced both functionality and beauty perfectly, as seen in the iconic Love bracelet he designed for Cartier. Few other jewellery designers that I really like are Fulco di Verdura, Suzanne Belperron and Fawaz Gruosi … their passion and imagination is very inspiring and motivates me to try something new.

Did you expect your rise to stardom in the world of jewellery would be so quick? How does it feel to become the cynosure of everyone’s eyes? Is fame intimidating? 

I feel very lucky and honoured to gain recognition and praise from the jewellery industry. But for me, the most important thing is not fame, it is about enjoying my job as a jewellery designer. I can create something I truly love by following my heart … and the fact that I can devote myself to jewellery design with passion, and follow my vision. 

What is a day in the life of Zeemou Zeng like?  

My schedule varies widely every day because my role as founder and designer includes both creative designing and methodical overseeing of production.

I spend most of my time at my work desk, dealing with daily emails, completing paperwork, researching, and drawing sketches. As a designer, I always have a sketch book by my side, so if any new ideas come to mind, I can quickly draw them and make some notes – it’s very helpful to keep these ideas for later. 

Sitting in front of my desk with a pen and sketch book is one of the most enjoyable times of my day. I really enjoy the creative processes, breaking rules and taking risks. Often aided by a cup of coffee or tea!

I do follow some Indian jewellery brands or designers, such as Moksh, Vishal Anil Kothari, Sajil Shah and London-based designer Akansha Sethi. India is one of my dream destinations to visit; I’m always curious about the rich culture, the long history of jewellery-making, and of course, the food!

What are your hobbies? 

Other than designing jewellery, travelling is one of my main hobbies, although I didn’t travel for a long time due to the pandemic. 

I love sunny destinations with rich cultures. For me, the most magical places on earth are destinations that are by the seaside or the desert areas. The feeling is pure and powerful. Whenever I’m close to either I feel I’m free—it brings me joy and triggers my imagination.

If you were not a jewellery designer, what would you be? 

I love most of things about jewellery and decorative arts design. But if I were to try something else in the industry, I would like to learn how to become a gemstone cutter. For me, it is a very exciting and magical process, seeing a rough stone turn into sparkling and beautiful gemstone!

Gemstone cutting is like the work of a sculptor, carefully crafting each rough stone to add intricate detail and beauty to a piece of jewellery.

I know that India is one of the most well-known countries for gemstone cutting.

Do you follow any Indian designers? Would you wish to visit India, post Covid, of course!

I do follow some Indian jewellery brands or designers, such as Moksh, Vishal Anil Kothari (VAK), Sajil Shah, and London-based designer Akansha Sethi. India is one of my dream destinations to visit; I’m always curious about its rich culture, the long history of jewellery-making, and of course, the food!

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