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Sarah Ho - Eastern Star Rises in the West
Sarah Ho, born into a leading business family from Macau, is now based in London, where in the space of five years she has built an enviable reputation for her brand SHO Jewellery. Nilan Singh and Roli Gupta trace the path of the rising star.
By: Diamond World News Service
Feb 18 2012 4:21PM
Reference: 6737  

Granddaughter of one of Macau’s richest and most influential businessmen, the now ageing billionaire tycoon Stanley Ho, Sarah was born in Hong Kong and raised in Macau.

She left the shores of her homeland to study fashion designing in London. However, instead of entering the fashion world, she took to designing jewels instead. “I originally studied fashion but I guess the fact that I always added gemstones to my creations should have given a clue that I was going to be a jewellery designer,” she says with a smile.

Setting up her brand SHO in London in 2007, Sarah has made rapid progress in the five years since. “Each collection I design has a story to tell, inspired by different chapters in my life,” she says. “Writers have words to express themselves, and I have my jewellery to share mine.”

A gold smith and gemmologist, Sarah has both expertise and the creativity at the tip of her fingers which helped her create fashion forward and luxurious collections, which are not only aesthetic but also seem to have a unique take on design. Somewhere, no doubt, the SHO credo – “having fun with fine jewellery” – comes into play, as these tantalizing, dangling, jangling pieces prove.

Just how much at ease she is as a creator of jewellery is clear from Sarah’s words as she ponders the process of jewellery making. “I don’t actually find any part of the jewellery creation process difficult. But it’s a bit like a jigsaw and the challenge is to get all the parts of the process to fit together to create the end result that exceeds the expectations of the initial idea,” she says.

For Sarah, her designing and the jewellery that materialises from it are all intrinsically woven from the fibres of her own being and consciousness – an intensely personal process of expression.

“Each Collection I design is inspired by my heritage or something that has happened in my life, a place I have visited or a collaboration with someone else,” she says.

A good example is that of her popular Coin Collection. When she lived in Macau, her grandfather would give her an ancient Chinese coin – said to bring fortune and success - each year on her birthday. Much later, when she was pregnant with her daughter, harking back to her own heritage, she was inspired to design the Coin Collection, based on the Chinese pattern, in 18 ct white gold studded with white and congnac diamond and pink sapphires. “These were very popular with the press and our retailers so I have just finished designing a whole Collection around the concept of more affordable pieces in the same stones plus a range in blue and yellow sapphires with tsavorites and an all diamond version,” she says and exclaims, “An amazing coincidence is that I have just found out I am expecting our second child!”

Extremely modest despite the success that has crowned her in so short a time, Sarah feels that one should always be open to learning and taking advice. “There are many people in the industry who are very generous with their advice and time, and when they say something to you as a young designer, don’t be too proud to listen,” she says. “Get involved with projects that can promote your own business and raise the profile of the jewellery industry as a whole.”

However, with a firm head on her shoulders, she is not one to be swayed by all and sundry or unjudiciously. “Listen to what people have to say but follow your own instinct and take time to think things through,” she advises. “If not, this could have financial implications for your business if you end up with a garage full of packaging that will last 10 years or you sell jewellery at the wrong price and make a loss!”

Her own business instincts seem be impeccable as her business achievements in the last years have shown. Today she straddles a mini empire with seven outlets within London; another 25 across UK; and another six outside the country – including two in the US – stocking her jewellery.

SHO jewellery typically appeals to the modern day woman – “from the young to the young at heart”, Sarah says. In many senses, he jewellery is also reflective of her own taste. For, as Sarah exclaims, her favourite style in jewellery is “Classic with a contemporary twist!”. “This philosophy applies to me, my wardrobe and my jewellery designs,” she says. “I choose my jewellery to match my clothes, mood or the occasion, be it classic, bold, colourful or simply, fun.”

It comes as little surprise when Sarah says, “My muse is my mum who was a 60’s style icon in London and who wore big chunky costume-like pieces but in 18ct gold.” Providing a further insight she informs us that her mother was one of the original Bond girls in the 1967 version of Casino Royale and dated Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones.

Though Sarah today has a large clientele for her Bespoke pieces, and a large number of celebrities wear her jewellery, her abiding regret will always be to have missed adorning the fairest of them all. “The one I would love to have designed jewellery for is Elizabeth Taylor, an icon in her own right,” she says regretfully. “She adored her jewellery and her personal collection was just magnificent.”

Interesting as it would have been to design a piece for the connoisseur of jewellery, Sarah has not lacked for challenges in her designing career. The most memorable one was the piece she created for Swarovski. “In 2008 I was invited to design for the Swarovski Runway Rocks Collection,” she recalls. “Taking on board my fashion training, I pushed the jewellery boundaries to design and make a body adornment covered in Swarovski crystals.”

Sarah mainly creates jewellery in gold with coloured gemstones. “All my jewellery has a playful use of colour and sapphires are my signature stone,” she enthuses. “I just love the rainbow of colours that sapphires come in. I love coloured diamonds too, and would love to work with pink ones!”

Recently, however, she has begun making platinum jewellery as well. “This year I designed our first piece in platinum which amazingly won two awards!” she exclaims. “They are the Lianhua Earrings which are platinum with white diamonds, pink sapphires and beautiful pink pearls.”

These are not the first awards she has won – indeed from the first year she set up shop, she has been receiving accolades aplenty. But what made her happy was that her first attempt in a difficult metal won special acclaim for her. Particularly satisfying to her personally is being honoured as a ‘Trendsetter’ in the ‘Professional Jeweller Hot 100’ two years running.

As she is not only a creative head but also an entrepreneur, she is kept busy, with no two days being the same. “There is no ‘typical’ day,” she says wryly. “Every day is different and that’s what keeps us on our toes. Personally, I spend most of my time running the business and designing but as it is a small company, you have to be able to turn your hand to anything!”

But the horizon is ever expanding. Each day and each year also brings in new developments in the life of the young business.

In 2011 SHO celebrated five years in the business and launched “Sarah Ho Couture”. The first suite of jewellery under this segment was ‘Aurora’ named after the Roman Goddess of the Dawn. “The inspiration came from time spent in Thailand with the beautiful sunrise and sunset, glorious sunshine and tranquil views of the sea,” Sarah tells us.

The necklace and earrings feature delicately coloured pear-shaped beryls – aquamarine, heliodor, goshenite and morganite – delicately linked with flowing lines of diamonds and pink and yellow sapphire accents. “We then designed a beautiful chiffon silk scarf around the design, the first beginning of our accessories line,” says Sarah. The scarf was created around the colours and the designs of the jewellery and designed by a well-known Italian designer and made in the same country.

The Couture Collection also has the Faye Cocktail earrings with peridots and citrines linked with flowing lines of sparkling diamonds which go from white through champagne to cognac colours. “I think jewellery should make a woman feel feminine and beautiful when she wears it and the designs should be classic enough to be passed to the next generation,” stresses Sarah.

And in the future there is more to come. “I have lots of designing to do!,” exclaims Sarah. “There will be a new silver collection next year, the launch of our first platinum and diamond bridal collection as well as an exciting new one-off bespoke piece under the Sarah Ho Couture brand.”

On the retail front too, Sarah would like to spread her wings. Starting with a store in Macau, her homeland, she would like to make further inroads into the US and also Europe and Asia. Where does she see the brand in the next five years? “We will be an established brand in the UK, have expanded our international distribution and built the brand in the USA, mainland Europe and Asia with our own boutique in Hong Kong/Macau,” sums up Sarah.

But, for all her ambitions on the workfront, her most precious moments are with her family. “Quality family time with my husband and daughter is important to me,” she affirms. Apart from that she loves to travel and has a keen interest in fashion and architecture too.

The daughter of the East has risen like a star in the West. And there’s millennia and galaxies yet to conquer for this talented livewire.

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