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Lunch at The Four Seasons with: Kai-Yin Lo

Published by The New York Sun on 2005-10-07

Kai-Yin Lo of Hong Kong and Manhattan sees herself not so much a successful jewelry entrepreneur but a builder of bridges between cultures.

"If I've accomplished anything at all, it is that introduced ancient designs of China and translated them into contemporary jewelry that brings Chinese culture and history to everyday America," she said yesterday, hours before inaugurating a three-day show of her work at the Asia Society's "Asia Store" on Park Avenue.

That rediscovery involved two metamorphoses. Upon returning to her native Hong Kong after obtaining a undergraduate degree in European history at Britain's Cambridge University, she decided to become a scholar of her own millennia-old culture.

And not long after that, while she was in New York working on a short-term assignment as a public-relations executive at Time-Life, she drew some designs based on her family's collection of ancient Chinese jewelry. Every morning, she would walk from her Park Avenue apartment to her office at Rockefeller Center and pass the Cartier store on Fifth Avenue.

"I was brash - one morning I decided to walk into Cartier and show them my designs," Ms. Lo said.

Serendipitously, it was Cartier's general manager, Charles Tishman, who viewed her designs. He placed an order of 32 different items.

And that was how Ms. Lo's subsequently successful career as an international designer and entrepreneur was launched.

"You could say that I was 'made in Manhattan,'" Ms. Lo said.

While Manhattan was the launching pad for her jewelry, Hong Kong was where she initially flourished. Ms. Lo developed a line of precious and fashion jewelry based on Chinese jades. Soon her creations were being auctioned at Christie's and Sotheby's. She was widely credited with putting Hong Kong on the map for jewelry.

Her success coincided with a renewed interest in America in Asian designs.

That helped increase her sales at such stores as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus.

In time, Ms. Lo's own interests expanded to painting, architecture, furniture, and the performing arts. She wrote four books on Asian culture. She became an expert in the preservation of old buildings and monuments.
But New York retains a special place in her heart.

"After all, it was here that I truly understood that, no matter how rich one's own culture and history, an entrepreneur has to be able to connect with the market in order to succeed," Ms. Lo said.

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist

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