Chin Teo is a Malaysian-born artisan jeweller based in London. His designs celebrate the irregularities of nature while keeping alive the finest goldsmith and silversmith tradition. Balancing formal perfection with a strong emotional content, Teo‘s jewels blends sculptural shapes to raw and unfinished textures. His interest in ancient crafts goes beyond the boundaries of classic jewelry, spanning over different creative fields such as leather and shoemaking. We sat down with Chin Teo to find out more about his eponymous label and his personal approach to craftsmanship.
Chin, how did your interest in design come about?
Growing up as a kid in a remote little town in Malaysia, I had an instinct, an unconscious desire of becoming an artist, or doing something creative. It was not until I moved to Melbourne, Australia, a little more than a decade ago, whilst doing my undergraduate design degree in Industrial Design, I then felt this desire awaken further. For the first time I was able to fully immerse myself in all aspects of arts, design and fashion. Melbourne‘s diverse and enthralling art/design scenes injected a fresh creative energy in me.
How did you end up starting your own jewellery line?
To be honest, it was kind of incidental. At the time I had just graduated from university in all the economical/financial doom and gloom in 2009. Instead of desperately and quickly searching through opportunities in listings at a career agency, I wanted to learn new skills, something hands on…something completely different from the way I was taught in the classroom. So I did a jewellery making/silversmithing short course with a local jeweller, and I completely felt in love with it. Looking back, I knew very little about jewellery but I was young and fearless, so I sat on the bench in my rented garage and created my first artisan jewellery collection.
What attracts you of working with metals?
Metals are malleable, yet strong. They are very practical forms of material, and not to mention, personally, incredibly beautiful. To me, working with silver/gold is a process of discovering and understanding what they are capable off, and how through the manipulation of metals (eg. forging, cutting, twisting, bending…etc) and hand finishing (eg. firing, oxidisation, enameling…etc) can present the different facets of metals to an audience. My personal excitement came about from seeing metal transform into a finished piece as well as the hand making process. For me, it is a very natural thing to do as an artisan, working with materials by hands, day in day out.
Can you describe the feel of your jewellery collection? What kind of values do you aim to communicate?
I want to capture monumental forms with natural textural finishes through tools and methods of traditional gold/silversmith crafting. Both reflective and personal, which transcends the concept of adornment and the relationship with the wearer.
Unlike traditional jewellers, you tend to include small irregularities in your designs. How imperfections make your pieces more precious?
We live in a time where perfection is tangible and obtainable, to a microscopic detail. My physical hands are not made to compete with 3D printers or laser cutting machines, nor is it my belief to pursue such idealistic and distorted superficiality. To me, it is important as a maker of artisan jewellery, to present details and forms that are exciting to the eyes. It is the philosophy of CHIN TEO jewellery to convey it’s uniqueness, by offering a glimpse of the hand making process to the clients, and be featured as part of the overall piece. Exposed joints, fire scales, over-soldered, forged textures, melted joints and many other techniques I implore, are subtle celebrations of irregularities embedded into my work. Whether or not they make my pieces more precious, is entirely subjective.
Does sculpture influences your creative process or it’s more about materials and their natural reactions?
In my early work I was mostly influenced by materials. Forms were kept simple and classical. As my skills develop and evolve further, I started to produce more free form and sculptural forms. Since I hardly ever draw my design on papers, I learnt to just trust my instinct through my eyes and hands.
Your pieces are entirely hand-made by yourself. How important is to maintain an artisanal approach nowadays?
It is a way of life. A philosophy. You have to be passionate to work like this. It is a lot of hard work, mentally and physically, sometimes with little rewards. Walk inside any museum around the world and you can find works and relics made by artisans throughout humankind’s history. Legacies left as a result of life’s influences and philosophies. They are part of this inter woven net, with poetry, paintings and religion that contribute to our rich culture and history, that is humankind.
What is the biggest hurdle you have had to get where you are?
To continue to stay true to my instincts and follow my philosophy so that my work can continue to be adorned and be desired.
As a designer, what sense of fulfillment do you gain from your work? Are you interested in other forms of art?
I can never get tired of picking up new crafts, learning to create meaningful work by my hands are both spiritually fulfilling and self-sufficient.
Finally, what are your creative projects for the future?
I am currently on a learning journey in traditional bespoke shoemaking, with one of the masters in this craft in London. So let’s wait and see what the future entails.