Anna Hu (胡茵菲) had her heart set on a career as a cellist until a shoulder injury cut short her musical aspirations. Now the 34-year-old shines as a jeweler whose luxurious, art-inspired designs have attracted clients ranging from Cindy Sherman to Madonna. Her creations also make regular appearances on the red carpet, including February’s Academy Awards, where Scarlett Johansson and Hilary Swank wore pieces that paid homage to Surrealist paintings.
Though she launched New York City-based Anna Hu Haute Joaillerie just four years ago, Hu has already garnered high praise among jewelry connoisseurs and collectors. In a Wall Street Journal profile, David Warren, the director of Christie’s in London and the Middle East, said Hu is considered among the top five or six contemporary jewelry designers in the world.
Born in Taiwan, Hu immigrated to the US with her family when she was a teenager. Though both her parents worked in the jewelry trade, Hu’s first passion was classical music.
“Before I hurt my shoulder, my whole life was about the cello,” says Hu, who practiced at least five hours a day before developing tendinitis. Her chiropractor ordered her to reduce her playing time to half an hour.
With her musical career on hold, Hu felt “very empty.”
“It was in 1997, right around my birthday in March, and for two months it was like hell for me,” she says.
Then her father, a diamond dealer, suggested that she take a jewelry design class to help lift her out of her depression.
“It was like a transformation for me,” Hu says. “I learned that it doesn’t matter if it’s performing arts or visual arts, it’s all universal.”
Hu, who earned master’s degrees in art history and art administration from the Parsons School of Design and Columbia University, now applies the same perfectionist tendencies to her jewelry that she did to the cello. She cites artists Vincent van Gogh, Gustav Klimt and Chang Dai-chien (張大千) as inspirations; her favorite jeweler is Rene Lalique.
Despite her celebrity clientele, Hu lays down the law for her custom work and insists on creating pieces that reflect her aesthetic point of view.
“I don’t care if someone is rich or whatever their status is, I don’t give a damn,” Hu says. “They come to me, they listen to me.”
She compares the process of designing a piece of jewelry to composing a symphony.
“Every gemstone is like a musical note. The contours, the shapes, the lines, are like the melody,” Hu says. “The setting technique, the wax modeling and the construction of the jewelry is really like musical theory, it’s like the rhythm.”
Hu listens to the same pieces of classical music over and over again while working. Johann Sebastian Bach’s concertos are “very symmetrical, very structured, with a lot of symmetry” and inspire her when she creates art deco designs.
Frederic Chopin was her composer of choice while making the bold, lushly detailed jewelry Johansson and Swank wore to the Oscars.
“I related them to Chopin, because they are ultra-romantic and very passionate, with organic curvilinear lines,” Hu says.
Crafted by jewelers in New York City and Paris, Hu’s pieces can take years from conception to the final product. One of Hu’s newest showcase creations, a dramatic collar set with hundreds of precious stones in delicate shades inspired by the artwork of Claude Monet, hails back to a trip Hu made to Giverny, France, when she was 21 years old.