By Edith Terry
On a rainy early April evening in Hong Kong’s nightlife district, a determined band of collectors and connoisseurs pushes through the cocktail crowds to a basement bar with low lighting and a hidden entrance, Lan Kwai Lau. Piercing the gloom with her smile and energetic presence is Yim Tom, head of the eponymous jewellery atelier Yim Tom Jewels for the Journey, clad in flamingo-like tropical pastels and a riveting amber tiger pendant embellished with garnet druze, a coating of fine crystals.
The audience settles back to listen. Orientations, a high-brow publication on Asian art, has asked Tom to talk about the rather staid topic of “The Art of Dress: Antiques and Contemporary Fashion.” In Tom’s hands, the subject is anything but academic. Whatever her audience may have expected, she gives them vintage Yim Tom – erudite and energetic, flamboyant yet meticulous. Racing through her slides, the talk morphs into a breathless account of her love affair with China’s past and its impact on her design philosophy. Nobody minds.
Layering Hollywood glamour with Chinese metaphysics, Tom is a cultural mosaic in her own right. As a teenager in Miami, she learned about the concept of yin and yang, how seemingly opposite forces can be complementary, and the search for immortality embodied in Chinese jade. “A veil lifted from my eyes,” she says. Thus began a journey that has included stints in a major auction house as well as marketing for the high-intensity TV sales network, QVC, where she became the best-known jade expert to its hundreds of thousands of viewers through her show, “Chinese Jade with Yim Tom,” and finally to her own atelier making bespoke jewellery.
Jade, both contemporary and antique, is a major element in Tom’s craft, as well as her design philosophy. She says it represents all the spiritual qualities most important to Chinese civilisation – the glue that held the culture together for thousands of years, along with the ideographic writing system. One of the most difficult of materials due to its hardness, with its gleaming lustre and range of colours, jade came to represent aspirations for permanence and protection across many cultures.