The representation of women in the gemstone and jewelry industry has grown in recent years, but there is still a long way to go. Like many other spheres, this industry has been widely seen as a ‘man’s world’, where women have had to overcome significant obstacles to work in the sector.
There has certainly been some progress with books and exhibitions on jewelry designers past and present. The main focus is on the downstream retail and design sector. Representation of women is almost absent in the upstream supply chain – mining, sourcing, gem-cutting and gemmaking research.
By most estimates, women are driving demand for over 90% of the world’s jewelry. Their tastes and preferences shape the jewelry market and influence decisions at every step of the supply chain.
The Women’s Interview Series is a monthly column that aims to celebrate and amplify the voices of women in all facets and at all levels of the industry. We all have a responsibility to turn the story into an inclusive and inspiring story. It is a platform that focuses on today’s pioneering practitioners.
Women’s series: KAREN PYU
This Toronto-based Burmese jeweler takes inspiration from her heritage and combines it with Singapore glamor to create unique pieces to wear.
Jewelry is more than just an accessory for Toronto Burmese Karen Pyu, the creative force behind the Mondselle brand. “It is an everyday art form, expressed in the most beautiful way. Karen has made a name for herself with designs that beautifully combine her Burmese heritage with the urban, avant-garde city of Singapore. Her jewelry has already attracted the attention of Burmese and Canadian celebrities, including MYA and Aung San Suu Kyi, State Counselor of Myanmar. His passion for the fine arts began during his childhood and continued to grow over the years in high school. Karen moved to Toronto for her jewelry design and goldsmith trainingng at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) before launching her brand in 2015. Applying her keen sense of style and creativity to the field of jewelry design, Karen Pyu places portability at the heart of her designs.
She tells us more about her design philosophy and the female icons that inspire her work in our exclusive interview below.
Can you tell me about your background before launching Mondselle? I was born in Myanmar and lived there until I was fourteen. As a child, I remember coloring with pencils and enjoying working and layering colors to create different effects. My mother saw how much I loved to draw and wear in art classes every summer, but it wasn’t until we moved to Singapore that I had the opportunity to take a wide variety of art classes and really make it a passion. In high sschool, there was a design competition for the SIGG water bottles, and my submission was selected as the best. It was amazing to see students carrying water bottles with my drawing on them. It really sparked my passion for furthering my career.
I moved to Canada for my training in jewelry design and silversmithing. After graduating from Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD), I started Mondselle, which consists of fine and fashion jewelry.
Could you explain how the name Mondselle came about?
The name Mondselle is derived from the French word “socialite”, meaning a woman belonging to the fashionable society, and the word “She” meaning her. The brand caters to modern women today in many ways. Through my creative work, I hope that women will look and feel fashionable.
How would you define the aesthetics and style of your brand?
I gravitate towards ornamental and sculptural aesthetics, and I am also very drawn to floral designs. I design jewelry that I sincerely believe in and that I would wear every day. I also focus on portability, which is suitable for both the classic woman and the fashionable one. You can pair one of my rings with a cocktail dress as easily as with jeans. With a background in fine arts, I also create visuals for my work. In an industry saturated with mass-produced costume jewelry, it is crucial to stand out with talent, quality and craftsmanship.
What inspires your work?
Having lived far from Myanmar since the age of 14, I have learned to integrate harmoniously with other cultures. When I travel I always pay attention to my surroundings, amazing people, art and architecture. I often like to look at the history and traditional elements of a culture, especially Burmese, to draw a theme from it, make it relevant to the present day and tell a story with each piece.
What gemstones do you like to work with?
I love working with colors, so naturally colored stones are my playground, and I especially love all shades of blue. Sapphire and tanzanite are my favorite stones, along with Burmese rubies and emeralds.
What kind of woman is Mondselle wearing? How do you want women to feel when they wear your pieces?
I want Mondselle to be a place where customers come to create or buye something that will be memorable. Whether it’s a gift for yourself, a friend, or someone you love, we want to create new relationships and meaningful stories to share. We cherish the moment a special piece of jewelry is gifted to us, and it is a memory that lasts a lifetime. There is immense satisfaction and a great honor to have the opportunity to be a part of something so special. To me, jewelry is an everyday art, which is expressed in the most beautiful way. I found Mondselle in accordance with this philosophy to create jewelry that will sublimate the daily life of modern women. A lot of care and love has been put into every piece so I want women to feel confident when they wear them.
How have covid 19 pandemics affected your creative process?
2020 has been a difficult year for many of us. Personally, the pandemic lockdown has been a blessing in disguise. As an introvert this gave me plenty of time to create without all the noise of regular daily activities. My sketchbook is now full of ideas that I hope to slowly come to fruition over the years.
Can you tell us about the women who inspire you the most and why?
Art is a way of life and Frida Khalo is my divinity. As a woman and an artist, Frida broke many barriers. She not only challenged society’s beauty standards, but she also gave us a lesson in resilience when she continued to persevere after the terrible accident that crippled her at the age of 18. Instead of her trauma and pain being a hindrance, she used it to drive her self-exploration and art. Being a young woman in a male-dominated industry, resilience and steadfastness are virtues that Frida has demonstrated, which I admire and embrace.
Closer to home, Myanmar State Councilor Aung San Suu Kyi is the living inspiration. In difficult times, I draw inspiration from his resilience and perseverance during his twenty years of house arrest. I never imagined that she would one day wear a necklace from my collection. It really is an honor to see him on her.
I am not from a family of jewelers, so I started Mondselle from scratch, and with that there were a lot of difficulties that I had to face on my own. I learned from her the courage to face any roadblocks that might come my way and keep walking.
Art meets jewelry: series for women.
* Sponsored by The Jewelry Trade Center (JTC), Bangkok.