Blurring the line between art and jewellery, with a reverence for detail and form, Yeena Yoon fine jewellery is one of a kind. A professional architect, who previously worked for Zaha Hadid Architects, Yeena fuses contemporary and traditional techniques to create unique fine jewellery that will be coveted by collectors for years to come. With a minimal and sculptural aesthetic, Yeena’s signature Covet is one of the most unique and interesting pieces of jewellery we have seen. Nesting together seamlessly, it first appears to be an artwork, but once picked up it can be taken apart and worn as individual pieces of jewellery. We caught up with Yeena to ask her about what sparked her interest in jewellery, and how her jewellery practice has been influenced by her career as an architect.
Tell us about your background
I am from South Korea, and grew up in South East Asia before moving to London in 1999 to study architecture at the Architectural Association London. I’ve worked for many award-winning architectural practices including Zaha Hadid Architects, KPF and AHMM, including working on the Aquatic Centre 2012 for the London Olympics.
You initially trained as an architect. How has this informed your jewellery practice?
It definitely influenced the way I think and develop conceptual ideas, but also how I could maintain that integrity from conception to completion. Architectural education and working in the profession trained the way I approach design. Architecture requires endurance and meticulous eye for detail and the passion for your vision is the key in creating the standard and quality. That passion, discipline and attitude towards making have informed the way I appreciate well designed space and art and I apply that to my jewellery practice.
What initially sparked your interest in jewellery?
I was always interested in jewellery. As a designer, it became natural for me to start seeking for clothing and accessories that best represented my career persona. It was during my time at Zaha Hadid Architect where I started designing jewellery. There was something about the malleability of metal and its touch, which I instantly fell in love with. In addition to her work as an architect, Zaha also channelled her creativity through furniture, fashion and jewellery. This inspired me to be braver with the mediums that I chose as a designer.
What was the inspiration for your Covet collection?
Covet started by exploring the concept of the monument. A mini sculptural object that celebrates one’s achievements, whether it’s a mini-milestone or marking the sense of time in one’s life. I wanted the sculptural object to embed pieces of jewellery in it so that each piece could be taken apart and worn which would embody the symbolic value of the monument. The piece allows the wearer to be in charge of how the piece is displayed and worn and that the owner is the only one that knows the hidden treasure within. This piece also symbolises the mark in my own personal life, which allowed me to step into the profession as a jeweller and acknowledge myself as a designer as well as an architect. It is my own mark of the time, a little monument for me as a jeweller and for my bravery.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
My aesthetic is minimal and sculptural. I get most excited when the design looks effortless yet you know that a lot of thought has gone into creating them. You can almost feel its journey of efforts and emotions, yet it was able to reach its gracefulness through simplicity. I hope that people feel that sense of grace in my work.
Your studio is based in London. Does this influence the way you create?
I’ve lived in London since my early 20s and the city has definitely shaped the way I think and behave. London is very rich in culture and provides a truly engaging place to work, and also to encounter endless opportunities. As a creative, it’s a city that both inspires and allows freedom for my practice. Personally, I am never tired of exploring the city and getting influenced by the things that I see and experience.
Your pieces are known for their mechanical nature, with your Covet collection able to be worn as a single pendant or taken apart into individual pieces and worn as necklace, a ring and earrings. Have you always been interested in this as a concept?
In architecture, I was always drawn to architect’s that are able to translate their big ideas down to the smallest details. I see a lot of similarities between jewellery and architecture. I need to understand the proportion of a particular design or jewel, as well as ensure it fulfills its function by hanging effortlessly next to the body while radiating beauty. Engineering those mechanics are part of the design and I like to experiment and see if there is a new way of engaging with the body. During my time on the Setting Out Programme at The Goldsmiths’ Centre, I further developed my interest in the versatility in design, looking at a design that can change its function and needs according to the wearer’s needs and desire. This process made me question not only the symbolic values in jewellery but also the idea of preciousness, which led me to use stones in different ways and challenge myself to learn lapidary skills.
What structure or piece of architecture excites you?
I love architecture that gets better over time. I learnt the power of geometry from Louis Kahn and the sense of poetry from Carlo Scarpa. Louis Kahn often played with the concept of space frame. Kahn’s space was often expressed in a very simple geometric layout in plan yet when you actually walk through his building they are mind-blowingly complex. Both Kahn and Scarpa understood that building’s elements can be both structural and sculptural. In Brion cemetery, you can sense that Scarpa tried to put some poetic imagination into space. Not in order to create poetic architecture but to make a kind of architecture that could emanate a sense of poetry. He believed that the place for the dead is a garden and wanted to approach death in a social civic way by celebrating the ephemeral sense of life through the growth and change of the garden.
Sustainability has become a key focus within the jewellery industry. Is it an important factor for you?
Sustainability is something that we all need to take part in as climate change is evident. I do feel the responsibility for the way I create things using natural resources. As all my pieces are made by hand, putting the emphasis on the art of making and celebrating the skills of the craftspeople who make them. I hope that by creating higher quality fine jewellery, made in a more sustainable, thoughtful way, that this helps further the need for slow fashion.
When do you feel most inspired?
I feel most inspired when I am surrounded by creative works. After the first lockdown, I remember visiting the Tate Modern to see an exhibition. I remember coming out of the gallery feeling energized and wanting to get back to my studio to design. I could feel the passion of the artists was so powerful, realising how often I took those small pleasures for granted.
Do you have a favourite memory?
My recent favourite memory is when I went to the Silk Road back in 2015. The Silk Road was something that I wanted to do for some time and it definitely felt like travelling in the footsteps of countless generations of nomads and traders. Central Asia was a fascinating place to be, and I was wowed by the scale and its majesty of the landscapes and by the beauty of the iconic monuments. The people that I met and the landscapes I saw stay with me to this day.
What are you reading or watching?
I enjoyed reading The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman and I’m currently on to something a bit more serious, Memoirs of Hadrian by Margueritte Yourcenar which is quite extraordinary. This plot takes place in the Roman past but is somehow relatable as the protagonist’s thoughts, feelings and desires are still relevant to this day.
What’s the best part of your job?
I love the sense of freedom that comes with this profession. I love the fact that I have full control over my time. I can decide to create all day or decide to research and immerse myself in inspiring activities. Also, there are endless things to learn in jewellery from craft techniques to mineralogy and history. There’s so much to learn and I can’t imagine ever getting bored of it.
What’s the hardest part about your job?
As a solo entrepreneur, the hardest part is to accept your limitations and ask for help. Because jewellery is small and can be done by you, people often think it can’t be translated into a business level. One thing that I have learnt from being in an architectural profession is that the more you collaborate and work with the experts the more you can evolve your work to the next level.
What do you love the most?
I love designing. Design is something that I feel natural at. I love coming up with concepts, playing with proportions and mostly manifesting something from nothing. That process of creativity excites me and makes me feel alive.
What would you tell your younger self?
I would tell my younger self to stop worrying and not to be distracted by emotions. Instead trust that life will bring you lots of adventures and every experience will be for a fuller life and give you more confidence and maturity. Also, letting go is never easy but exciting things will emerge because of it.