This week we talk to Fairina Cheng, jeweller and owner of Fairina Cheng Contemporary Jewellery, about breaking the rules, love for all, and questioning the status quo.
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Tell us about yourself?
I grew up in Singapore but attended international schools where I was always surrounded by a vibrant mix of people, nationalities and cultures. Most people spoke two languages, sometimes three, and had lived in multiple countries. No one asked, cared or wondered where you were from.
Singapore, in contrast, was generally a very traditional country. Growing up, I didn’t really feel like I fit in with the crowd. I liked different types of music and was interested in the concept of body modification through tattoos and piercings. I didn’t listen to the same music everyone else did, and I didn’t want to just do what was expected of me. As a teenager, I was drawn to the idea that there was a whole other way of being – and actually, lots of different ways of being besides what was mainstream. I marched to the beat of my own drum and never felt the need to do otherwise. In fact, growing up, I never really wore any jewellery. Traditional jewellery just didn’t appeal to me. And for as long as I could remember, I always felt the need to question and ask why, and to not simply accept things at face value.
So how did someone that didn’t wear jewellery become a jeweller?
I moved to Sydney to study and after I graduated I worked in marketing. After a while I felt compelled to get out of the office and do something creative. Without much deep thought about it, I selected a course in jewellery design. It was mere curiosity at first, but it wasn’t long before I fell absolutely in love with the process of manipulating metal. It was like I’d found what I was really meant to be doing. When I realised that I could make jewellery a unique expression of one’s’ individuality, it became all I wanted to do.
What exactly about that appealed most to you?
I’ve always been interested in ideology – it’s fascinating how society shapes the way we think and what we believe. Jewellery is a very traditional trade. While things are slowly changing, many still stick to conventional designs and conventional experiences. I wouldn’t say I’m what you would typically describe as a rebellious individual, but I will always find a way to question the status quo. Why do things need to be done a certain way? Why is it inappropriate to do them another way? I do this a lot in my work and in life in general.
So what distinguishes Fairina Cheng from other jewellers?
I like taking a traditional style of jewellery and turning it on its head. I love creating striking statement pieces that cross boundaries and defy expectations. My designs are quite geometric and clean. Think angled gemstones, offset bezels and key features created based on ‘hidden stories’ – captured concepts and references that only speak to the wearer, and aren’t apparent to anyone else without close inspection.
“When I design custom jewellery, I do it with their story in mind. It’s their story, crafted into something that customers and their loved ones can hold and wear for years to come.”
Which gemstones are your favourite to work with?
There are so many gemstones to choose from, it’s hard to pick a favourite, though I rarely work with diamonds. Of course I can, and I do, but typically my clients have an appetite for a broader range of gemstones. One of the things I really enjoy is finding the perfect stone for someone. I love seeing and selecting stones in person, and then creating a piece around the unique beauty and features of that particular stone. I often recommend sapphires because they are very durable and they come in such a vast range of colours, beyond the traditional blue, which most people aren’t aware of. You can find them in pinks, yellows, and greens, and also sometimes with more than one colour mixed in a single stone.
I see that you’re wearing a wedding ring – did you make it yourself?
It’s a very simple wedding band isn’t it? But I love what it represents. My partner, who’s a police officer, made it for me. I coached him through the process. From raw metal, he crafted it with his own two hands, filed it and soldered it – watching him put so much love and effort into its creation is what sets it apart from any other ring out there. I never take it off – it’s become a part of me. It’s gotten quite scratched up over time, especially because I work with my hands, but it doesn’t bother me at all. Every mark in the metal represents a moment in time during our life together. It tells our story.
That must have been such a memorable experience for him. Is this something that you offer to others, too – the chance to actually be involved in the making of their jewellery?
I love giving people the opportunity to see how their ring is made. It’s such an important and fascinating part of the journey that it’s a real shame that this part of the process gets lost. There really is a lot that goes into creating a piece of jewellery and that process in and of itself is quite special and unique. I like to bring my customers behind the scenes and show them how their piece of jewellery is made through photos and videos, from the first step through to the final, polished product. When I design custom jewellery, I do it with their story in mind. It’s their story, crafted into something that customers and their loved ones can hold and wear for years to come. I’m always open to different ideas and requests, so if you have something in mind, all you have to do is reach out to me for a chat.
Tell us about how you got engaged? And what was your wedding like?
This might be a little controversial, especially for a jeweller to say, but I never really knew if I wanted to get married. It’s probably not a surprise knowing what you know about me now – about my desire to question tradition, and the desire to defy expectations and pave a different path in life that’s unique to me. So truth be told, it really was a non-event. But that’s exactly how we wanted it to be.
Part of my reservation about the concept of marriage is the inequality it can represent – I found it difficult to get around the fact that not everyone can legally get married. It just didn’t feel right that marriage was so freely accessible to someone like me – someone who didn’t even know if they wanted to get married in the first place, and yet, there are others who still have to fight for that same right, others that don’t even have the option. Ultimately, I did get married (although for a lot of people that know me, this may be the first time they’re hearing about it), but have remained steadfast in my disdain for the fact that marriage inequality still exists in our society, in this day and age. I’m not alone in feeling this way. My clients, unsurprisingly, are quite the progressive bunch, just the way I like it! A heterosexual couple who recently came to me for their rings eloped and got married in Iceland where same sex marriage has been legalised. They did it because they wanted to be married in a way that had regard for equality. That’s something I really admire about my customers. They take action based on their beliefs.
Do you think Australia is on its way to achieving marriage equality?
Yes – in fact, most people I know are absolutely behind it. Perhaps that’s just because so many of my friends and clients are open-minded, open-hearted people. To me, it does seem that the vast majority are in favour of marriage equality, and those against it have become the exception rather than the norm. I’m unlikely to ever attend a rally, but I’ll subtly bring progress where I can. I’ve been picking ‘vote no’ stickers off surfaces as I’ve come across them in my neighbourhood. And recently I attended a few dog-related events and noticed an organised group handing out flyers with anti-marriage equality propaganda. After an email to each event’s organiser, the group is no longer welcomed at any of their events. Change to the current legal definition of marriage needs to happen and I look forward to the opportunity to work with more same sex couples to create pieces that help capture their stories, and to play a part in celebrating their love.
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To find out more about Fairina’s contemporary pieces made for rule breakers and story makers, visit www.fairinachengjewellery.com
To enquire about custom orders for your wedding, chat to Fairina on www.weplanr.com