The arts have been a central theme throughout Yen’s life. Being the daughter of a world-renowned watercolorist has influenced the way she sees the world. After visiting countless art museums and galleries, she recalls the joys of peering into the glass cases to admire the jewelry inside.
After graduating from Boston University with a degree in Psychology (with thoughts of becoming a dentist), Yen later chose another path, and received a B.S. in Interior Design from the University of Minnesota. Her desire to create jewelry transpired after taking classes from jewelry instructor Cynthia Amendt. It is here that she learned the fundamentals of metal-smithing and fell in love with the relationship of form and metal with the human body. It was the ability to create unique, individual pieces that fit her personal style and taste that drew her in.
After working at various architecture firms as an interior designer for nearly a decade, Yen decided to expand her scope of design on a smaller scale, seeing jewelry as miniature sculptures. “It’s quite special knowing that what you’re designing is used to adorn something so uniquely personal. Jewelry is such a beautiful way to express and enhance oneself not only on the outside, but from deep within.” Yen Chee Design launched after Yen decided to follow her passion for designing jewelry on a full-time basis. “I’m grateful for how the stars aligned because I absolutely love what I do. I have found
my passion and bliss, and to me that is absolutely
The jewelry Yen creates is inspired by so many things: architecture, furniture,
fashion, the play of light, Chinese screens, patterns in sand, tropical palms, but most often from a deeper place from within. "I sketch my designs all the time, but when I sit down to carve them out of wax, I'm often surprised how the results end up totally different." She loves to travel around the world with her husband Kar-Keat Chong who is a designer and architect, and it is on many of these journeys that she gains insight and inspiration for her designs. "I love how my husband inspires me to see the world from a totally new perspective." From her grandmother’s tropical garden in Malaysia, to the hand-carved sculptures at the Uffizi museum in Italy, she follows the spark that culminates from within. “I strive to create jewelry that not only looks stunning, but makes you feel amazing inside.”
Yen’s background in design enables her to have a keen eye for proportion, scale, and overall aesthetic. Her jewelry is meant to be comfortable to wear, with emphasis on quality in craftsmanship. Her pieces are designed to mix and match, so nearly all pieces have a way of complementing one another. One design philosophy she is drawn to is called wabi sabi, the underlying fundamental idea is about “finding beauty in imperfection, which adds unique quality and a simple elegance to an object.” Whether or not a small file mark or imperfect line, she feels these are all a reminder of the hand-crafted quality of her pieces. Her attention to detail is present from start to finish, from the jewelry itself to the elegant custom pouches they come in. Each fabric pouch has a sustainable story-being made out of discontinued high-end fabrics. Every purchase is placed in a fabric pouch, wrapped in her red signature tissue and placed in a glossy white jewelry gift bag. It is the interior designer in Yen who understands the importance of presentation and beauty in the gifts you buy for the ones you love-including ourselves!
Yen believes "the best jewelry you could ever buy is whatever makes you feel good." She is drawn to clear quartz crystal, not only because it has an amazing way of looking great on everyone, but it feels so great. Whether you believe in the metaphysical properties of stones, it has been believed for centuries that clear quartz is the "universal crystal-known to promote harmony and balance." The healing properties are in their ability to attract positive energy that enhances the mind, body, and spirit.
After designing jewelry using an acetylene torch and setting semi-precious stones, Yen wanted to branch out and expand her abilities by learning the lost wax method of jewelry making. Yen is drawn to this approach because it is more flexible and enables her to carve and file wax into various shapes. Generating new ideas by sketching them on post-its and sketchbooks is one of the first steps towards designing many of her pieces. After that, Yen sits down at her workbench, to start to saw the wax. From here, she files and carves out excess wax with a wax file or dremel tool.
Various files in all sorts of shapes and sizes are used to smooth out the wax, and carve out designs. When she is finally happy with the look of the wax design, all pieces are sent out to be cast and made into molds. The pieces then go through another series of finishing steps which require her to saw off the sprues, file and smooth the metal, and polish the final piece with the use of various buffing wheels. She loves the entire design process. “It’s a lot of fun to see the evolution of each piece as it comes to life-from being nothing more than a piece of wax, to having form and shape, being cast into a piece of metal, to something shiny and finished and ready to wear.” It is quite the labor of love.