Pearls of wisdom from the genre’s most cutting-edge designer
In honor of our September issue’s pearl spotlight, we couldn’t think of a better interviewee than Galatea founder Chi Huynh, the renegade designer known for his brilliantly audacious gem-nucleated and intricate hand-carved pearls. You may remember reading about Huynh’s latest creation in June’s JCK: Queen Beads—black South Seas, white, and peach freshwater carved pearl beads that slip over 3 mm chains. “My goal has always been to create an entirely new category in the pearl business,” explains the Vietnam-born Huynh, who comes from a family of jewelers. “I now realize there are just so many ways to carve them.” Read on to learn more about the sharp-witted San Dimas, Calif.–based artist/inventor/philosopher.
Galatea’s Diamond in a Pearl
Number of years in the biz: 17
Number of employees you oversee: 125 (including those in our factory in Vietnam)
Family/pets: Wife, Linh, and three children (two boys and a girl)
Describe your personal style: Simple. Creative. Happy.
Huynh’s factory in Vietnam
First piece you ever designed: My first design was called “Two Faces Mask.” I wish I had a picture of it.
The single piece of jewelry that you’re most proud of: My father’s pocket watch that he left to me. It’s a great reminder of what “time” means on earth. Plus the first Diamond in a Pearl pendant that I made for my girlfriend to explain the meaning of love. She is now my wife.
Chi’s brother Kiet as a child
Most unusual way you’ve used pearls in a design: When I decided to try to culture pearls using gemstone beads instead of mother of pearl. I have a 25-year patent for this “crazy idea,” now known as the Galatea Pearl.
Best way for a man to wear pearls: Check back with me in 2012.
Best piece of advice you ever received: Love is the best weapon.
Worst piece of advice: The value of a pearl is based on its smoothness so don’t carve it.
First job ever: Painting Christmas signs on store windows in Southern California when I was 16 years old. I found out the usual charge and offered to do it for half.
How did you get started designing jewelry? It’s a family business started by my father in Vietnam.I also learned from my brothers, Long and Kiet, who are also jewelers.
If you weren’t designing jewelry, what would you be doing? In one word: creating. It could be painting, sculpting, inventing, writing, or making movies.
Five items on your desk right now: Pearls, magnets, books, drawings, and silver master molds
Five items on your playlist: “Wish You Were Here,” Pink Floyd; “Foxy Lady,” Jimi Hendrix; “Indian Summer,” the Doors; classical Vietnamese and Chinese music
It’s a Wonderful Life
Exercise regimen: Working in my garden
What did you have for breakfast? Nothing
Guilty pleasure: Going fishing without my wife and kids
Drink (daytime/evening): Water and grape juice
Mary Evans/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection
Steve McQueen in Papillon
First website you check every day (not your own!): Yahoo! Mail. Nothing else.
How do you unwind? Reading and gardening
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re home in Vietnam? Hiring more workers. It’s good to know that I can make a real difference in someone’s life in this part of the jungle.
Superstitious? The word is not in my vocabulary.
Book you’re reading: Origin of Everyday Things by Johnny Acton, Tania Adams, and Matt Packer
Book you’ve been meaning to get to: The Bible
Preferred news source: CNN
Main means of transportation: Nissan Pathfinder with four-wheel drive
Favorite movie: It’s a Wonderful Life
Who would play you in your life story? Steve McQueen, because I love his character in Papillon who did whatever he needed to do to be free.
Personal motto: “To truly see is to close the page of one’s own perception and open a new page.”