We meet Carmen Choi not long after the recent relocation and refurbishment of her multi-brand shop, Galerie C. When asked if the move, the paperwork and the dealings with landlords were difficult, she says, as a matter of fact, “No, my family owns the building. So I just moved from one room to another – I have a nicer view now.”
Her panoramic view of the Tsim Sha Tsui skyline is stunning, as are the custom-made jewels by designers from Hong Kong (such as Lesley Yu), Europe (Michael Youssoufian) and the US, all showcased in antique display cases in her well-appointed showroom office.
Don’t be too dazzled by all the bling and beautiful trinkets. For Choi, this is serious business. “Jewellery should be for everyone and somewhat affordable as well. I love what demi-fine jewellery can offer; this category is growing by six percent annually according to [market research group] NPD and we hope to bring this trend to Hong Kong as well. I recommend someone like Anissa Kermiche from London; I love her playful and unique designs, especially those inspired by Alexander Calder’s sculptures.”
Choi isn’t looking at designer Goliaths who are already well established in the industry, but at those rare artisans who offer something unique. “We do regular trunk shows and sometimes I help customers with styling; I styled three ladies with Margherita Burgener jewels at the Hong Kong Ballet Ball last year, for example.”
For years, Choi was a denizen of the world of numbers – she earned a degree in finance
at the University of Pennsylvania – but then decided to study fashion at Parsons School of Design. “When I made the switch, no one was surprised that I followed my passion and started my own jewellery business.”
Is there any arm-twisting to join the family fold (Choi Hing Lee Seed or the family’s property development projects)? “I didn’t have pressure to join my family business, as other third-generation members like my brother and cousins are already helping in the fertilizers and seeds business.”
What’s the worst thing about running her own company? “Maybe the pressure of thinking about my business 24 hours a day … but the best part is waking up to see beautiful things and be involved in something I love to do.”