8 Asian-Founded Jewelry Brands Honoring Their Heritage

Picture this: You’ve been whisked back to the dawn of humanity. What do you imagine being there? It may seem inconsequential or even inconceivable, but jewelry was one of the most imperative items during that period. Historians have reported that long before the invention of money, bling was the currency; it reflected every culture and each individual’s part in civilization. While we may now live in an entirely different period, trinkets still give us a peek into a time before us—albeit insights into fallen empires, an elusive grandmother, or an elegant trend from a different era. For so many marginalized communities, jewelry has always been a symbolic representation of their own history, acting as a way to subvert the identities pushed upon them by colonialism. Sure, all of humankind has always participated in the act of passing down heirlooms from generation to generation, but it’s been far more consequential in communities of color—whether from Latin America, Africa, or Asia. Particularly with the latter, jewelry has always been a way in which a diverse range of nationalities, ethnicities, and cultures across the Asian diaspora can celebrate their unique heritage.

This tradition continues thanks to a new crop of designers in demi-fine and fine jewelry space, who are committed to honoring their heritage through modern reinterpretations of heirlooms. For so many designers, it’s no longer about creating contemporary collections but telling their communities’ stories—or at least that’s what we discerned after speaking to a few founders. The way that many of the creatives feel can be best distilled by what Jennie Yoon told us: “Every individual has a story to tell; the best way to honor those moments is through jewelry. Our stories are the most priceless heirloom of all.” As we commemorate Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, there’s no better time to share the stories behind some of the coolest brands than right now. Ahead, we’ve curated a list of 8 Asian-founded jewelry brands that are bridging the gap between the past and present through their pieces. Their work embodies all of what an heirloom should be: a little piece of personal history.

Misho

(Image credit: Courtesy of Misho)

If any jewelry brand were to be the visible definition of ‘wearable sculptures,’ it would be Misho. Since the brand’s inception in 2016, it has carved out its own space in the industry because of its contemporary twist on classic pieces. Its artful approach to jewelry can be attributed to the Indian-born, London-based creative director and founder Suhani Parekh. Influenced by her educational background in sculpture—she studied at Goldsmiths College at the University of London—Parekh first started creating sculptural jewelry for herself. It wasn’t until, in her own words, “I found myself being asked constantly about what jewelry I was wearing that I decided to do something with what I had right in front of me.” While Parekh’s Desi background influences many of the brand’s offerings, she always aims to think of the long-term picture. As she divulged to us, “There’s definitely a Desi influence to my pieces, particularly in our shade of gold, but I wouldn’t say that it is overwhelmingly a part of my approach to design.” For Parekh, it’s all about pieces that lend themselves to sculpting generations for years to come. As she adeptly explained, “What makes a great heirloom is that it becomes so beloved by its predecessor that it has been passed down for someone else to enjoy; to me, that is so beautiful. I hope Misho can play a part in that.”

Tabayer

a collage of models wearing the asian-owned jewelry brand Tabayer

(Image credit: Courtesy of Tabayer)

“Jewelry holds stories, values, and a spiritual connection to the outside world,” or at least that’s what the founder and creative director of Tabayer, Nigora Tokhtabayeva, aims to reflect in her work. Born in Uzbekistan, Tokhtabayeva didn’t initially set out to start a fine jewelry brand until she resided near the Noguchi Sculpture Park in Miami. Her proximity to those sculptures, in her own words, sparked her interest in commissioning her first-ever jewelry pieces, leading to the eventual creation of Tabayer in 2021. Since then, Tokhtabayeva has become known for her minimal yet modern designs, which sophisticatedly infuse spiritual elements of Asian talismans. Her success seemingly lies in her understanding that the best jewelry acts as a conduit between the past and the present, the tangible and spiritual, and the interior and exterior worlds. Yes, all of Tabyer’s pieces pay homage to Tokhtabayeva’s heritage, but they go beyond that. She explains, “ I’m always incorporating elements of tradition, symbolism, and craftsmanship into my pieces, but in an abstract and contemporary way. For me, a great heirloom is a piece of jewelry that tells a story that can transcend time—an object imbued with memory and emotion.” Her work is a reminder that all jewelry reflects the world around us.

Kinn Studio

a collage of models wearing the asian-founded jewelry brand, Kinn Studio

(Image credit: Courtesy of Kinn)

Imagine the experience of unearthing a hidden gem; for entrepreneurs, that’s akin to the moment they first envision their future endeavors. However, for the founder and CEO, Jennie Yoon, starting her business didn’t come from finding something new but from losing it first. As she told us, “All of my parent’s jewelry that had been passed down through my family was stolen, so I journeyed to Downtown Los Angeles to try to replace a few pieces for my parents. I learned about the industry through the process and knew I could create something different.” Spoiler: she’s done just that. In seven years, Kinn has become a renowned fine jewelry brand with a design philosophy rooted in relevance for heirlooms. That philosophy is evident through every aspect of the business, from the brand’s moniker—which is derived from an amalgamation of her mom’s maiden name, the word for gold in Korean, and the idiom, ‘next of kin’—to offerings such as the “Heritage Collection,” which draws inspiration from old nameplate pieces in different languages. For Yoon, jewelry isn’t just a business idea she’s decided to pursue; it’s a way to bring back what’s been lost to herself and others—albeit through offering transparency into the efficacy of jewelry production or honoring the stories of the Asian diaspora one piece at a time.

Ming Yu Wang

a collage of models wearing the asian-founded jewelry brand Ming Yu Wang

(Image credit: Courtesy of Ming Yu Wang)

The true test of a great heirloom lies in if it can be pulled out of your mother’s jewelry box and still feel modern—not every jewelry brand has mastered that balance, but many can learn from Ming Yu Wang. Born in Taipei, the New York-based entrepreneur initially wanted to become a fashion designer, so Wang attained a specialized education in eveningwear at the Fashion Institute of Technology. However, as she explained, “It was important to know my creations will get passed on and that they’ll be adored for many years to come,” so she shifted into jewelry design. Pivoting might seem like an overtly pragmatic choice, but for Wang, it was far more personal. She admits that it was somewhat “fated” that she’d eventually enter the jewelry business, considering that her full name translates to ‘King of Jade.’ But whatever forces led her to her namesake label in 2013, there’s no denying Wang’s talent, as she’s able to create contemporary-feeling jewelry that simultaneously draws from the archives of fashion history (and even her own heritage). As she divulged to us, “I grew up watching my mom put together game nights with the family in the ’80s, where they’d all be playing the game Mahjong. All my aunties would be dripping in their best fit for the evening with bold statement jewelry. Those memories shape so much of collections to this day.” Now, that’s how you make modern-day heirlooms.

KatKim

a collage of models wearing asian-founded jewelry brand KatKim

(Image credit: Courtesy of KatKim)

What do heirlooms mean to you? For the founder and creative director of KatKim, they’re more than just a shiny thing to pass down. “Jewelry is a storyteller, a keeper of memories and emotions. Whether it’s an engagement ring passed down through generations or a pendant commemorating a significant life event, heirlooms transcend trends and time; they carry the essence of family history,” Kat Kim told us. Like so many great designers before her, Kim understands that the story behind the piece truly makes it special; it’s what’s made her work stand out in an otherwise saturated market. Growing up as a Korean-American in Los Angeles, Kim didn’t necessarily have an inside into the jewelry industry, yet everything has, in her own words, “serendipitously worked out.” However, her success can’t be attributed to chance, as much as she’s carved out her lane by not sticking to the status quo since the start of her brand. Kim has never adhered to the old of the “typical” jewelry founder, as she started her namesake label in 2016 without any financial backing after taking maternity leave from a design firm. On top of that, none of her collections are conventional to what characterizes the fine jewelry space—her work is comprised of minimal but unexpected silhouettes, all made by hand from sustainably sourced gemstones and metals. Her distinct perspective on jewelry has proven that her work is more than just shiny objects but a story of ingenuity.