Jeanette Lai Thomas’ Moratorium jewelry collection is a dynamic study in the beauty of geometry
The first time I had the pleasure of viewing the Moratorium collection, it was at an industry show and I spotted it out of the corner of my eye while almost walking past in order to greet a friend. But I did a double take and took two steps backward to ge a closer look at the pieces, which were even more riveting and dynamic than I had imagined. The designer behind the collection, Jeanette Lai Thomas walked me through the geometric silhouettes, which were familiar in shape but altogether original in execution. The three-dimensional, sensual yet structured lines of the bold silvers piece are crafted with precision and stand out as fine jewelry in the most sophisticated sense next to Lai Thomas’ more luxe pieces of pave accented gold earrings, pendants, bracelets and rings. Jeanette is the real deal—a designer with a vision, one that understands not only a few great pieces but also how to merchandise and layer in styles of different sizes and price points. It’s a collection that also speaks volumes about her international lifestyle and all of the places she has traveled, predominately focusing on the urban, chic and edgy metropolis of cities in which she lived.
She launched her first collection in 2011, which according to Jeanette, “began with the bold and three-dimensional pyramid silhouette—a shaped that is universally recognized as one of the strongest structures known to man, an object of strength, beauty and eternal fascination”.
She attributes her ability to see the collection as a whole and to consider every aspect of the design process to her first career as a production director for cut and sew knits. “It has helped me be a very organized designer. I spend almost as much time in Excel as well as my bench. Working in fashion production for five years, taught me all about precision and detail, which has carried over into my collection.” She says.
Jeanette explains, “between 2008 and 20111 we made a few international moves because of my husband’s work, so I found myself in unknown territory in foreign countries with a lot of time on my hands.” While living in Amsterdam she decided to work with her hands creatively and took silversmithing classes and learned that “working with metal is really the art of jewelry in its purist form.”
Here we talk to the designer who was born in Singapore, grew up in Hong Kong and has and lived around the globe about her foray into jewelry and the collections’ evolution since 2011…
How did you get into jewelry design? What were you doing before you started designing jewelry?
“I left Hong Kong for the states when I was 16 and I had always been into accessories. Everyone can wear the same outfit, but give each person or each look a unique attitude are the accessories and most personally, jewelry. After starting my career in fashion and then switching over to learning silversmithing, I saw many similarities. I loved the challenge and rewards that came with making something, which was from start to finish with my own hands. I also learned very early on that when something looks simple to make, it’s usually never the case. “
When did you launch your line?
“I started my line in 2011 when I moved back to NY after living in Amsterdam and London. It was 2009 in Amsterdam when I took the silversmithing class. It was once a week, three hours each time. We were taught the basics and then allowed to create anything we wanted. I fell in love with it and started buying more and more tools to work on pieces at home. My teacher was very traditional and everything we learned was from metal fabrication. I taught myself how to do wax at home. My teacher hadn’t even used wax. I guess she was a true metal purist.
When we moved to London in 2010, I had friends that were in the fashion world and they kept borrowing pieces for shoots. I would go to fashion week parties and always get asked where I bought my jewelry. I started selling pieces to friends and the more I made the more I sold, so I thought, why not make it a serious business. It was one that I could engage in wherever we moved. Then in 2011 we moved back to NY and I launched Moratorium that same year.”
Where did the name come from?
“Moratorium means a ‘suspension of activity’. I started doing jewelry as a stress reliever for the daily mundane activities dealing with moving: getting our visas, finding our next temporary home then permanent home. For me, making jewelry was and still is stopping everything else and doing something for me but that ultimately touches other people when it gets passed along to the women who purchase my jewelry”.
How would you describe your work?
“My designs are geometric and consist of very straight clean lines. When I look at an image, I am immediately drawn to the lines and the relationships between the positive and negative space. If I find a shape that is inspiring I look to strip it down, almost down to it’s skeletal fame.
I found that the simpler the line, the more exact I had to be, so it forced me to be even more precise in my designing and my bench skills. There is no room for error with symmetry and straight lines. I like the high polish look, it reminds me of mirrored building facades. It was also a skill to learn how to polish to that degree. I have been told numerous times that my life would be made easier if I didn’t do such a high polish finish or if I had texture, but I never choose the easy way. I also design my jewelry to transcend seasons, trends or gender.”
What inspires you?
“Architecture and nature. Things that are constant and permanent influence me—the same aspects that I believe can be said about the best jewelry. I am heavily inspired by pyramid structures as we mentioned before. I have variations on the pyramid, which continues to evolve in my collection over time. There are different versions, from more clean lined, solid, all silver silhouettes to cut-away pave diamond and gold that can become anything from a bold cocktail ring, outsized pendant to smaller post earrings. While being the strongest structure known to man, it’s also simple yet elegant.”
What other shapes have you introduced into the collection?
“The Sabre and the Cocoon. Both of these can be seen as edgy, modern, chic or sophisticated and subtle. It really depends on the woman who is wearing it. But both also adhere to my philosophy or working with simple shapes, like the pyramid, that are powerful and provocative –that push the envelope and experiment with deconstructing and disrupting traditional forms and structures.
The Cocoon series draws inspiration from nature and the birth of my first child. Its multi-faceted structure represents both strength and emotion. The Sabre series is a sweeping curved structure and although I retain the sharp edges and cut away forms that are the trademark of my designs, there is also an organic feel to these pieces that also make them feel accessible to a wide demographic of women.”
“I am always up for experimenting with the concept of luxury and timeless, coveted objects—and jewelry that is at once eye-arresting and also retains its wearability over time.”
In collaboration with Moratorium
photography credits for shots on Jeanette