Humble to Haute: Anabela Chan

Fine jewelry designer Anabela Chan reimages the everyday, pairing recycled aluminum with 18-karat gold vermeil and simulated gemstones
earrings by Anabela Chan on a desk with inspirational books, paints, and paintbrushes
Anabela Chan jewelry designs, clockwise from top: ‘Rose Bloom’ earring in rose aluminum, hand-painted with black enamel; ‘Blush Bloom’ earring in blush aluminum with yellow enamel; and ‘Rose Magnolia’ earrings in blush and champagne aluminum.

To understand how London jewelry designer Anabela Chan takes aluminum cans and transforms them into elegant, fanciful floral jewelry, you may need a master’s degree in chemistry. As she explains, “The challenge of using recycled aluminum is the impurities in the metal that can result in an uneven texture and tiny pores in the surface of the finished piece.”

Through trial and error, and after two-and-a-half years of experimentation, Chan’s team found a solution by refining the aluminum, which also allowed for greater color intensity and iridescent tones. Once the aluminum is refined, the process is the same as working with precious metals. The Blooms collection, the first fine jewelry collection using recycled aluminum, debuted this year.

portrait of jewelry designer Anabela Chan
Anabela Chan with a taxidermy macaw she has used as a model in her art

The designer studied goldsmithing, silversmithing, metalwork, and jewelry at The Royal Academy of Arts, and The Gemmological Association of Great Britain sponsored her diamond-grading training. She worked for architect Lord Richard Rogers and design house Alexander McQueen before launching her eponymous label in 2013 (she now has a boutique in Piccadilly Circus). Her collections were well received, garnering awards from the fashion and design communities. While at The Royal Academy of Arts, a classmate alerted Chan to the conditions in gemstone mines. On her honeymoon, she visited a mine in Sri Lanka and saw for herself. “I was shocked and saddened to see the working conditions of the mine, the risks and the inequality of the excavation of such precious things,” says Chan. “There was nothing romantic and beautiful about it.”

That visit was a turning point for the designer, who began to explore alternatives to natural gemstones. She champions laboratory-grown stones while still maintaining thoughtful design and meticulous craftsmanship.

Rainbow Magnolia earring
‘Rainbow Magnolia’ earring in rainbow aluminum with detachable flower stud. All jewelry features simulated gemstones.

The simulated gemstones give nothing away. As Chan says, “I never think that it is a competition between the two genres, but rather offering a different perspective and option to the consumer, a more accessible and mindful alternative.”

By Alice Welsh Doyle | Photography courtesy of Anabela Chan

More Jewelry Designers to Know