A gilded mesh minaudière with a raw jade clasp and a stroke of beginner’s luck got entrepreneur Ann Ong her first Katha Award for Best Product Design in Fashion, plus a host of opportunities.
Ong wears a braided leather necklace with strands of local pearls in organic shapes. Her wrists are adorned with a gold-rimmed molave cuff encrusted with semiprecious stones and a mother-of-pearl floral cuff. She herself created all that jewelry that is characterized by a dash of rawness and a large dose of drama.
“I just love to exaggerate,” she says, flaunting a six-inch cuff, made of her signature interlacing wires dipped in 24-karat gold and embellished with exotic pearls.
Ong’s career in jewelry design was a natural spin-off from a life of entrepreneurship. She recalls that since childhood she has been involved in the family enterprise—her clan, the Jocsons, were major stakeholders of National University before it was sold to the Sys.
At age 8, she would earn by helping in the school canteen or giving out enrollment forms to students. Ong says the experience taught her the values of hard work and independence.
Upon marriage, she and husband, Jason Ong, a chemical trader, put up a business supplying hotels with towels, linens and organic cleaners. Over time, she grew weary of meeting the demands of clients.
To satisfy her creative urges, she ventured into fashion by developing her brand, Cosmopolitan. She would fly to Bangkok to source clothes and buy beads and crystals for her necklaces. Stringing necklaces was her antidote to sleepless nights.
When Cosmopolitan joined The Ramp Crossings department store in 2009, Ong noted how her accessories became more profitable than the clothes. Yet, the necklaces with Swarovski crystals were more expensive, priced at P1,500 to P2,000.
She realized she had tapped a lucrative market. Still, she had to reinvent her jewelry to distinguish her brand from competition, such as the Muslim traders in Greenhills. She took up metalsmithing and experimented with gold-dipped metal and semiprecious stones to make bold pieces.
The organic shapes and high-impact design of her creations caught the eye of socialite Linda Ley. The fashion plate showed off Ong’s pieces.
When stylist Pam Quiñones borrowed Ong’s jewelry, designer Rajo Laurel was so intrigued by the design that he included her gems in his atelier/store. Since 2011, Ong’s cuffs and neckpieces have been moving well at the House of Laurel.
Inspired by the feedback, Ong bravely flew to Hong Kong last year to present her pieces to the bigwigs of UBM Asia, the largest trade fair organizer in the region. The organizers were so impressed with the artisanship that they invited her to the UBM Asia Jewellery Fair this September.
“China does a lot of casting. Here, each of the pieces is made manually,” says Ong.
Returning to Manila, she applied at Manila FAME last October. Her booth attracted buyers and celebrities such as TV host Kris Aquino, who purchased gilded metal cuffs encrusted with rose quartz and amethyst and a yellow drusy quartz necklace.
“She was my buena mano,” says Ong of her first client in that event.
By the end of the trade show, her 100-piece collection was sold out. After winning the Katha Award, a prestigious honor given by Manila FAME to exhibitors for innovation, Ong was invited to represent the Philippines in Ambiente, the world’s largest consumer goods and design exhibition, to be held in Germany this month.
Designer Jean Goulbourn advised her to expand her range to include Philippine pearls.
The Ann Ong designs are made in her workshop in Meycauayan, Bulacan. She favors gold-washed metals, amethyst, citrine, aquamarine, jade and molave. Many designs are based on nature forms and geometric shapes, which she reinterprets in each collection.
An interesting piece is a bangle with a golden dragonfly perched on a jasperite. There are elaborate pieces such as individually wired bangles that mimic vines.
Her minaudières are lined with plush animal skin. A minaudière of molave is adorned with gently curving gold branches for handles.
Another minaudière is shaped like a clamshell and delicately clasped by a baroque pearl.
She gives jade a twist by torching the green stone into a smokey hue and carving out the double fish sign for good luck. The chunky jade pendant dangles from braided leather strands.
Ong says her work is part art and part advocacy. Starting with one platero last year, she now has a workforce of 30 to meet the orders of buyers. Many of these artisans did not have access to education. She hopes that by giving them livelihood, she could provide a better future for them.
For details, call 6721839 or 0928-8500430. Ann Ong’s pieces are available at the House of Laurel and Archaeology, Power Plant Mall, Rockwell.