This week Nicely Made in China (NMiC) features Marion Carsten. Marion, a goldsmith from Frankfurt, moved to China in 2000. After a few years there, she moved to Bangkok and recently to Paris where NMiC caught up with her. She talked about square pearls, what inspires her work and how to manage a company in China from Europe.
Marion, how did you start your jewellery business?
I arrived in China in 2000 with all my tools and equipment, and for 3 years I worked on making unique pieces, all of which were sold. At that stage I had no intention of starting a retail business. However, in 2004 when I was given the opportunity to open a shop in Taikang Lu, having then met a Chinese partner, we opened the Marion Carsten store. We started with about 30 pieces that I’d been working on over the previous few years: for women – rings, necklaces, earrings, pendants, bracelets, as well as cufflinks for men. The company now employs 7 people.
What kind of material do you like to use?
Most of what I like using comes from China, although sometimes I have to go to Hong Kong to source materials – very high quality freshwater pearls for instance that come from China but cannot be bought on the Chinese market. The metal I use the most is silver, which allows me to be more creative and to produce beautiful and affordable jewellery. For example, we sell a silver necklace for 400 euros (US$ 520 / 3467 Rmb). The same made of gold would cost 10,000 euros ( US$ 13,000 / 87,000 Rmb). Regarding stones, I like to use semi-precious stones like quartz, peridot and jade. These days, I am also exploring other possibilities like mixing leather, pearls and silver.
Where does your inspiration come from?
I have two sources: I might see a pattern or a sign in the street or in a temple that inspires me. I will then work around it, like I did for our Shou collection – our signature collection.
The other source of inspiration is when I find something unusual or unique like a square pearl! I enjoy working around it to create a beautiful piece. Chinese pearl farmers have a very « daring » spirit and put everything they produce on the market, even if the pearls are not round. They recently came up with « chicken feet pearls » which proved to be very popular!
How would you describe your style?
My style is minimalist. I like very pure shapes with a Chinese or Oriental influence.
How many collections do you create in a year and what quantities of each piece do you make?
We come up with two collections a year: one in March-April and one in September-October. As for the number of pieces, we usually make 30 pieces but we make a lot more for the ‘hot-sellers’, up to 200 to 300 pieces.
Where do you make your jewellery?
I work with two factories in the South of China. At first, I tried about 20 different suppliers before settling on these two. I now feel totally confident working with these two companies: I can send them my drawings and a prototype and they immediately start working on the collection.
Who is your clientele?
At the Taikang Lu store, about 50% of our clients are from Asia (Taiwan, Hong Kong) and the other half from the rest of the world. Asian and Western clients don’t buy the same pieces. The Long Life collection -also called Shou- is very popular with Western clients who are looking for something with an Asian feel but not overloaded. The Rocks and Chains collection which is Western inspired, is very popular with our Asian clients.
Marion, you are now based in Europe, traveling regularly to and from China. What are your tips for efficiently managing a company in China from abroad?
My situation is made easy by the fact that our key employees have been with us for a long time. They know the products very well and the spirit of the company, which helps a lot. We have put in place a very efficient reporting system which makes clear who does what and who makes decisions. But you still need a bit of discipline to keep the business running.
Where can NMiC readers buy your jewelery?
We have a store in Shanghai in Lane 210 Taikang Lu, Building 9, Room 908. They can also order via our online store.