Nicholas Lieou’s Minimalist Diamond Designs Have Maximalist Appeal

A visit with one of Hong Kong’s most coveted jewelers.

By |

Nicholas Lieou has a minimalist signature style, with his uniform of black shirts and trousers, white Adidas sneakers, and clean-shaven head. His style signifiers—two graphic diamond rings, one was gift to himself on his 40th birthday—shows he also likes a little sparkle.

“I’m drawn to diamonds because they have life and light,” the Hong Kong-based jewelry designer exclusively told Only Natural Diamonds. He’s also attracted their symbolism: “People often buy diamonds to mark a milestone so they can remember that moment with something meaningful and lasting.”

Lieou’s stark personal style is reflected in his new jewelry gallery, a sprawling loft space with blank white walls overlooking the city’s fisherman’s port. “The white space lets clients really focus on just the jewelry and craftsmanship,” he said. It’s a sharp contrast to most Hong Kong fine jewelry houses, which are located on the other side of town in the city’s Central district.

White marquise diamond set on rhodium-plated, sandblasted matte gold ring with negative space detail
A side view showing small round diamond detailing

Minimalist diamond designs with maximalist appeal

On a visit last month, Lieou unveiled his new designs, sparsely displayed on long vintage woodworking tables, one that he uncovered in New York, and another on a trip to Japan. His refined designs are informed, he says, by his Chinese culture and international upbringing. The result is a fusion of East and West in sleek, graphic designs; each piece is an exercise in restraint. A square ring with a round diamond center is framed with a skinny line of baguette diamonds around the edges; a sculpted gold ring features a brown diamond perched between undulating waves of gold. He avoids traditional prong settings; instead, diamonds appear invisibly secured or floating in metal pieces.

It’s an evolution of Lieou’s work, which more recently featured shiny gold and diamonds in more fluid, organic shapes. He’s stripped diamond jewelry of its fussiness and formality and is emphasizing clean shapes with matte finishes, and subtle sparkle. He uses unique diamond cuts and colors—warm brown marquise-shaped and twinkling rose-cuts—set in his signature rhodium-plated, sandblasted matte gold in a grayish hue. Prices start at about $10,000.

Brown diamonds set on rhodium-plated, sandblasted matte gold ring

“I look for diamonds with a soul, stones that are different, slightly imperfect, and some are old.” An example is a recently acquired pair of light yellow and brown round diamonds with hexagonal facets by an artisan Japanese cutter. “I fell in love with them immediately because of the shape and there’s no table, so I could set them flush in a ring.” He made a pair of gray gold rings, with the diamonds flush against the metal, creating a distinctly discreet yet striking style.

These days, his work is sold exclusively through his Hong Kong gallery, where he personally meets with clients, who come from near and far. His name is well known among informed collectors, many of whom were introduced to his work when he designed a capsule collection for Sotheby’s Diamonds in 2020. It showcased the auction house’s rare diamonds in refined, unorthodox designs like the Pod Ring, featuring a deep bluish-green diamond cradled in a cocoon of reverse-set, spiky diamonds, and the Reishi Edge earrings featuring a pair of exceptional diamonds floating on top of black ebony eclipses.

Earrings featuring rose-cut diamonds set on rhodium-plated, sandblasted matte gold rings with a hidden diamond feature at the center

“Nicholas’ creations truly position him as an artist jeweler; his designs will resonate with the collectors of today not only jewelry but also art, and above all they celebrate the enduring and timeless appeal of diamonds,” said Patti Wong, then Sotheby’s chairman Asia and Sotheby’s Diamonds, at the launch of the collection.

An artist with diamonds as a medium

Lieou’s interest in jewelry design began while studying at London’s Central St. Martins. “I was attracted to jewelry because of the infinite amount of detail that you can put into a very small object,” he said. He went on to Royal College of Arts, where he studied jewelry, and worked as an apprentice for British jeweler Shaun Leane. He moved to New York, where he designed jewelry for Alexis Bittar, Georg Jensen, and Louis Vuitton, and in 2015 was named design director for high jewelry at Tiffany & Co. In 2019, when Lieous returned to his native Hong Kong to be closer to his family, he unveiled his eponymous collection.

Oval brown diamond set in rhodium-plated, sandblasted matte gold ring

His refined style especially appeals to Hong Kong’s sophisticated jewelry buyers, he says, who already own the diamond basics and want something different. His version of the tennis bracelet, for instance, is a knife-edge gold bracelet with rows of diamonds on one side, so when a woman’s arm is down, the stones aren’t visible. “When she moves your hands, you see a beautiful display of diamonds,” he says. It’s consistent with his discreet yet daring diamond style.