In 1989 An Lanh launched his own company, crafting audacious Babylonian costume jewelry honed from bronze and semiprecious cabochon stones. Forms were inspired by the plant and animal kingdoms, with An Lanh sketching the designs and outsourcing production to various ateliers around Paris. The items quickly attracted the attention of jewelry collectors and buyers alike; his first order came from Henri Bendel.
It was an invitation to participate in a jewelry exhibition at Saint Germain des Prés’s Richard Treger gallery in 1995 that awoke the designer’s fascination with natural stones. For the event, An Lanh crafted a monumental algaelike breastplate from blackened bronze and showered it with drops of rock crystals. “It was the first time I had a go at shaping and polishing raw stones myself,” he recalls. Eager to learn more about the technique, he embarked on a series of journeys, first to Germany—home to some of the world’s finest stonecutters, An Lanh says—and then to the United States, on a mission to locate prospectors of rare rocks.
Still, the designer points out that he’s no Indiana Jones. “I could never picture myself scrabbling down mines or traveling to Siberia in search of mammoth tusks in the ice,” says An Lanh, adding that he sees himself as a stylist and that his main concern then was to get a solid production team in place to quickly turn pieces around. “Today it’s the stone that drives the piece,” he notes.
To illustrate that point, An Lanh raises one rare specimen—a piece of quartz shot with a star-shaped burst of golden rutile—up to the light for inspection. “I need to be surprised by the elements that I work with,” he says, “before I can surprise others.”