As with all good traditions, the custom of giving red envelopes at Chinese New Year is inspired by folklore. According to legend, a demon would appear on the eve of the Spring Festival, its intention to spread sickness among sleeping children. In order to stay awake and deter the demon, parents would wrap bright copper coins in red paper for their children to play with. If a child fell asleep, the sheen of the coins would scare the monster away.
Today, envelopes are given to encourage prosperity over the year ahead. But their significance lies in their colour, not just the money enclosed. Red, in Chinese culture, symbolises luck and happiness; it’s the shade of the festival itself. It feels apt, then, with the new year approaching on 12 February, that jewellers have been offsetting their designs with similarly vibrant shades of enamel.
Annoushka has honoured the tradition directly with a crimson envelope charm (£1,500) bearing the new year’s zodiac sign: the ox. The second animal of the Chinese zodiac, the ox denotes hard work, positivity and honesty – qualities that the next 12 months are already looking like they’ll need. Fabergé also pays homage to the sign, which is presented, naturally, between two halves of a ruby-red egg-shaped locket (£9,600).
Further symbolism comes from Qeelin, the Hong Kong-based jewellers founded by Dennis Chan and Guillaume Brochard. The bright red Wulu bangle (from HK$44,400, about £4,160) – named after the “strongest expression of good fortune and positive energy in China”, and crafted in red enamel with 18ct rose gold and diamonds – has a curved centre designed to resemble the lucky number eight. At Loquet, a collection of pillar box-coloured charms (from £175) depicts the symbols for wealth, fortune and longevity, while David Yurman and Dior have played on the romantic connotations of red via enamel hearts – also making them sweet gifts for Valentine’s Day. The latter’s Rose des Vents Heart Motif collection was launched to celebrate Chinese New Year with a diamond-encrusted necklace and bracelet duo (£1,640 and £1,500).
Other eye-catching new releases include those by Charlotte Chesnais and Repossi. For Chesnais, cherry enamel features across sinuous rings and earrings (from €325) in her Resort 21 collection. Repossi takes a more classical approach, with a two-tiered ring (€3,700) crafted from red lacquer and pavé diamonds.
For something more abstract, look to Italian designer Bea Bongiasca, who showcases red enamel in her glossy collection of vine-like rings, paired with a gleaming topaz (€460). And New York-based jeweller Alison Lou has used a sleek coil of flame-coloured enamel ($1,015) to curl around its wearer’s finger – a way of adding a “pop of colour and playfulness to an otherwise refined piece”, says designer Alison Chemla. It can’t promise to bring the wearer luck, or prosperity for that matter, but it can certainly inspire some much-needed cheer.