Once upon a time, in a little goldsmith shop, two distinct paths were fated to converge.

For Keith Lau, jewellery design was a family tradition. He’d moved from Hong Kong to Canada with his master goldsmith father when he was just an infant, but by 2002, he and his brother had taken over the family business of crafting gorgeous, traditional pieces for other retail jewellers.

Keith Lau and Josephine Liu in their Vancouver studio, where each piece of their jewellery line is made to order by hand, preserving the traditional techniques passed down by Lau’s father.

Meanwhile, fashion designer Josephine Liu had been working in Hong Kong as a visual merchandiser for Esprit—but was falling for the art of jewellery design, thanks to a few artfully crafted window displays in town—and she longed to get back to her hometown of Vancouver. As it turns out, Vancouver Community College offered one of the only degree programs in the art. A few years and a degree later, her new job—customer relations for a company that sourced diamonds—brought her to Lau’s shop.

Noren Staple collage

Serendipity? Quite possibly. The encounter resulted in both a romantic relationship and a new design collaboration: Noren Studio, a brand with an industrial, minimalist aesthetic that celebrates superior craftsmanship and traditional handmade techniques—and that is also our 2023 WL Fashion and Jewellery Designer of the Year.

Noren Monogram bracelet. The Monogram collection incorporates discreet personalization, offering owners the opportunity to engrave their initials onto the pieces. The medical bracelet’s weight and clean design exudes quality and purpose, demonstrating Noren’s attention to detail and material consistency.

Lau’s family history in the business provides that grounding, traditional anchor for their designs, but a trip to Copenhagen in 2017 was also a (pardon the pun) goldmine for inspiration. The couple was invigorated by the thoughtful detail, artistry and signature Nordic minimalism they saw in Danish architecture, furniture, fashion and jewellery design. Stores like the famed Illums Bolighus and Carl Hansen and Søn were standouts for their locally made fashion and homewares. “The craftsmanship on display is simply on another level,” Liu says.

Noren Monogram pendant.

Drawing inspiration from everyday objects, Lau and Liu’s Noren Studio collections are a testament to the beauty of functionality. The Staple collection is born from “a perfectly engineered staple,” says Lau, each piece hand-fabricated to heirloom quality. The Monogram bracelet, part of the Monogram collection, is their interpretation of a medical bracelet, featuring a tiny gold hexagon for personal inscriptions. The Stacked collection, taking its cue from a well-made watch case, elevates familiar objects to art. “It’s about preserving the integrity of traditional craftsmanship,” says Lau, “while adapting to the realities of the modern world.”

Noren Monogram ring. The couple’s daughter, Noren, who shares the same name as the studio, is also a significant part of their journey. “We try to involve her in everything. So even a lot of the work that we’ve done at home, we ask her to go out to the wood workshop to help out, and she loves it,” says Liu.

While jewellery making is largely moving away from traditional hand fabrication in favour of casting, Lau and Liu are committed to those older methods, which give each piece a unique character (for example, the Staple ring’s stunning colour contrast comes from hand rolling two layers instead of casting from one) and higher-quality standards and craftsmanship. Judge Lyndon Cormack of Herschel Supply Co. praised Noren’s work: “The industrial aesthetic that pervades the collection adds a distinctive edge,” he commented, “demonstrating an intriguing fusion of design elements.” Judge Desiree Thomas, founder and CEO at ba&sh, also applauded the brand, saying, “Noren is an illustration of true art with its minimal approach to design but impeccable attention to detail. The collection articulates an elevated body of work that can be appreciated and loved by its owner.” 

Noren Staple fold

In an era dominated by fast fashion, Noren Studio stands out as a beacon of slow, meticulous craftsmanship. It’s not just about creating jewellery—it’s about creating tangible narratives, stories that echo the designers’ belief in the value of tradition and the transformative power of creativity. And it’s a tale of one family’s captivating journey: a narrative as intricate and heartfelt as the extraordinary pieces they create.

The Staple ring exemplifies Noren’s approach to design by transforming a functional element into an expressive feature. “We start with the inner and the outer, then we put it together using actual staples we make using gold wire,” Liu shares.

Q&A with Western Living’s 2023 Fashion Designers of the Year Keith Lau and Josephine Liu.

What’s your go-to material of choice?

Gold, for its density, workability and beautiful hue and lustre. And white oak, for its combination of hardness, timelessness and options for different grain patterns.

Was there a childhood moment that hinted design was in your future?

JL: Using old socks to make clothes for my Barbies.

KL: When my grade 10 art teacher told me that designing G-Shocks could be a career. I had never enjoyed art class before then.

What do you think is the most perfectly designed object?

JL: Any of the classic Minis other than the Woody.

KL: Chopsticks. They become the most versatile kitchen utensil once you get good at using them.


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READ MORE: Meet the Winners of Western Living’s 2023 Designers of the Year Awards