Husband and wife team Nuttapon (Kenny) Yongkiettakul ’05 & Shar-Linn Liew ’05 shine in the world of fine jewelry. Their innovations in function and design have adorned stars from film, television, and music such as Greta Gerwig, Reese Witherspoon, Lupita Nyong’o, Madonna, and Jennifer Lopez. Beyond catching the eyes of the celebrity elite, their work is recognized and celebrated throughout the industry with numerous awards, most recently the 2022 Best in Bridal & Couture Choice Award 2022.
The couple’s path to the world of fine jewelry and one another travels around the world, through UW–Madison, and finds roots in previous generations.
Kenny’s grandparents spent their careers as goldsmiths, and the family tradition continued with his parents who established their own fine jewelry shop in Bangkok, where Kenny would frequently assist. He watched as they grew their store from a single retail counter to a brand all unto its own.
Despite the deep connections to jewelry design, he wanted to explore his own path and decided on engineering. After attending boarding school in Connecticut, Kenny enrolled at UW–Madison, having heard of the strength of its programs.
“I didn’t think this was going to be the field I wanted to be in,” Kenny said. “I like math and science, and so that’s why I went into engineering.”
Meanwhile, Shar-Linn, who grew up in Singapore, had roots in art and style through her mother, a dressmaker and designer. Though lessons from the field were instilled in her at a young age, Shar-Linn decided to focus on business over design. An advisor recommended UW–Madison.
“I had an advisor in Singapore who recommended the University of Wisconsin because it has such a wide choice of different schools like engineering and business,” Shar-Linn said. “At the same time, the Singapore government was sending a lot of kids to UW during my year. I learned later that biochemistry and engineering were two fields that the government was trying to promote, and UW was one of the schools they were sending students to.”
The two met one evening in Downtown Madison and have been together since.
By that point though, things had changed for Kenny. After spending a summer as an intern on an oil rig, he began to question his path.
“It was a good experience,” Kenny said. “But it was clear that it wasn’t the right thing for me.”
Following graduation from UW–Madison, Kenny and Shar-Linn moved to Carlsbad, CA, where Kenny enrolled at the GIA. Established in 1931, the Gemological Institute of America is considered the leading authority on all things related to gems. Kenny quickly found his niche at GIA. His enthusiasm for the field was such that he soon began to encourage Shar-Linn to take courses through GIA as well.
Observing Kenny’s growing passion, Shar-Linn, then working on tax resolutions, explored a GIA course on diamond and gemstone grading. Her supervisors were very supportive of her taking courses, allowing her to go to the GIA campus as needed. The experience was transformative. After completing the course, Shar-Linn too found an affinity for the field. She and Kenny then began taking the steps toward the creation of their own brand.
Gorgeous design with a twist
Their Bangkok based brand, Kavant and Sharart, can be defined by the gentle curves and geometric designs that are prevalent in their pieces. This style blends two contrasting fascinations—Kenny’s affinity for the avant-garde and nature, and Shar-Linn’s love of Art Deco.
“The inspiration for me comes in everyday life,” Kenny said. “I may see a drawing I like, maybe one of my kid’s drawings, or a particular motif, and I will jot it down. And I keep in mind the collection, because we build upon that.”
Admirers may further be surprised by the innovation and functionality of pieces, with a pair of earrings able to change configuration to be worn in multiple ways, each seeming unique unto itself. In a similar mode, a ring designed by the couple might transform with a simple twist, becoming an entirely new design.
However, even as the couple draw inspiration from multiple sources, they are attentive to creating works that augment the styles in their various collections.
“We have created 3 very specific styles and collections since we started in 2011,” Shar-Linn said. “There is one called Origami, Talay—which means “sea” in Thai, and a GeoArt series. We’re drawn to these three areas, and we have always been designing based on these three main themes.”
Creating masterpieces isn’t a mere stroke of genius. Every design is hand-drawn, providing flexibility beyond digital platforms. Upon finalization, they collaborate with their in-house goldsmiths for the perfect prototype, from which molds are crafted for production.
In addition, the duo meticulously manage their brand, working across time zones, coordinating with agents and publicists from New York to London, addressing customer needs, and monitoring production quality.
The couple’s educational journey, though seemingly unrelated to their current work, continues to influence. “I think the marketing program was so strong and is relevant still today,” said Shar-Linn. Kenny echoes this sentiment, crediting his engineering background for enhancing his problem-solving skills in design.
For fellow alumni or current students who may dream of following a similar path, Kenny and Shar-Linn advise being authentic and adaptable.
“Listen to yourself and listen to your client and do a balance of both when you design,” Kenny said. “Because sometimes you can get so wrapped up in that design that you forget to think how it would look on a person.”
“You also have to learn to be able to adapt,” Shar-Linn said. “If you think you are into design, follow industry leaders in the design field. it doesn’t have to be in jewelry—just art in general. Find a local a competition just to see where you stand. And of course we will be very happy to extend our help to fellow alumni or current students who may have some questions for us.”