Kevin Kwan’s Art Deco Heirloom

Kevin Kwan used to do some of his best napping in jewelry stores.

This was decades before Mr. Kwan, 50, wrote his new novel “Lies and Weddings”; before the three books in his “Crazy Rich Asians” trilogy became best-sellers; before it was announced that Jon M. Chu, the director of the “Crazy Rich Asians” movie, would also direct its Broadway adaptation. It was even before Mr. Kwan’s previous job as a photo editor for Elizabeth Taylor’s 2002 book “My Love Affair With Jewelry.”

“In the strangest way, jewelry has always been a part of my life,” Mr. Kwan said on a recent video call. He recalled being “dragged to jewelry stores around the world” by his mother, grandmother and aunts. He grew up helping these women select precious stones — and occasionally falling asleep under stores’ counters.

In “Lies and Weddings,” characters gossip about a set of mothball-size pearls so large that they are said to either cost millions or be fake. Descriptions of jewels have become such a trademark of Mr. Kwan’s writing, he said, that strangers will often approach him to show off their jewelry.

In this interview, which has been edited and condensed, Mr. Kwan discussed his own jewelry — specifically, an Art-Deco-cut imperial jade ring that he doesn’t wear, but has held close to his heart ever since it was passed down to the author by an aunt who helped him develop his love of writing.

Talk about this ring.

The ring belonged to my grandmother: A lozenge-shaped imperial jade piece, flanked on each side by three small diamonds. What really gives it its Art Deco style is the silver band; it has this detailing that looks like a ribbon that’s been cinched. I think a jeweler would better be able to describe it.

When I opened the box for the first time and saw the ring, I gasped because it’s a huge piece of imperial jade. They say jade has to be worn against your body because it reacts to the oils and the warmth, and that it actually gets greener the longer you wear it. This ring was such a beautiful, intense green.

A picture of Kevin Kwan’s grandmother, Egan Oh, with his father, Samuel Kwan. The imperial jade ring belonged to her.Credit…Kevin Kwan

Which grandmother did this ring belong to? And how did it get passed down to you?

My paternal grandmother. Her name was Egan Oh. She gave it to my aunt, her middle daughter, whose name was Mary Kwan. And then Mary left it to me in her will. Mary very sadly passed away unexpectedly a few years ago. So it’s lovely, but it’s also bittersweet, because in one sense, I wish I never had this ring. But in another sense, it really connects me to my lineage in a very meaningful way.

Did you know this piece existed before you received it?

I was lucky enough to view some pieces owned by my grandmother, but never possessed anything until years later when this ring came to me. It’s very special because it’s the one connection I have to her and to a world that really no longer exists. Singapore in the 1930s was her heyday; she would get dressed up and had these fabulous clothes and the most amazing shoes from Paris. That world and the opulence and gentility is gone. Everything now is about athleisure and quiet luxury.

What’s also really meaningful to me about this ring is that it was passed from my grandmother to my favorite aunt. We were super close. We used to live in the same house, with my grandparents. She really, really instilled in me a love of reading and writing, and challenged me.

Do you ever wear the ring?

It spends most of its life in a vault. But it’s deeply symbolic, and it’s reassuring to know where it is. I also don’t wear jewelry at all. I prefer not to have displays of anything that’s ostentatious. I am similar to my aunt in that way. I don’t wear visible brands.

But I am not opposed to wearing a jade ring with diamonds, and I actually think it’d be cool one day to wear it. Harry Styles wears pearls, right?

Do you plan to pass it down?

I’m just the custodian of it for this generation. I’m not a pharaoh. I don’t believe in burying treasured possessions with me. And also objects, to me, take on a life of their own. They’re meant to have another life beyond you, right? And they’re just things, ultimately. For me, it’s the meaning and the memories that I attach to the ring. Those are the most important things, and they stay with me forever.

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