If you are wearing jeans and an open necked shirt and alight from Hong Kong’s Central MTR station on any weekday morning, you might be forgiven for feeling a little underdressed. Tens of thousands of commuters ascend into the street from the subway to journey to their uncountable offices which loom high above. The men wear suits and expensive shoes and the women are fashionably attired and always immaculately groomed. Wander a few streets away, pass the designer shops and you come back to reality.
At a coffee shop in Lyndhurst Terrace, just a short walk away from the office-rush, I was fortunate to spend a couple of hours in the company of the charming and articulate Danish jewellery maker Janne Poulsen. Not that Janne isn’t stylish and well-groomed – she is both of those things, and certainly looks many years younger than her age. Her friendliness and openness were clearly apparent during our conversation and she came across as genuine and totally unpretentious.
Janne was born and raised in the small Danish city of Odense, whose most famous son is Hans Christian Andersen. Although she lived in several places in her home country with her husband Soren, she was in her mid-thirties when she arrived with him in Asia for the first time. Both Danes worked in the Freight Forwarding industry, but an opportunity for Soren to accept a position in India in 2003, was too good to miss. After two years in New Delhi, three in Shanghai and one in Singapore, the couple arrived in Hong Kong. This was in 2009 and after more than ten years in the territory Janne is happy to call the SAR her home.
Janne is an independent spirit and does not want to be defined as ‘a trailing spouse’. She has always been creative – a trait she thinks she inherited from her artistic mother. In Delhi she was fascinated by the hand embroidery skills shown by some of the local women and she began to design embroidered handbags. These did well in a friend’s shop in Copenhagen, but he became even more enthusiastic when she turned her hand to designing and making jewellery. Janne Poulsen Jewellery is now an established and successful company in Hong Kong, with an extensive web site and many loyal and satisfied customers.
Earrings, bracelets, necklaces and rings made with gold, silver and precious stones are designed from scratch and handmade by Janne. Stones are obtained from various parts of the world and chosen to ensure the purest quality.
Janne began with just a few designs for friends and family members, but her pieces were widely admired. She describes her style as understated rather than elaborate, with a classicality that often suits mature women. She took the step of registering her business in 2014, and it has steadily expanded since then. Janne has a passion for her creations and each item is unique and hand crafted to the highest standard.
A Special Project
An item that Janne is particularly fond of is the ‘HOPE’ bracelet that she created for the Hong Kong Adventist Hospital Foundation (HKAHF). The Foundation provides free medical treatment for underprivileged people in the locality. Janne has made more than 2000 of these bracelets for women and children. All the profits from the HOPE bracelets have gone to supporting the HKAHF in its vital work.
Janne previously sold her goods at Christmas fairs, school fairs, bazaars and ‘Pop-up’ shops, but as her enterprise has become more established, she now does this less often. She takes orders from word of mouth, her website and via her favoured method, Instagram. Using Instagram, she can maintain a close dialogue with individual customers to ensure their needs are met and that they are pleased with the outcome. Janne takes immense pride in her work and is passionate about what she does.
“I just love the look on people’s faces when I hand over something that I have created which is just what they wanted. I like to think that I am filling a gap here in Hong Kong for personalised and custom-made jewellery at an affordable price.”
Janne has used her ability with languages to make friends from many different nationalities, including Dutch, English, Chinese, American, South African, Swedish and of course fellow Hong Kong Danes. As well as Danish, she can speak English, German and some Mandarin Chinese. She even studied Hindi when she was living in India. Janne feels that it has been a privilege to live in different countries and to learn their cultures. She believes that attempting to communicate in the local language is a way of showing respect as a resident ‘guest’. English is widely spoken in Hong Kong and the need to learn the local language less important, but she very much values the local Cantonese culture and customs.
When Janne and Soren first arrived overseas, they took Soren’s mother’s advice not to refuse any invitations, and they embarked upon a busy social life. She looks back with appreciation at the welcome they received from the Danish communities in each of the countries in which they were new arrivals. Many of those friendships have endured.
Hong Kong Musings
Janne is happily settled and well established in Hong Kong. She speaks warmly of her local friends and she shares the Danish characteristic of an intense love of home. After 17 years in Asia, a lot of enjoyable visits and memorable experiences of different cultures, she does not feel the urge to travel so much these days
Janne worries about the recent political divisions in Hong Kong. She holds the SAR in high esteem and despite its population density, she talks of a ‘village atmosphere’ in and around Central and Mid-Levels where she lives. She often bumps into friends and acquaintances when shopping, visiting her workshop or taking her three-year-old cocker spaniel Noah for a walk.
“This city is so much more than high-rise. There are beaches, country parks and great hiking trails. I enjoy showing visitors from Denmark the other side of Hong Kong, away from the usual Tourist Attractions. They are always positively surprised. I love my life here.”
Janne and Soren return to Denmark regularly to catch up with family and friends. Her mother and siblings still live in the Odense area and her father resides in Stockholm. Janne misses the long Danish summer days when the sun doesn’t set until 10pm, the low humidity and fresh clean air. She doesn’t miss the cold harsh winters, although cherishes childhood memories of building snowmen in the garden and skating on a frozen lake.
Janne Poulsen is very easy to talk to. She is articulate and friendly and her kind nature and enthusiasm for what she does is infectious. It was a pleasure to spend time with her.
As I retraced my step back to the MTR subway, the stylish office workers were packed into the lunchtime restaurants and coffee shops, their day half over.
Since the Covid crisis Janne has continued to work on her jewellery at home, and now sells exclusively via her online shop. Soren now also has to operate from home but he has been offered a relocation position within his company to Singapore.
With the current restrictions, however, the family is unlikely to move until late 2021. Meanwhile Janne, Soren and Noah the dog continue to make the best of things.
For more information about Janne Poulsen Jewellery please visit www.jannepoulsen.com