01: Thomis Kwan
Former Singapore president Tony Tan gifted Queen Elizabeth II a diamond brooch for her 2012 Diamond Jubilee, which was a creation by jewellery designer Thomis Kwan of Foundation Jewellers. The 63-year-old has been crafting Peranakan jewellery since the 1990s, and lends a refined, modern touch to a heritage craft known for its intricacy.
The piece for the queen, for example, is a one-piece filigree brooch, a departure from flashier three-piece kerongsang designs worn on Malay kebaya. Each 18K yellow gold creation is smoothly hewn and set with polished diamonds – a far cry from rougher vintage pieces using unpolished gems. Kwan also integrates the lace-like patterns of traditional Peranakan jewellery into the design of contemporary chokers and wrap-around armour rings.
The queen aside, validation of Kwan’s work comes from the Peranakans themselves, who have approached him to repair their jewellery and create bespoke pieces. In one instance, a Peranakan patriarch commissioned a pair of cufflinks with phoenixes for a future son-in-law, and, later, necklaces and
rings for his wife and daughter for the wedding.
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02: Jessie Foo
Two words describe Jessie Foo’s designs: bold and flashy. Her creations often feature large gemstones as the focal point, surrounded by smaller stones to make the colours pop.
Foo started her boutique Yuli in 1995, after being a freelance jewellery designer specialising in customisation for nearly a decade. She taps on personal experiences: Her Tears collection, for example, with tassels and pear-cut gems, draws on the toughest moments in her life.
In the same vein, she hopes to tell her clients’ stories through their bespoke pieces. Foo says: “It’s like being a psychologist, when I listen to what they say and design a piece to portray it.”
For a client’s wedding anniversary, she did a statement necklace symbolising the couple and their children. The hefty garland is encrusted with over 1,000 diamonds, with seven coloured diamonds representing each member of the family.
03: Michael Koh
Nature inspires Michael Koh’s many fine creations. Under his jewellery brand Caratell, the 46-year-old designs pieces that sport tasteful arrangements of bejewelled flowers and vines. Each carries sharp details, from organic structures of leaves to fine textures on branches.
Koh also looks to art and architecture for rich ideas. For his Impressionist collection, the jewellery designer created necklaces and brooches that interpret Van Gogh’s blue irises and Monet’s lilies. Singapore landmarks, like Gardens by the Bay, have also been reimagined as statement rings featuring diamonds and ice jade.
Innovation is key to many of his pieces, whether it involves a function besides aesthetics, or elements that move. “I like a challenge,” he shares. “When designers say some things can’t be done, I’m determined to try.” He got the chance to prove it by creating wedding bands with functional compasses, made for a couple who had requested for a design related to their shipping industry careers.
04: Vinod More
In his designs, The Jewel Box founder Vinod More takes aesthetic cues from various cultures. The colourful sand mandalas of Tibet, for example, are interpreted as intricate geometric cutouts incorporated into rings and necklaces. And in his interpretation of yin and yang, the Chinese concept of duality, the 55-year-old pairs complementary colours with modern styles and Chinese motifs.
It’s a reflection of More’s versatility and open-mindedness throughout 30-plus years of experience. He’s not limited to precious metals for his craft, having used Tagua nuts gathered from South America to create rings embellished with diamonds and gold findings.
Inspiration can also come from curious places, such as coils of pencil shavings, the basis of his Shavings jewellery collection sporting delicate gold trimmings. It’s that attention to detail that he emphasises when creating customised pieces for his clients. The most memorable project for him was designing a ring with the likeness of a client’s pet dog on it. Wanting to ensure an accurate depiction, More personally visited his client to take pictures of the dog.
“I just had images of the dog, at every angle, pasted all over the workshop,” he recounts. The effort paid off. The satisfied client later commissioned a necklace and earrings, with the same design brief.
Rings are some of the most requested customised jewellery pieces, but there are other accessories to consider to stand out from the crowd.
Consider this when commissioning a jewellery piece
01: YOU DON’T NEED TO HAVE A DESIGN IN MIND
A brief idea is a good start, but sharing personal stories and preferences with the designer can result in interesting input to help the designer craft unique pieces.
02: START WITH A PRICE RANGE
There’s a range of precious metals and gems to choose from. Setting a price range helps both designer and client narrow down choices.
(RELATED: History of 7 precious gemstones)
03: PLAY WITH COLOURS
Clear diamonds are popular, but consider using other stones such as spinels, sapphires and emeralds as centrepieces. Instead of buying new gems, clients can also use their own to incorporate into new pieces of jewellery.