Sidney Lim, 48, stumbled across his grandmother’s Peranakan kitchenware 25 years ago, volunteered to take it home, and has never looked back.
Since then, his collection has grown to encompass everything from decorative kitchenware to jewellery with hand-cut diamonds embedded in gold. “The diamonds are irregular, and they may not be as bright as the ones you see today, but that’s what makes them so unique and priceless,” explains Lim.
The managing director at Protiviti South-east Asia, a global business consulting firm, is a rare find himself. He is 100 per cent Peranakan, with a heritage that dates back to his grand-parents on both sides of the family.
Among the 50-odd artefacts in his collection, Lim’s most treasured is a pair of slippers that belonged to his late aunt. Hundreds of tiny glass beads in colours that haven’t lost their lustre over the years were meticulously hand-sewn to the straps. “Compare these to the ones that you get today,” says Lim. “Everything today is done by machine, so the patterns usually come out perfect. But it’s the flaws that make them beautiful.”
Those slippers are mounted on a frame and hung on the wall, as are items such as porcelain sauce dishes , soup spoons and bowls. Larger pieces – porcelain pots and jars – sit on pedestals behind glass-fronted cabinets, flaunting vivid Peranakan motifs of flowers, birds and curlicues in deep pinks, sunny yellows and turquoise. “Each Peranakan family branch has its distinctive designs and colours. Some favour phoenixes, while others prefer flora and fauna,” says Lim.
He hunts for antiques in Malaysia because most in Singapore are held in private collections. As forgeries abound, Lim reads up on makers’ stamps and trademark designs to train his eye. “You can usually tell from the gold-paint trim most have around the edges. A genuine piece won’t be as bright or shimmery as a fake.
“Patek Philippe has a motto: You never truly own a Patek Philippe watch, you’re merely taking care of it for the next generation. That’s what I’m doing – preserving Peranakan craftsmanship, culture and heritage for the next generation.”