In this special report, we celebrate the new and exciting wave of talent, innovation, and entrepreneurship in Singapore’s jewellery and gemstone industry. Read on to meet seven next-generation change-makers, who talk to us about their work, motivations, and aspirations.
THE RARE STONES PURVEYOR
Michael Koh of Caratell
Together with his wife, Achillea Teng, Michael Koh has shaped the tastes and opened the minds of their local clients for over a decade. Traditionally in Singapore, jewellery is seen mainly as a form of investment, and collectors would rarely put their money on gems beyond diamonds, rubies, blue sapphires, and emeralds set in conventional designs. However, when Koh set up Caratell in United Square in 2004, he did it with the purpose of breaking away from the traditional. And also, driven by his own appreciation for rare gems and sense of adventure when hunting for a particular stone, the trained jewellery designer and silversmith managed to establish a name for being the purveyor of rare gems in Singapore and beyond. Many of Koh’s showpieces feature astounding gems such as fine spinels; unusual pearls such as melo-melo and clam pearls; colour change garnets, sapphires, and apatites; even the extremely rare bixbite (a stunning red beryl). Having garnered international recognition for his creations, Koh is now known as one of Singapore’s key local talents, with Caratell being regularly invited to headline local exhibitions and festivals. It was also the first Singapore jeweller invited to showcase in the Designer Galleria at the Hong Kong International Jewellery Show this March.
TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR VISION FOR CARATELL.
My wife Achillea, who is also a trained jewellery designer, and I wanted to specialise in pieces that are one of a kind. Our designs seek to combine unparalleled creativity with an added artistic dimension, together with natural, untreated precious gemstones. We believe in composing pieces of three-dimensional wearable art without losing the investment value of the gems used.
HOW HAVE BUYERS’ TASTES EVOLVED THROUGH THE YEARS?
When we first came up with designs that veered from the conventional, there were many naysayers including other jewellers. But now, clients are keen to own designs that express their individuality. We are also seeing more collectors in rare gems although it took us a long time and much effort to educate buyers. We accept that there will always be some doubters, but we are happy when clients become as excited about rare gems as we are. Some of them even track our journey to mines in remote and inaccessible areas, and look forward to us sharing our findings when we return.
DEMAND FOR SUCH GEMS MUST HAVE INCREASED SINCE THE TIME YOU STARTED OUT.
Since 2008, prices for untreated gems have more than doubled, further proving how much the demand for them is growing. And it is likely to grow further as the technology in jewellery crafting is developing rapidly, providing more precision in cutting and fabrication. The Internet also plays a huge part in influencing the way people perceive designs and spread the word on coloured gems. We believe there is a market for haute jewellery made up by high net worth clients who want to create heirloom pieces.
WHAT WOULD YOU CONSIDER AS YOUR CAREER MILESTONES?
There are actually quite a few. Besides being awarded various accolades including the sole Golden Crown Winner for Luxury Jewellery brand in Singapore at the Luxury Lifestyle Awards, I feel an unbeatable buzz whenever I think of my recent acquisitions of a rare 13.73-carat Afghan emerald, or the bixbite from Utah that weighs over one carat. I love going on the hunt for these rare stones. Next on my agenda is a trip to Afghanistan to look for emeralds. It will be dangerous and we might need security escorts, but the country has some of the best emeralds in the world.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT YOUR SUCCESS SO FAR?
I feel very encouraged by the reception of international media and buyers to our creations. Most foreigners express surprise when they see my pieces, as they wouldn’t have associated creativity with Singaporeans. This is also a challenge, as local designers have to work doubly hard to stand out from designers from a country with a tradition for craftsmanship. People seem to like my style that they describe as fusion, which might be appropriate given that Singapore is very much a country where East meets West.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR CARATELL?
We dream of reviving the Art Jewellery movement popular during the Art Nouveau period, but with a new definition – incorporating fine, investment-grade stones with unique designs and exquisite workmanship. We want to get customers involved with the design that will tell their story, with the gems taking centre stage. Besides taking part in shows including a private event in Abu Dhabi, we also plan to launch Caratell’s perfume this year. Next year, we will also present our own timepieces and collaborate with an international watch brand to introduce a limited-edition creation at the BaselWorld show.