Refining A Peranakan Dream
Local atelier Caratell brings back a well-loved Peranakan motif in a collection where colour and skill takes precedence. Words by Tang Jie Min.
If there ever was one motif analogous to modern Singapore, it might just be the Peranakan majolica tile. A staple in every heritage Straits Chinese home, these decorative elements are the result of a harmonious amalgamation of European taste, Chinese craft, and Malay influence. More than just an obvious symbol for Singapore’s multiculturalism, it has become a reminder of a tradition that continues to persist amidst the country’s constant concrete facelifts. Singaporean jewellers have been honouring the sentimentality of the Peranakan tile, reinterpreting its details into a motif. Unlike the Peranakan jewellery icons, such as the kerongsang brooches or diamond studded navette rings, the Peranakan tile offers a beautiful malleability that sits in perfectly with today’s fashion sensibilities. The tile’s symmetrical patterns lend well to dainty filigree works, draped over marbled jade or in sleek, contemporary tessellations. Undoubtedly, the Peranakan tile motif has moved on from more than just a mere trend – it is here to stay on as a new-age classic.
Caratell is now one of the latest local jewellers to have a go at the motif. Its new collection, Colours of Heritage™, is a curation of Peranakan tile jewellery in various formats, such as dangling earrings, detachable ear studs, cocktail rings, and pendants. Pieces in the collection feature recognisable elements from Peranakan majolica tiles, such as heart-shaped petals or clovers. But those are secondary to the highlight of Caratell’s craft: The soft, milky pastels, and vibrant hues in the collection that are as realistic as the glazed porcelain decor it takes inspiration from.
Instead of ceramic inlays, Caratell’s Michael Koh and his artisans employ skilful plique-à-jour enamelwork to create the ‘bone china’ effect in the Colours of Heritage ™ collection. For the collection, a combination of two kinds of plique-à-jour enamelling fills in the pieces. A transparent application offers a stained-glass effect, while the opaque way creates the enchanting porcelain like quality in each piece. The result is a vibrant fusion of colour and texture that makes Caratell’s Colours of Heritage ™ a unique addition to Peranakan tile inspired jewellery offerings.
Achieving the aesthetic is no easy feat as plique-à-jour is an infamously unforgiving enamelling technique. It can take artisans months to finish enamelling a few pieces, yet most of the hard work is likely to break apart within a few minutes of firing.
To up the ante, Caratell artisans also eliminate using any backing for the enamelling process. Instead, enamel powder is packed between gold frames and simply left to suspend, which significantly decreases the success rate of every enamelled piece when it enters the firing oven. Perfecting the craft takes years of skill and incredible patience.
Though tradition drives the collection, the Colours of Heritage ™ is very much contemporary in spirit. Despite the delicate nature of the craft, the pieces are all designed for everyday wear. Earrings, for instance, come with detachable diamond studs for more flexible styling.
While the colourful enamel takes centre stage, a tasteful selection of gemstones and diamonds dazzles up the majolica miniatures in Caratell fashion. Earrings, pendants and rings are accentuated with just the right amount of spinels, garnets, fancy sapphires, and diamonds, meant as a subtle nod to colourful Peranakan kebayas.
After all, what better way to pay homage to a humble heritage icon than immortalising it as a badge of honour worth wearing and commemorating every day?