In a further nod of affirmation, home-grown jeweller Caratell has been nominated Luxury Jewelry Brand of Singapore at the Luxury Lifestyle Awards Asia. Known for designs that are highly coveted by collectors and jewellery connoisseurs alike, we sit down with founder Michael Koh to find out more about his work and thoughts on the local jewellery industry.
Tell us about starting Caratell. What drove that decision?
Well, I’ve been in this industry for more than 20 years, since I graduated from RMIT. Previously, I was designing and fabricating for other jewellers. But the designs were more about supplying what the market wants and there wasn’t much focus on individual creativity. So in 2003, Achillea Teng and I decided to launch our own brand. As we were both design trained — with the added advantage of having our own workshop — we decided to cater to a niche market, providing customized service. That’s how Caratell was born.
In your opinion, what are some of the challenges that Singaporean jewellery firms and designers often face?
To most foreigners, Singapore is known as a financial, education, shipping and perhaps even medical hub — but not an art or design one. As such, Singaporean designers have to work doubly hard to make their stand on the international platform, unlike those from countries with a vast and established history in jewellery-making. Another challenge they may face is in getting workshops to fabricate their design. As designs are limited by the capability of the workshop, the quality of design is sometimes affected. In addition, many local workshops have reduced in size or even relocated their production to China to keep prices competitive — and fabricating in China often ends up with a leak of intellectual property.
How then, can a local jewellery brand make itself known on the international stage?
Singapore does not have a long cultural history, but we have the privilege of being multicultural. We are very much influenced by the West, which often results in East-meets-West concepts and designs which set us apart from the rest. If you stay unique and innovative in your creations, you will get the right exposure and then meet the right people who appreciate your work.
Where do you draw your design inspiration from?
My inspiration comes from many aspects of life. I find that anything under the sun is a source of inspiration for creation, be it music; movies; architecture; food; people; poems or flora and fauna. Tangible or intangible, inspiration is everywhere. Creativity is part of our life. Some obstacles in life are simply challenges that help us to better understand our weaknesses. They provide space for creativity to make life better than before.
Of your many designs, is there a particular one that means most to you?
Each and every creation of mine provokes me a different sense of attachment or feeling in me. However, there are two that mean the most to me. The first is the In Europe with Love collection, as it is a celebration of my love for my wife. I received the inspiration for it when we finally found the time to go on a honeymoon together after 15 years of marriage! The other is the Cubism collection, which is inspired by Picasso’s cubism movement. The cutting edge design of these pieces allow the precision of the geometric form to be emphasised, without losing its flowing beauty.
As founder and designer, what does Caratell, the business, mean to you personally?
Personally I don't really sees it as a form of business, I view it as a stage for me to present and share my passion to those who appreciate fine exquisite gems and works of fine art. As an artist, I'm happy to be able to create without boundaries, constantly pursuing my dreams and inspiring younger designers who dare to dream.
What advice would you give aspiring Singaporean jewellery designers out there?
Believe in yourself, keep creating and your passion will help you find your own identity. There is no need to plagiarise or be a follower. You need a deep understanding of this industry to build up your knowledge and skills through fabricating your own creations, so show your utmost respect to your craftsmen and learn as much as you can from them. Always persevere and think positively and you can be a great designer in any industry.
What are your upcoming plans for Caratell?
To develop it into an international brand, known for both its fine quality gems and exquisite designs that maintain the art of handcrafted jewellery. We are also looking at working with overseas retailers who share the same passions and views as we do, to house our brand in their boutique. Jewellery is not only a luxury product for one to indulge in but also an opportunity to be mesmerised by the beauty of each creation.
Updated (29 February 2016): Caratell was awarded the title of Luxury Jewelry Brand of Singapore at the Luxury Lifestyle Awards Asia. Congratulations!