Sunday, January 31, 2010

Chasing Cars

Sharing a client's idea that I really like - She inscribed some lyrics from one of my favourite songs to a pair of collar stays she ordered. They're available here.

Engagement ring series: How much to budget for the ring?

"How much should I budget for the ring?"

It’s highly individual. There’s nothing that's too little or too much, contrary to a very savvy, sly marketing idea that an engagement ring should be at least three months of a man’s salary.

However, having said that, there are some practical considerations you might want to take into account especially if you’d like a diamond solitaire as a main stone. Most of my clients tell me that they want a diamond that is at least 1.0 carat and assuming that you want a reasonably colourless (without any tint of yellow), eye-clean, with high luster and brilliance, a loose diamond solitaire would put you back at least 7000 sgd (approximately 5000 usd). It can go up considerably if you’d like better specifications but a 7000-10000 sgd budget for a very good, >1.0 ct diamond would be a fair price.

I have another group of clients who tell me that they don’t want a diamond solitaire, preferring to go for a significantly large and beautiful gemstone instead. These gemstones typically (although not always) are cheaper than diamonds. Unlike diamonds which has the Rapaport to provide some structure on pricing, these gemstones very rarely have a clear price range and thus advising clients on how much to budget for a non-diamond can get a little murky sometimes.

How we’ve gotten around this is to basically give a ballpark range for the main stone, and based on some broad sweeps of the clients’ requirements, we start the search. The search is a lot less clean than the diamond one, because it actively requires me to go down and sieve through hundreds of loose stones, judging it by eye (as opposed to analysing the specifications off a certificate). I’d say, based on my own anecdotal research, most good, fancy-coloured sapphires are approximately 600-800 usd/carat although a quick search online would show that that this figure is a “trade” price rather than a retail one. Sometimes we get even luckier and find something below that price point, but generally, a safe ballpark would be in that range.

Separate from the main stone is the precious metal and other gemstones that we use as embellishments and accents. Like the main stone, there’s quite a bit of price variation regarding this part of the project. On one end of the spectrum, there are many jewellers out there who actually give this part of the project free of charge, especially if the client picks out a diamond solitaire of considerable value. This happens for two reasons primarily: a) a significant amount of mark-up has been made to the solitaire, and therefore the jeweller gives the setting free as good will; b) the setting is a simple pre-cast one and the stone is simply plopped in and set into the claws.

Mid-way, we would see jewellers having a ready-to-wear series of classic pre-cast settings and clients simply pick from the existing ones. A quick search on the internet typically clues one in to how much one would expect to pay – two sites I often send my clients to include: and

Then there are those who really want something that’s unorthodox – pieces that are quite distinct from the classic, generic pieces that you see everywhere, even the big luxury brands. In those cases, there isn’t any fixed market rate, because the services offered really depends on how much the designer quantifies his/her expertise as well as the complexity of the design. In those cases, a private query would be needed to get a sense of budgeting.

Friday, January 29, 2010

More love from the media

This time on the jade series. Much love and gratitude - Yilin.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

new jade pieces

L to R: lemon quartz, whisky quartz, amethyst, white quartz and pink amethyst.

Am chuffed to announce the new arrivals to the jade family. :) Large, trilliant checkerboard rings. They looked awesome stacked - although I suspect that most people would be comfortable with two, instead of my favourite three.

See them at Cate or if you'd like to see them upclose this weekend, come on by our party!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Valentines' Day Nudge

Choo Yilin Artisan Jewellery is now available globally with Cate. This Valentines' Day, let Cate be your sassy assistant by dropping your (tasteful) hint here. Your man would get a page like this.
Because sharing the love goes both ways, we have cufflinks and collar stays if you'd like to get something for your men and to sweeten the deal, all engraving is free for orders placed by 31 Jan 10.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Engagement ring series: Using other gemstones as the main stone of choice

What are my other options if I don't want a diamond solitaire as the main stone?

Increasingly, I’m getting more and more queries of this kind, whereby clients tell me that they’d very much prefer not to get a diamond solitaire. This, however, leaves them completely in the dark, because their options are now thrown completely wide open. It’s not as intimidating as it sounds though – there are a few practical considerations that will help make the choice easy to make.

Because the engagement ring is supposed to last forever, with the option to pass it down the generations, I recommend that clients not to go down below a Moh’s hardness of 8. Anything less would have a higher tendency of having it chipped if knocked against an object or dropped. This limits the options drastically: only diamonds are 10, and those are out because of choice. Next, at 9, come sapphires and rubies. At 8 ½ and 8, choices open up a little wider to chrysoberyl, alexandrite, emeralds, spinels and topazes.

Most people want to keep within the traditional “precious stones” – sapphires, rubies and emeralds and therefore, that eliminates more options. Within these three, sapphires always tend to be the most popular choice because of the sheer variety of colour within this gemstone.

Separately, emeralds are always green, and are mostly heavily included save for the rare few top quality ones. They are also oiled to cover up internal cracks – this is an accepted practise in the gemstone trade as long as it’s revealed. The problem though, is that craftsmen need to be extra careful when setting the stone because what might look to be an unincluded gemstone might be filled with natural cracks and is thus a lot more fragile than it looks. Rubies are always red, and most clients tell me that the stone colour is a little too overwhelming for everyday use.

Thus, by default, sapphires are almost always chosen. I’ve written more about it here. And will probably talk more about other viable engagement stones in future as I've been getting other queries about them.
Next topic: How much should I expect to budget for the ring?

Monday, January 18, 2010

An Artisanal Chinese New Year - Fine food, dresses and shopping

In preparation of this year’s Chinese New Year, we’re throwing another party with gourmet Chinese New Year goodies and desserts along with drapy, jersey dresses and artisanal jade jewellery.

ET artisan sweets will be sharing some of their gourmet, secret-reciped CNY goodies. The label will also be showcasing some of their signature favourites – Parisian macarons, cupcakes and even dairy-free cookies, all ready to be eaten fresh during the party and brought home for your loved ones.

Host, Yu, will be showcasing its new collection of clothes, experimenting with stretchy, slingy jersey for the first time, all ready to be strutted in during Chinese New Year.

Sustainable jewellery designer Choo Yilin will be featuring her jade pieces and will be on hand to work on customised jade pieces in time to be delivered by Chinese New Year. Feel free to bring your own jade pieces that you'd like to dress up with precious metal and gemstones.

Lastly, a small selection of sample pieces will be available for sale from Ee-Lyn and Yilin.

RSVP: by 29 Jan 10

as well as intended time of arrival because of space constraints in the studio.

More pictures can be viewed here.

Date: 30 Jan 2010
Venue: The Yu Studio
8 Mhd Sultan #03-01
Time: 1100 – 1800 hrs

Friday, January 15, 2010

Engagement ring series - choosing the diamond shape

"I want to get a diamond. Should I get a brilliant round or a fancy cut diamond? There are so many shapes – help!"
Okay, so no male client ever says those words in exactly that way - they'd be appalled at the plea for help. After all, they don't need help, the just merely wish to be educated in an objective, rational manner. :P

Diamond round brilliants continue to be the most popular cut – as many as 75% of all diamonds sold today are round brilliants – and this high demand has also led to higher prices. Globally, round brilliants are typically 20% higher than other diamond shapes although there is a variance amongst these non-round diamonds (or rather, fancy-shaped diamonds, which is the industry term for them).

Traditionalists will insist on getting a brilliant round for their diamond choice but we see a trend of the young, cosmopolitan crowd veering towards the fancy-shaped options. My personal bias is toward the fancy-shaped diamonds – I find rounds a little too common and a little too classic from a design-perspective – and generally let clients know of this bias. Apart from the unique factor, the more practical consideration is that you’d get a bigger stone for the same price per carat.

Amongst the fancy-shaped options, the princess cut has been traditionally been the most popular. I’m not entirely sure why but have a gut feel that this is about to change. Oddly enough, my colleagues in the jewellery industry have fed back to me that the radiant cut is fast gaining in popularity. Coincidentally, my clients have also told me that that’s their first pick off the fancy-cut list. (On a side note, it is also my favourite diamond shape – it combines that vintage, subtle elegance of the emerald-cut and the faceting and brilliance of a round). Having said that though, it’s entirely up to you – or rather, what you think the recipient would best love. All are gorgeous and all (even the rounds) can be worked into THAT special design.

I spoke with a journalist friend who had done extensive research on the Singapore loose diamond market herself. She told me that fancy shapes in Singapore weren’t competitively priced (and a quick, albeit anecdotal, check seemed to verify that) viz., the Rapaport. The mark-up/down off the Rapaport was a lot higher than the round brilliants. Neither of us know why but a possible hypothesis is that it appears that the reason for that is that supply for fancy-cuts are low, and therefore, the diamond brokers bring in a low supply.

(Btw, for those who don’t have access to the Rapaport, a short-cut version would be to look at bluenile ; it is quite fairly priced viz., the Rapaport. Because of its low over-heads business model, they’re able to provide diamonds at a price that’s seemingly unbeatable by any Singapore broker, wholesale or otherwise. Because the label doesn’t market itself as a diamond broker and diamond brokering is simply getting a hold on a commodity and requires no design expertise, we don’t mark up significantly and usually manages beat bluenile’s prices.)

In conclusion, round brilliants are traditionally the most popular shape and the high demand in Singapore keeps supply high (compared to the fancy-shaped diamonds). However, if you think the recipient would like something a little unorthodox, do consider a non-round diamond, especially if you have access to a good supply at competitive prices.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Engagement ring series - what metal to use?

What kind of metal should I use? And what is the difference?

Because of its high significance, it would make sense to get it done in a precious metal - and 99.9% of people do. This means it would either be a) sterling silver, b)a high karat gold value, c) platinum or d) palladium.

Sterling silver is easily the cheapest amongst the four but I generally dissuade clients from using it for a number of reasons. It tarnishes easily but that inconvenience can be addressed by constant polishing. (I’ve recommended it for clients on a very tight budget before but generally, most cited budgets allow for more valued precious metals).

Gold is always the most popular choice and I believe that that’s primarily because of our culture. It’s regarded as a symbol of wealth and luck and a natural choice for most clients. My American peers tell me that 14KT seems the most popular choice, but in Asia, nothing below 18KT is considered “worth it”. Gold is also an extremely versatile metal in that it comes in a variety of colours – white, yellow, rose and admittedly, is my favourite metal to work with. For one, that’s a lot richer and denser than sterling silver and there is a luxe heaviness to it. It’s also a relatively inert metal and hence we don’t deal with the inconveniences of tarnishing like we do with sterling silver.

The only drawback I can think of is also a double-edged sword - the metal’s on the soft side and generally tends to dent a little bit with frequent use but I take the denting as an accepted part of everyday wear and tear. It’s also easily resolved with a once-a-year polishing. This characteristic of 18KT gold is also one of the key reasons why jewellers like to work with it – the malleability of the metal allows you to do creative things with the metal that you may not be able to.

Platinum’s getting significant amount of attention in recent years because of its luxury association – 990-995 platinum typically costs more than double 18KT gold. In its own right though, platinum is harder, denser and most importantly, more tarnish-resistant than both sterling silver and gold.

However, these characteristics are also why I generally steer clients away from platinum. 1) The cost – unless the client tells me the sky’s the limit with the budget, I generally will ask the client to place a larger portion of the budget on the stone or/and the complexity of the design rather than having the bulk of the cost in platinum. This is because, to the eye, 18KT white gold and platinum looks exactly the same (especially after a layer of gilding is done to finish the piece). Platinum may feel a little denser than 18KT white gold but the difference, in my opinion, is not enough to choose it over 18KT white gold after factoring in the other considerations. 2) The hardness – This makes the metal harder for the artisans to work with. As such, it’s likely that some of the more intricate designs may not be possible with platinum. In addition, resizing the ring may cause some problems – both in terms of cost as well as the quality of the resizing.

Palladium – This metal is relatively new in fine jewellery circles. Although it’s been on the market since 1939, it had never reached the same popularity as the rest of its precious metal siblings. I don’t know why but my jewellery colleagues are telling me that this is set to change as the palladium producing companies are beginning to market themselves aggressively. Objectively, it appears a wonderful metal; a) it’s very, very white, which avoids the need for plating like you do with the other “white” metals – silver, 18KT white gold and platinum. b) It’s currently a lot more affordable that platinum or gold which makes it very attractive price-point wise. c) It’s tarnish-resistant and very hard which avoids the dents that we might see in both 18KT white gold and platinum.

The possible downsides to this would include a) it has a tendency to become brittle with repeated heating and cooling so resizing the ring might be a problem; b) its hardness would again prevent it from being as malleable as the artisans would like – especially in the more intricate, complex designs. Apart from these two factors, I think we’re likely to see more palladium fine jewellery in future.

In conclusion, it’s really up to you. I have a personal bias towards 18KT gold and I am honest about it with my clients. I have good reasons to support that though – it’s not a irrational like - as I have briefly articulated them here. I strongly encourage clients to do their own research too – they’d feel a lot more confident when backed by knowledge.

Next topic: For the solitaire, must I get a diamond round brilliant? What are my other diamond options?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The engagement ring series: the beginning

I’ve been getting a fair number of queries from men who are thinking of proposing to their girlfriends. Their e-mails range from the confused to the intimidated to exasperated undertones of "All the trouble for THIS!?" I usually have loads of fun talking with them because they have a self-deprecating sense of humour - an unspoken "we both know why we're doing this. I love her deeply although this is the equivalent of pulling my teeth out."

Anyway, given my conversations with them, I thought I’d compile a bunch of questions that I’ve most frequently come across and hopefully that will make the process a lot less intimidating. The answers run quite long though, so I’ll be breaking them up into a series of blog entries.

How long do I need and how do I go about the process?
It all depends on how much research you’re comfortable with settling on. Some would prefer 3 months of personal intensive research while others are comfortable with acquiescing to the designer’s recommendations based on broad strokes of their girlfriend’s personality.

Personally, I’ve done engagement projects that have taken less than a month’s work. The client and I brainstormed over one e-mail where he flagged out certain pictures based on what he thought she’d like. We had one 2-hour consultation over gchat, and viola, everything was settled. No mock-ups, no secondary steps.

The process for most clients are similar but a little lengthier. Generally speaking, we have a preliminary consult that’s extremely casual. We either chat online or over the phone whereby I get a sense of the girl’s aesthetics, her stature (if she’s petite, she typically shouldn’t wear anything more than 2 carats for eg), and most practically, his budget as that would allow me to quickly focus on what can be done.

The first step typically involves choosing an appropriate loose gem. Following which, I get the client to flag out some pictures from various websites that I think would suit the couple. From the pictures he flags out, I generally start to form a very clear picture of what would work.

I do a mock-up based on these pictures flagged out and make changes, if any. That’s basically the end of the consultative process as we go about actualising the concept. It usually take about 5-7 weeks from this point if the design is a complex one, and shorter if it’s a fairly simple one.

Next topic: “What kind of metal should I use? And what is the difference?”