Monday, May 24, 2010

The Business Times: The role of ethics in fine jewellery

Published May 21, 2010

The role of ethics in fine jewellery

Local brands are winning acclaim internationally for their contribution to sustainable business. BT speaks to three who are leading the march to a better future


Fulfilling the green criteria: Ms Choo's coral-inspired jewellery comprises coral forms done in reclaimed sterling silver that pay homage to the beauty of coral and at the same time raise awareness of why organic coral should not be used.
IT is hard enough to be an entrepreneur trying to run a profitable business, much less a social entrepreneur - someone who uses entrepreneurial principles to make a social change. But the latter is what eco-conscious local jewellery designer Choo Yilin set out to be when she started her eponymous label - which employs hill-tribe artisans and reclaimed materials, and supports marginalised groups and environmental causes - a little over two years ago.

'Because of the way I've decided to run the business, I have to constantly think of all three bottomlines - it has to be profitable, make a social impact and be ecologically sustainable at the same time,' she says. 'And that is extremely challenging.'

To that end, if, say, one of Choo's designs fulfils the green criteria but not the other two, then it's back to the drawing board for her. But of course it doesn't usually turn out that way. One example that recently passed the stringent criteria is the designer's new range of coral-inspired jewellery, which she will be launching next month at London Jewellery Week (LJW). Called 'Alternative to Coral', it comprises coral forms done in reclaimed sterling silver that pay homage to the beauty of coral and at the same time raise awareness of why organic coral should not be used.
Says Choo of the collection: 'I'm the first Asian jeweller to work with the non-profit group Too Precious To Wear that aims to help stop the trade of pink and red coral. The coral is very beautiful and thus popular with jewellery designers, but the mining of it is environmentally very destructive because corals have become endangered animals.'
Also at LJW, the designer will be taking part in an inaugural conference that comprises 10 players in the sustainability industry, who will share their thoughts on the role of ethics in fine jewellery.

Those are big steps for a small label, but there's a long way yet to go with regard to educating the local market, Choo believes. According to her, roughly 95 per cent of her clients choose to wear her label because of the designs and not because it is a sustainable business.

'I have a friend who did a survey as to whether people in Singapore would pay more for green or socially-responsible products, and the answer was mainly no. Instead, they would pay more for a nice design,' she says with a sigh. 'So for the moment, unfortunately, it is true that it is Westerners who are more willing to pay for sustainable products.' But, she adds: 'I think it's only a matter of time for Asians to become as interested as their Western counterparts. It just requires a lot more awareness and support.'
And that's exactly what she's working towards with Choo Yilin Artisan Jewellery. 'I am under no illusion whatsoever that my label will turn a person into someone who believes and practises sustainability,' says Choo. 'But sometimes customers may ask about the background of my coral collection, or what reclaimed silver is, and even if they don't buy anything, it's okay because the seeds of motion - or at least awareness - will have been planted.

'And that awareness is what we seek to cultivate in the long run and it will remain one of the label's primary goals.'

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A chalcedonay neckclace

In the midst of the chaos of Bangkok and preparing for our first international trade fair, I thought I'd post one of my absolute favourite pieces. I did this on a lark actually, with no specific client in mind, wanting to create something extravagant while experimenting with a range of different techniques - beading, wire-work, metal-smithing as well as tiny gemstone setting.

The main part of the necklace comprises of smooth, rectangular chalcedonay chunks and this monotony was split by a row of similarly-designed texture silver rectangles that were woven asymmetrically into the chain. Three chunks of varied blue-green gemstones were added to the piece. And to top it off, randomly placed silver and sapphires set on some of the chalcedonay pieces. It took months to complete.

Monday, May 17, 2010

London: Murphy's Law

We're due up in London on 6 June for our first international trade fair, Treasure, as part of London Jewellery Week. It's now 17 May 10, and three things are happening that are causing us to shake our heads in disbelief.
1. The bloody protests in Bangkok.

I'm thankful that all my friends and colleagues are safe in this time of intense political unrest. I called our production manager today, and she updated me on the situation in Bangkok - the factories close early because of the curfews imposed by the government. And because the production areas are so close to the protest sites, many have decided that it's unsafe to travel to work. This means that production has grinded to a halt....all of three weeks before the fair starts.

2. Volcanic ash.
Woke up today to news that Heathrow had closed because of errant volcanic ash. We're crossing our fingers that it's a fleeting thing that will resolve itself soon.

3. British Airways strike.
News of British Airways, the airline we booked our flight on, suffering a huge strike! The website says that they'll announce contingency plans (if any) at end-May so we are sitting tight and allowing ourselves to let go of what we cannot control.

These issues aside, we're terribly excited by our trip to London though. London has always held a special place in my heart - the very first European country I visited back in 2001, a little green college student visiting one of her good friends for the summer. I fell in love with the tube (I wasn't exposed to the tube strikes, heh), the crisp British accent and the sheer diversity of the city. I remember being a tube carriage once and heard seven different languages being spoken.

Also, we'll be speaking at ESSENCE, an inaugural collective of 10 industry players on the topic of sustainability and ethical jewellery. It's something that we've been meaning to do more of, but haven't had the opportunity to do so. Thus, we're awfully chuffed and honoured to be part of this.
Now...first, we just need to GET to London.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

23 May 10 - SALE!

Old collections and sample pieces going at huge discounts. Prices starting at 80 SGD.

SUNDAY 23 MAY 2010
11AM - 5PM

Please RSVP at either
yilin(at!); 9451 1010 OR
yu(at!); 9626 9345.

Friday, May 7, 2010


We're still alive! Just recouperating from our first trade fair, Blueprint, and seeing private clients in Singapore at the moment. Blueprint was an interesting experience - and I realised first hand how hard we needed to work to prepare for a trade event. The night before, we only slept at 5 am, making the final changes to our linesheets. And in the aftermath of the fair, there have been countless number of follow-ups with contacts.

Huge thanks to everyone who helped - without a doubt, we couldn't have done this without your generous time and expertise. You know who you are and I am eternally grateful. Some (not very nice) pictures from the fair. We'll be posting nicer shots from the professionals when they're done.

Next up, we're going to London! More details soon. :)