A necklace by local jewellery label, Simone Jewels, is a curious object. It depicts a flock of birds in the midst of flight. The leader of the pack carries a droplet of water between its beak. They look like they are delivering this precious, glistening droplet of water to somewhere or someone in need of life. "What is happening," I asked. Simone Ng, founder and designer of her 12-year-old eponymous jewellery label leaned back in her chair and let out a long-drawn breath. She launched into a lengthy episode of her voluntary work in a small village in Myanmar.
In 2012, she hopped on a volunteer assignment with her friends and travelled to Myanmar. "The village comprised of helpless children — mostly females whose spouses passed on." When she was there, it struck Ng that the children there had never consumed eggs before. These seemingly basic food necessities were, presumably, way too costly for these families to afford. Yet, eggs are a vital source of nutrition for growing children. "Every time I go there, I buy some hard-boiled eggs." Eventually, Ng realised that she was not helping these children. What she was doing was a very short-term solution. Instead, she asked, "How about I give them a pair of live chickens?"
This very experience moved Ng to design her upcoming collection of jewellery, christened Birds of Poetry, hoping to share this pressing story of social dire and the urgency for help and change. "How much hope, love, and joy can we give to these people?"
Simone Jewels/ Felicia Yap
In fact, in most of Ng's jewellery collections, there is always a riveting story that she wants to tell. She is a storyteller at heart. Otherwise reserved and reticent, Ng comes to live when she explains the stories behind her collections. In her 2012 collection, Ng narrated the cultural exchange between China's Emperor Kangxi and the King of France, Louis XIV, in the 1600s. In 2013, she delved into the love story of Babylon's King Nebuchadnezzar.
Ng was not formally trained as a jewellery designer. She, however, was born into a family that had a keen eye for jewellery. "My maternal and paternal families had a hand in jewellery — gold chain and watch shop in Malaysia". Growing up, Ng did not think much about it. Instead, she embarked on a career in the banking sector. At 27, she got married and relocated to Singapore. When she was pregnant, she spent time at home making jewellery for a hobby. Her friends noticed, and soon, they were buying from her. In 2006, she officially launched her jewellery label, Simone Jewels.
From then till date, Ng has always produced singular jewellery pieces — no two necklaces, rings, or bracelets are the same. Ng approaches the makers with her sketches. The craftsmen, goldsmiths, silversmiths, and gem carvers are peppered all over the globe. "There is no craftsman who can do everything. If I'm doing something with colours, I will go with the Thais — for their fine workmanship. They don't mind doing things by hand, one by one. If there are things to do with fine gold crafting and waxwork, the Hong Kong-ers." Later, Ng destroys every blueprint or sketch after the actual jewellery piece has been sold. "There is a lot of mass production out there. I believe in the concept of individualism. Everyone has a story to tell."
Simone Jewels/ Felicia Yap
When customers approach Ng, they usually have an inkling of what they want. Yet, when they are presented with the collection, they end up probing about the design intention. Ng finds herself telling the story over and again. Later, the wearers share the same story with their own circle of friends.
Like a novelist, the constant pressure for a well-developed story wears Ng out. "It gets very stressful if I don't have an idea. The pieces can take up to eight months or more than a year to produce."
Ng is still working on her 2018 collection, Birds in Poetry right now, sketching up to eight designs a day. The collection will soon be available for purchase, and new designs will be released throughout the year. Yet, at the same time, she should be working on a new story idea for the 2019 instalment. Storytelling is, arguably, a natural habit for humankind. For Ng and her label, Simone Jewels, there are no difficult stories to tell.
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