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Brand to Know: Foundation Jewellers, A Slice of Peranakan Heritage

By Lynette Kee

 Singaporean couple, Thomis Kwan and his wife Caroline, was more than surprised when they found out that one of their jewels is owned by Queen Elizabeth II three years after it was gifted to her.
 
Foundation Jewellers
Singaporean couple, Thomis Kwan and his wife Caroline, was more than surprised when they found out that one of their jewels is owned by Queen Elizabeth II three years after it was gifted to her.

Celebrity endorsements have been used by countless of businesses in every shape and form for years. While bad endorsement decisions inherently cause more harm than good, the effects of a right engagement with a highly influential person has proven to work wonders for a brand — especially if that person happens to be the Queen.

Such is the case of Singapore Peranakan jewellery brand, Foundation Jeweller. Founded in 1976, the brand was aptly situated along Joo Chiat road in Singapore, populated by heritage shophouses and quaint stores. Thomis Kwan, current owner and designer of the jewellery behind the brand, inherited the shop from his late father in the 1990s. Despite being exposed to the world of gem trade in his early teens, his passion for designing jewellery only grew in his late 30s when he first witnessed one of his father's craftsmen fix an intricate jewellery piece with a Chinese inkbrush. “This is not like the jewellery [I've seen], this is art”. He said.

Now, Kwan runs Foundation Jewellery together with his wife Caroline Tay at Holiday Inn Singapore Orchard City Centre. Kwan immerses himself in the designs they sell while Tay manages sales and business aspects of the brand.

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In Kwan's wildest dreams, he pictured his jewellery pieces to be endorsed by a famous Singaporean celebrity such as Dick Lee, according to The Straits Times. Never had he thought that one of his pieces would be owned, much less adored by the most influential person in the British Monarch, the Queen herself.

The diamond encrusted gold piece, lavishly named “The Bird of Paradise”, was gifted to Queen Elizabeth II by Singapore's then president Tony Tan for her diamond jubilee in 2012. It has since been made part of the Queen's fashion uniform in several — sometimes historical — events.

From the christening of her great granddaughter, Princess Charlotte in July 2015, to more recently, her visit to the science museum in London, Queen Elizabeth II has donned the Peranakan brooch on more than ten different occasions — which, according to an anonymous Royal observer, is “more than official gifts are usually worn”. When the brooch was identified to be from Foundation Jewellers, it put the brand the map of the jewellery industry in Singapore, and in turn, nudging the couple forward in their advocacy of the Peranakan culture. “It's almost like a miracle!” exclaimed Kwan. 

Reuters“The Bird of Paradise” pendant and Brooch made in 18k yellow gold and 61 brilliant cut diamonds.
“The Bird of Paradise” pendant and Brooch made in 18k yellow gold and 61 brilliant cut diamonds.

A miracle it might be, but no less well-deserved. Peranakan jewellery, often still seen as “grandmother’s jewellery” is treated with modern artistic interpretations at Foundation Jewellers. From earrings to bracelets, the appeal of these jewellery pieces lies in the culture and philosophy they impart. The couple, who (surprisingly) are not of Peranakan descend but cantonese, has spent their entire career burying their heads in historical research to bring the most authentic interpretations of Peranakan culture to their craft. 

Though largely driven by passion, Kwan and Tay were also drawn by patriotism. Kwan explained through an observation he made through his travels, where each country has a strong jewellery trade in Singapore. And being a melting pot of different cultures, he was certained that the Peranakan culture was the best presentation of Singapore. 

Every piece of jewellery crafted at Foundation Jewellers represents an auspicious emblem of love, beauty and strength. Tay would always dedicate a fraction of her time during her travels to discover new facets of gemstones and jewellery-making, as well as, be inspired by the culture of the country. From European architecture to the nature of China, Tay takes it back with her and shares it with Kwan. In their hands, the traditions of Peranakan culture is kept alive and fresh to appeal to younger consumers. 

Foundation jewellers may not be the first or the only Peranakan jewellery house in Singapore, but has definitely transcended other names within the industry, thanks to their dedication and commitment to creating pieces worthy of an heirloom. 

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