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Brand to Know: A Singaporean Jewellery Label Questioning the Role of Adornment

By Bianca Husodo

From top: Ellipsis Earrings in 18-karat gold, South Sea pearls and diamonds; Allegory pavé necklace in 18-karat gold, akoya pearls and diamonds; Rhyme bangle in 18-karat gold, South Sea pearls and diamonds  Drew pavé ring in 18-karat gold and diamonds.
 
Felicia Yap
From top: Ellipsis Earrings in 18-karat gold, South Sea pearls and diamonds; Allegory pavé necklace in 18-karat gold, akoya pearls and diamonds; Rhyme bangle in 18-karat gold, South Sea pearls and diamonds Drew pavé ring in 18-karat gold and diamonds.

To understand how most think of jewellery, observe the words equated to it: trinket, embellishment, bauble. It’s pretty frivolous, if not downright superficial then?

In Singapore, where the jewellery market is saturated by international vanguards and the local jewellery industry is narrow and often unaddressed, two creatives are probing and stretching the fundamental definition of jewellery all the while creating it.

Ruiyin Lin and Afzal Imram founded State Property, their fine jewellery label, in 2014, after what began as a bespoke jewellery service burgeoned. A leitmotif to their conceptual yet contemporary pieces is the constellation of narratives they’re set within. Ones instilled with “emotional durability”, as Lin puts it. And now they’re forming ripples beyond Singapore’s borders: Recently, an arsenal of their airy, geometric earrings and rings were worn by the likes of Lady Gaga, Nicole Kidman and Michelle Obama.

The duo first met through mutual friends as design students — Lin majored in jewellery-making at London’s Central Saint Martins, Imram in industrial design at National University of Singapore — bonding over their shared interest in the creation of art objects. Inquisitive conversations pertaining to what jewellery is, its intrinsic and holistic values, swirled between the two. And when Imram went for an exchange programme in Paris, the two would interchangeably travel in between to collaborate on each other’s projects.

“The work that she was doing was a lot more conceptual, a lot more questioning, and because of that there was rejection of more conventional approaches,” says Imram of Lin’s work at the time. “It was just a very specific medium to conduct the same kind of thinking that I was trained in. Her whole approach to it brought me into jewellery.”

Felicia YapFrom left: Inversion pavé earrings in 18-karat gold, akoya pearls and diamonds; Allegory pavé necklace in 118-karat gold, akoya pearls and diamonds; Inversion pavé pendant in 18-karat gold, akoya pearls and diamonds.
From left: Inversion pavé earrings in 18-karat gold, akoya pearls and diamonds; Allegory pavé necklace in 118-karat gold, akoya pearls and diamonds; Inversion pavé pendant in 18-karat gold, akoya pearls and diamonds.

Lin, who now handles the product design aspect of State Property, started her design journey by examining jewellery through the immateriality of its materials. The 28-year-old posits, “To me, the concept of it is questioning what the value of jewellery in every piece is. Is it really necessary that you use 18-karat gold? Or diamonds? And if you do, you have to use them with purpose and what’s the true purpose of using them?”

After her graduation show, Lin, in a moment of epiphany, texted Imram, asking him to be her creative partner, not fully knowing what exactly they would be doing. Imram’s answer was a definite yes. “We just packed our bags, came home and went, what now?” Lin recalls.

It took the pair a whole year before State Property was fully fleshed. Not wanting half-baked ideas nor ideas based purely on aesthetic, Lin and Amram put a pin on full-fledge collections, dabbling first with bespoke jewellery. Word-of-mouth brought in Singapore-based clients who wanted old jewels restored, renewed, reconstructed. They would bring old school 22-karat gold necklaces, broken bits of jade, for Lin and Imram to dissect and breathe new life into. Sometimes, they would prefer entirely new pieces from scratch.

“It’s very intimate when people come to us to do bespoke jewellery. It’s either from a late relative or for someone they love. You get the privilege of being part of someone’s life in a very small but direct way,” says Imram.

“It’s very stressful,” Lin chips. “We take it seriously, sometimes too seriously. It’s not the fastest process. Although people who want this, most of the time, are not in a hurry.”

Felicia YapFrom top: Drew pavé ring in 18-karat gold and diamonds; George pavé ring in 18-karat gold and diamonds; Salander ring in 18-karat gold.
From top: Drew pavé ring in 18-karat gold and diamonds; George pavé ring in 18-karat gold and diamonds; Salander ring in 18-karat gold.
Felicia YapFrom top: Harriet Major pavé earrings in 18-karat gold and diamonds; Dupin pendant in 18-karat gold and diamonds; Onyx Harriet Minor pavé earrings in 18-karat gold and diamonds; Dupin Minor earrings in 18-karat gold and diamonds.
From top: Harriet Major pavé earrings in 18-karat gold and diamonds; Dupin pendant in 18-karat gold and diamonds; Onyx Harriet Minor pavé earrings in 18-karat gold and diamonds; Dupin Minor earrings in 18-karat gold and diamonds.

Time and narrative would be central to State Property’s notion of luxury, the duo decided. “It sat more comfortably with us. In my mind, the designing of the jewellery is a small part of the brand,” explains Imram. The 29-year-old is a staunch believer that design is a state of mind. He wanted get the essence of the brand just right before the jewellery came in, tracing the intangible before the tangible. In charge of “the jungle that surrounds the pieces”, he admits, “It’s a very emotional problem to solve rather than a functional one.”

In the end, the pair found kinship in the ’20s Art Deco movement; more in its discerning esprit, rather than its literal modernist characteristic. State Property became very much about that, Imran says, “The Art Deco movement in itself is so embellished, but also not at the same time. If you were to talk about accessories, jewellery, they’re not the primary things. They’re add-ons. Part of the way that we approach it is about making these embellishments less embellished, about finding a pure form to it.”

Albeit Lin’s outlook of traditional materials, State Property works with precious metals and stones — gold, silver, diamonds, pearls — identifying as a contemporary fine jewellery brand. Why then? “Longevity of the product in this intimacy that the precious metals command,” Imram reasons. Though with State Property, it’s less about what’s palpable. “We try to attach stories to each piece, some sort of personality or back story. The way you experience it, you’ll become emotionally attached,” says Lin.

Felicia YapFrom left: Ellipsis pendant in 18-karat gold, South Sea pearls and diamonds; Rhyme Minor earrings in 18-karat gold, akoya pearls and diamonds; Rhyme bangle in 18-karat gold, South Sea pearls and diamonds.
From left: Ellipsis pendant in 18-karat gold, South Sea pearls and diamonds; Rhyme Minor earrings in 18-karat gold, akoya pearls and diamonds; Rhyme bangle in 18-karat gold, South Sea pearls and diamonds.

State Property’s inaugural collection in 2015, titled Substate, was about discovery of the body. Names of famed fictional detectives were given to each piece. A pair of concave gold disc earrings — its circle outlines accentuated by a halo of diamonds, rather reminiscent of a magnifying glass — was named Drew, after Nancy Drew. A classic set of earrings was assigned Holmes after one of the most timeless of literary investigators; an elliptical pendant was Dupin after Edgar Allen Poe’s eccentric C. Auguste Dupin.

Once, a female customer came to the boutique particularly interested in the ‘Chromatic Interlude’, Lin says. It was a series inspired by the space-time continuum and its interconnectedness to music. Lin explained the concept to her, detailing each jewellery’s music-related monikers and without trying it on, the lady bought the piece. “It was S$5,000 over. Maybe she was a musician. Maybe it struck a personal chord.”

So what, then, is jewellery to State Property? 

“In my mind I design armours for these women. When they put on these rings, I hope there’s confidence. Maybe she has kids and she’s busy and she didn’t wear makeup today, but nevermind, she has big earrings to frame her face. I believe that it’s not about how she looks, it’s how she feels,” perceives Lin. On her side, Imram nods in agreement, “It’s that perfect balance of embellishment. It’s just enough to make you feel something.”

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