“A designer copies, but a great designer inspires.”
– Michael Koh, Founder and Designer, Caratell
As an artist and designer, Michael believes that the jewellery pieces he creates should speak for themselves. “If one takes too long to see the connection, then I’m trying too hard.”
Michael’s design process is no different from that of other designers. It starts with a sketchbook and the ability to see inspiration in everything. But the similarity ends there. Michael, who has a B.A. in Fine Arts Jewellery, and his wife, Achillea Teng, who is also a designer and a GIA Gemology graduate, constantly push the boundaries of design, hoping to bridge the gap between fine jewellery and art.
“I get design inspirations from everywhere and anywhere. It could be places I have visited, architecture, nature, movies, or even the gemstone itself,” shares Michael. He would draw his personal interpretations and variations, and would constantly change and revise his sketches until he captures the essence of the subject.
Art has been a passion for Michael since he was young. It is not surprising that he would go on to establish a jewellery company that creates wearable pieces of art. By creating one-of-a-kind pieces, Caratell differentiates itself from the rest.
Michael and Achillea share the same goal, which became the foundation of their brand: to push new heights in jewellery design in Singapore. “It didn’t matter that we were a small company. After all, we were here for the desire to create one-of-a-kind wearable pieces of art. It has remained a fact until this day.”
At Caratell, every piece of jewellery is a masterpiece on its own. Every piece goes through the process of developing a design concept, design development, and understanding the technical aspects of every step of the production.
“At times, it would take us two to three months to complete the planning of just one piece,” says Michael. “Just like a painting, we try to impart the beauty and story of each piece beyond each gemstone and diamond.”
It is not easy to find untouched gemstones, so Michael and his team usually travel to far-flung mining areas in search of rare materials. At these mines, they get to understand how the miners and workers source the gemstones, and what it really takes to get one rare, untreated stone. “That’s where we truly understand the value of the stone which can stand through the test of time, something that can be proudly passed on from one generation to the next.”
For Michael, the traditional art of jewellery making is the only way to go. Every piece of his creations is meticulously handcrafted. Unlike a piece created using a computer-aided design where every facet looks perfect, a Caratell piece possesses its own charms and imperfections, much like a piece of art. “I feel that handcrafted pieces possess their very own beauty. Just like us humans, there is a soul and life in every piece.” Having his own workshop also allows Michael to have a full control of the production process. “Every step is overseen by myself to ensure the best results.”
More than just jewellery, Michael creates a piece of luxury that combines art and precious materials. In the process, he only uses precious metals and gems that will not only uphold its value no matter what, but also captures the essence of fine luxury.
“I design pieces with rare materials in mind,” he says. “Nickel-free metals and gold, diamonds, sapphires, rubies and the rarest of gems are incorporated in my designs. What can be more valuable than a piece that combines art and precious materials?”
In the midst of our big-brand-conscious, at times cookie-cutter industry, how do you promote jewellery as a piece of wearable art? As a small brand pushing for something big, Caratell faces a tough journey.
“There is little awareness and recognition given to jewellery designers, from both the industry and the public,” says Michael. “Most people would recognise fashion designers, but not jewellery designers, as most would simply regard us as jewellers.” But this does not discourage Michael and Achillea; instead, this challenges them all the more to create awareness on their craft. They have been educating their customers and the public by organising workshops and participating in international jewellery design competitions.
“We also want the younger generation to understand that there is another design field that they can explore besides fashion, architecture, or graphic design.”