As Calla Lily Fine Jewellers comes into its own, it carves a unique place for itself in Singapore’s jewellery scene – one that is marked by colour, complexity, whimsy, and gems infused with the stories of the people wearing them
Whether it’s coincidence or a really well thought-out career path, you’d have to agree that Emily Tan, founder and creative lead of fine bespoke jeweller, Calla Lily, was destined for this. The Penang-born, Singapore-based designer shares, “I have always been fascinated with making things, working with my hands, and with colours and textures.” This creative leaning led her to pursue studies at the London College of Fashion, which, opened doors for her later on to flex her creative know-how at revered fashion houses like Jimmy Choo Couture in London and Marni in Milan.
Tan’s professional foray into the world of design began in designing footwear, serendipitously followed by jewellery. “They actually aren’t that different,” she reveals. “You’re considering a design from every angle and playing with structures and frames, so it felt like a fairly natural progression.”
When Tan transitioned to designing jewellery, she initially did costume jewellery, but “the more cognizant I became of the amount of time and heart I was putting into the process, the more the idea of creating pieces that lasted took root.” Because of this unexpected turn, she went and got her certification from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) a decade ago, allowing her to understand the true potential of gemstones and jewellery.
Now, Tan’s approach to design is on a different level. It has gone beyond items driven by trends to something that transcends them. “I want to design jewellery that would outlive us, and that would be worthwhile heirlooms. Bespoke fine jewellery would end up being the culmination of all the various aspects of design that inspire me: Materials I enjoy working with; a creative process that captures both the story of the gem and of the wearer; and the styling of a piece for a person, an outfit, or a moment. To me, that’s pretty special.”
Butterfly Earrings with Tajikistan pink Spinels with Paraiba Tourmalines and Diamonds; Peacock Ring with 18K white gold, Mint Peridot, Tanzanite, trillion, Diamonds
A Lily Blooms
“Calla Lily wasn’t born in a single instance,” admits Tan. “It was a series of moments that guided me in this direction. As a designer, I have always been inspired by materials and a desire to capture the stories of the wearer in the pieces I create. That’s why bespoke has always been my inclination.”
For Tan, a brand is also never a “finished” product, so developing Calla Lily Fine Jewellers and its unique personality is an ongoing mission. “Since the nature of my brand is bespoke, people should understand that it is not like fast fashion. It’s a slow, deliberate process built around the individual, one that takes time and care. Delivering that has to be an intentional choice.
Aquamarine Fireworks Earrings (studs)
Lagoon Tourmaline Art-Deco Earrings with Diamond Paper-Planes
As for the brand’s name, Calla Lily, it is a symbol of rebirth and change. “The creation of the company was the celebration of a new beginning; an opportunity to explore new directions,” says Tan. She goes on to explain, “The trumpet-shaped flower borrows its name from the Greek word for ‘most beautiful’ and symbolises triumph and strength – values that I associate with the brand.”
Tan knows that when a client seeks them out for their jewellery needs, they are looking for something entirely original. Based on her experience, the designs range from a playful spinning ring to a unique piece in memory of a beloved pet. Although, Tan admits that there are those who don’t have an idea of what they exactly want, so it’s her job to draw out details about their style or lifestyle, right down to things they like or dislike. “By finding out more about these, it sparks the conversation, and then the idea follows. Sometimes, we might even start with the gemstone and we allow that to steer a design,” says Tan.
“You could also say that at Calla Lily, we are more like ‘design therapists’,” Tan adds. We don’t force the design in any specific direction or trend. We tune into what is said, what is unsaid, and even body language. The client actually gives more clues than they think and that’s what makes the whole process interesting for us.”
Bi-colour Tourmaline Ring
Lagoon Tourmaline and Aquamarine Square Ring
At the end of the day, the Calla Lily experience – and product – will be something completely unique to the client. Each piece created, from the chosen gem to its setting, is inspired by individual stories and personalities, and even designed to suit skin tone and face shape. “Our clients can also expect unexpected twists in terms of designs and details, and my eclectic design style sometimes presents a couple of surprises,” reveals Tan. “I move quite easily from minimalist and subtle to highly ornate, inspired by the complex twists and flows of nature. However, where we end up always depends on the client and what best suits them.”
Tan also takes her fashion background into consideration when designing jewellery. She says that certain elements within fashion have always captivated her, like the flow and movement of drapes, or the way colour palettes and colour blocks come together. It is no surprise then that she is drawn to using vibrant, colourful gemstones in her work. “Every gemstone brims with energy and a history, but I especially love neon ones because they possess a special glow that draws me. It comes from elements unique to where they are from. For example, there are Vietnamese spinels, which have a unique neon pink and lavender glow compared to, say, their Burmese counterparts. Sometimes, it’s the nature of the stone – less iron and more chromium, for example, lend a certain radiance, as is the case with red spinels and pink sapphires, or rubies. Beyond these, I also love mint tourmalines, mint tsavorites, African fiery atomic garnets, and Mahenge red spinels.”
Butterfly Earrings with Tajikistan pink Spinels with Paraiba Tourmalines and Diamonds; Diamond Armour Ring
Making A Mark
A beautiful product is one thing, but how else does a local brand like Calla Lily Fine Jewellers stand out in a well-heeled market like Singapore, which has access to the biggest brand names?
“I acknowledge that Singaporeans are very cosmopolitan and well-travelled,” says Tan. “These days, however, they aren’t just looking for specific brands, but are after something more distinctive. In addition to our highly personalised and whimsical take on bespoke fine jewelley, the client experience we provide is distinct, allowing us to stand out. From the moment you walk in, the process is about you. We aren’t designers-on-demand. We see ourselves more like stylists that help you better understand the stones you’re investing in, and we co-create it with you. Our range of rare and unusual gemstones meet the collective imaginations of our customers and that’s another element that makes the Calla Lily experience special.”
To further differentiate the brand, Tan reveals that they are striving to push out their technical capabilities – from design to fabrication. “This means being able to redefine our design limits and create even more unique pieces. We’re continually reinventing ourselves. It’s really about staying true to ourselves, while being able to pleasantly surprise our clients at the same time.”
Photography by Timothy Chow
Assisted by Coby Travis Lazaroo and Eric Tan
Hair and makeup by Nikki Fu using Redken and Nars
Outfit: Tom Ford S/S 2020
Model: Zamantha D / Upfront Models