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Singapore Artisan Spotlight: Carrie K Jewellery

Designer Carolyn Kan, creative force behind Carrie K, has helped to invigorate the Asian jewellery scene with her tasteful off-the-wall silver adornments.

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    SLIDESHOW: Where quality craft melds effortlessly with quirky creations, Billionaire takes you behind the scenes at the atelier of Singapore-based jewellery designer Carolyn Kan.

    Delving into Carolyn Kan’s personal and professional past, one quickly discovers why she has been such a resounding success despite remaining firmly rooted in Singapore’s creative industry, which, for many years, was considered the neglected middle child of the country’s then heavily industrial and service-based economy. Best described as a Renaissance woman of sorts, Kan began her career as a ‘suit’ (for the uninitiated, a ‘suit’ is an account manager in advertising parlance) in the advertising industry.

    Highly driven and a consummate people’s person, her talents saw her enjoy a rapid rise up the ranks. Within 10 years, she was appointed managing director of the Singapore branch of M&C Saatchi — one of the world’s largest cross-border advertising agencies. Despite having achieved such success at a relatively young age, however, Kan soon found herself wanting more in life. Unfortunately, she had not the faintest idea what that was — except that she needed a break.

    This led her to embark on a year-long Eat Pray Love-esque sabbatical. As the heavens would have it, she found herself ensconced in a silversmith’s atelier in the heart of Florence — a city renowned for a deep respect of craft and craftsmen. It was there that her journey as jewellery designer and silversmith began. “I was always told by people that I did not have a single creative bone in my body,” Kan confesses. However, from the moment she crafted her first plain silver band, she knew she had found her calling in life. Kan extended her stay in Florence and, upon her return to Singapore, began lessons at Singapore’s LaSalle College of the Arts, honing her skills as a silversmith.

    In 2009, having gained a sufficient mastery of silversmithing, she took the plunge and started Carrie K. The rest, as they say, is history. Five years to the day, her quirky designs — mostly inspired by simple, everyday objects — are stocked all over the world, including Japanese designer Yuji Yamamoto’s (son of internationally acclaimed Yohji Yamamoto) concept store, Make One’s Mark. Kan tells us that Carrie K, although known primarily for its offering of silver adornments, has since moved beyond silver toward gold, black diamonds, and even unconventional synthetic materials as seen in her aptly named latest collection, A Beautiful Mess.

    Notwithstanding her success, Kan is quick to caution that growth brings its fair share of headaches. Fortunately, when asked about how Carrie K keeps up with demand given how each piece is handcrafted, it is at once clear that Kan is as much a savvy and intellectual businesswoman as she is a free-spirited designer. “Unfortunately, the trade [silversmithing] is dying in Singapore. We leverage on the connectedness of the modern world to tap on the expertise and skill of regional artisans in order to keep up with demand while maintaining a high level of quality,” Kan explains.

    Although the business model experienced teething problems in its early days, Kan informs us that she and the artisans who work with her have built up an almost telepathic relationship. “At the start, we had a few near-heart attacks when the product turned out differently than we had initially envisioned. They didn’t understand why we wanted things done in the way we did. Now, thankfully, they recognise my ability as both designer and silversmith — they’ve realised that they must produce what the market wants in order to carry on doing what they do while still earning a decent living.” To further ensure that each piece turns out exactly the way she intended it to, Kan designs and prototypes every piece personally before sending them for a full production run — after which they go through a rigorous regime of quality control.

    Heavily involved in Singapore’s craft and design community, Kan has her hand in several initiatives ranging from her very own Keepers — a showcase for local artisans — and networking event Makers of Singapore, which was started by a group of students from Singapore’s Nayang Technological University and moderated by established names in the local design industry, of which Kan is one. Energetic and driven, Kan has clearly mastered the ability to wear her many hats while still keeping her sanity. With her leading the vanguard, one would expect nothing less than a resounding victory as Carrie K forges ahead in the years to come.