From The Straits Times    |

Carrie K

As you make your way up the staircase leading to Carrie K’s latest atelier, tucked away on the third storey of a heritage shophouse at Neil Road, you will be greeted by the sounds of birds chirping and illustrations of lush foliage along the walls. This evocative scene sets the stage for the local jewellery brand’s newest home, a 1,900 sq ft space with a mezzanine level.

Decked in an elegant palette of white and vibrant blue, the atelier offers double the room for new amenities as compared to the former Carrie K boutique at the National Design Centre. One such spot is the Jewel Bar, which houses a selection of the brand’s Asian-inspired jewellery, including collections such as Lotus, which is inspired by one of the most significant flowers in Asian culture.

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The new Carrie K atelier at Neil Road. (Photo: Carrie K)

Carrie K founder Carolyn Kan explains the aim of creating the Jewel Bar, which is essentially a larger, curved counter that can comfortably seat four. She says, “It allows us to conduct gem classes for our clients, many of whom are women who come with their friends or with their mothers or daughters. We also do styling for them and show them how to mix pieces like necklaces, earrings, and rings. They can also bring their own jewellery, and we show them how to use our pieces to breathe life into their existing jewellery.”

On the rise

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Part of the Jewel Bar at the new Carrie K store. (Photo: Carrie K)

The atelier also houses office space for the expanding Carrie K team, which currently stands at 12, and a workshop that includes specialised equipment such as a jewellery microscope and a high-resolution 3D printer. These tools of the trade reflect not just the brand’s growing in-house capabilities but also its move up the value chain.

A former MD at advertising giant M&C Saatchi who left the corporate world to start her brand 15 years ago, Kan started out focusing on fashion jewellery. She explains, “When we first started in 2009, we were doing mostly silver pieces, including those plated with gold. We created more fashion-forward pieces and participated in many fashion weeks, such as those in Paris and New York.” 

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Mother-of-pearl jewellery pieces from the Blessings collection. (Photo: Carrie K)

These pieces were popular with Carrie K clients both here and abroad, with overseas retailers such as department store Takashimaya in Tokyo and lifestyle retailer Anthropologie in the US. Many of these clients included self-buyers — women who bought jewellery for themselves because they love jewellery — who Kan says made up 70 per cent of her pre-pandemic client base.

While this was perfectly fine in normal times, the drawbacks of this business model were apparent during the pandemic years. Kan recalls, “During the first three months of the lockdown, nobody was out shopping, so our business was at a standstill. Self-buying is a very fickle category. When you sell things that people can do without, they can simply not buy them if they don’t want to. It got me thinking, how can we add meaning and value to people’s lives? Is jewellery essential? Because, if you remember, the focus was all on essential services during that time.”

Wearable wishes

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Bangles from the Code collection feature customisable diamond initials in Morse code. (Photo: Carrie K)

Kan concluded that jewellery could be essential — but only if they were meaningful pieces that held value. She muses, “For thousands of years, jewellery has been essential. We have always worn or held something close to us that is meaningful and important. And that means jewellery for milestones, whether it’s an engagement or wedding, the birth of a child, or a gift for a special occasion.”

Over the past two years, the brand has shifted its focus to fine jewellery, comprising pieces in 18K or 14K gold and platinum. While Kan is refining and further developing the brand’s aesthetic, which Art Deco heavily influences, the designs retain the versatility that the brand has long been known for.

Whether it’s a hexagonal-shaped diamond ring from the Hexa range or dangling mother-of-pearl earrings from the Blessing collection, many Carrie K pieces are designed to be customisable with a range of add-ons and “jackets”. This allows for the pieces to be worn in many more ways — for example, simple ear studs can be dressed up with add-ons to make them dramatic enough for events such as weddings.

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A customised sunflower ring jacket and a diamond solitaire ring. (Photo: Carrie K)

This versatility is also demonstrated in how the jewellery pieces are not limited by type. For example, while one of Carrie K’s specialities is si dian jin — four pieces of jewellery given to the bride by the groom’s parents — the brand does not produce pieces specifically for this purpose. Instead, clients can pick and choose pieces from across the collections, which are mostly inspired by traditional Asian symbols and stories and hence represent different meanings, such as Love, Harmony, and Kampung Spirit.

Says Kan, “We call our collections Wearable Wishes. We are serving clients who are looking for something very personal. These then become powerful symbols and reminders of how much they have progressed and what they can achieve.”

This article was originally published in The Peak.