Having met and fallen in love at a design school, Michael Koh and Achillea Teng are in sync creatively ever since. The husband-and-wife tandem poured their individual expertise and shared passion into jewellery creations, culminating in the 2004 birth of the brand Caratell. Short for “carat can tell”, it has now became an award-winning Singapore jewellery brand.
With differing creative approaches, they complement each other’s strengths. “I’m a thinker and inventor, whereas Achillea is an executor,” shares Koh. “I control the hands-on stuff, such as production, lapidary, and carving, while her emphasis is more on gemmology and big-picture content.” Similarly, their respective designs bear a distinctive style. Koh’s approach is floral and geometric, while Teng’s trends towards simplicity.
The diversity sits well under the Caratell umbrella, held together by the choice and cut of gemstones and the quality of workmanship. Apparent in the collections is a shared devotion to rare gemstones. “Travelling to remote mines in search of unusual gemstones is a great adventure for us,” Koh says. “These trips are often an exceptional source of inspiration and the starting point for themes and collections.”
The Gooseberry design is a case in point. Koh recalls that the first thing that came to mind when he held the bright orange 47ct melo pearl was gooseberry. An unusual choice for a design theme, but the result was a unique piece that can be worn either as a ring or pendant. The curves, veins, and rhodium works on the gooseberry calyx perfectly complement the melo pearl.
Recently, the couple’s passion for the art was channelled into the Impressionist and Cubism collections. Van Gogh’s Irises and Monet’s Lilies have been translated into colourful necklaces and pendants. Picasso’s works are the inspiration behind the Cubism collection, comprising design patterns that appear “broken down and re-assembled”.
Both Koh and Teng dislike picking a favourite among their collections — “It’s like asking a father to pick a favourite child,” Koh says. But when urged, he will quietly share that Cubism is his favourite. “It took me more than three months to understand and apply the philosophy of ‘deconstruct to reconstruct’ in cubism into our jewellery.” He chose flowers as his object of deconstruction and is thrilled with the outcome.
In addition to strong design innovation, Caratell’s success lies on new techniques for all aspects of production, from technical to mechanical to lapidary work. One of the brand’s biggest assets is the lapidary for gemstone cutting. The Verge collection owes its success to the unconventional cutting that features gemstones with intact natural inclusions, while the setting is designed to follow the contours of each unique gemstone shape. Gemstone carving, too, finds a place in some pieces, with the Angel line featuring clouds carved from aquamarine rough.
All pieces are handmade at Caratell’s Singapore workshop. Most are in 18K gold and, recently, in titanium. Koh confesses that getting recognition as a designer jewellery brand in Singapore is not easy. “Consumers do not consider art and design as Singapore’s leading creative strengths, so we have to work extra hard to showcase our products.”
The positive response from customers both in Singapore and overseas to the Iconic Collection was a pleasant surprise, and helped affirm their position as a designer jewellery brand. “Our overseas customers, particularly those who were impressed with Singapore’s new architectural icons, bought items from the collection as a form of wearable art, and some as meaningful mementos of their visit.”
Image opener: Model wearing the Van Gogh Iris ring and necklace