Her hunt for stones could be the stuff of a Lonely Planet travelogue – think hitting indigenous markets in Colombia for emeralds, Mexico for turquoises, and Myanmar for the intense green rock called maw-sit-sit that’s only found in the local village it’s named after (in the north-western part of the country).
“Getting my own stones minus a middleman lets me control their quality,” says the Ecuadorian, whose three-year-old label Killari Jewellery gets its name from the Quechan (an ancient Incan language) word for “moonlight”.
Singapore has been her home for the past three years, and it’s where she decided to base her jewellery business after years of living in various regional cities. She and her German husband had long sought to settle down in Asia. Moving here, she says, has its perks: Apart from being business-friendly, it’s near places like Myanmar and Thailand, where a third of her stones are sourced.
“Singaporeans are also open to independent brands like mine. That sentiment extends to jewellery,” adds the self-taught designer, who started off designing for friends as a hobby. She spent a year researching jewellery labels at indie boutiques and department stores before setting up shop.
Hinting at the eclectic range of countries she’s lived in (China, Brazil and Germany, to name a few), her designs ($150-$400) are a blend of the bohemian and edgy, with stones and gems always the main focus. Among the standouts from her latest collection: a cabochon mother-of-pearl tasselled pendant that can be rotated to reveal an onyx behind; and stud earrings that resemble nails or barbed wire, yet accented with pretty pearls. Most are made by artisans in the region, though Villacis strings the beaded necklaces herself “for that personal touch”.
“Ever since I started collecting stones and jewellery, I’ve always searched for that unique or out-of-the-ordinary piece to hold onto,” she says. “I hope customers feel the same way about mine.”
Like her, her work is starting to make its way around the globe. Apart from local multi-label boutique Mythology in Club Street and online retailer Gnossem, they’ve been picked up by American lifestyle chain Anthropologie.
Natalie and Sandra Holstad
Take the high drama of Elizabeth Taylor’s jewellery, throw in the stark lines of Georg Jensen, and you might end up with something by Holstad & Co., which does both costume and fine jewellery. Started by Norwegian-Chinese sisters Natalie and Sandra Holstad, the five-year-old label is all about look-at-me designs. Its signature cocktail rings, for example, are anchored by colourful precious or semi-precious stones rarely smaller than a 50-cent coin. Says Natalie, the younger of the two: “Stones should be celebrated and not hidden from view.”
At the same time, the pieces look modern, the flamboyant rocks tempered by metal hardware with clean, sinuous lines that reflect their Scandi roots. Take a filigree design on one of their latest rings: Instead of the usual delicate swirls and florals, theirs is of a simple graphic motif of a couple kissing.
The sisters, who grew up in countries like Nicaragua, Britain and Norway, have called Singapore home for the past five years. Sandra was the first to make the move after a Chinese New Year visit to their Singaporean mother (who lived here then, but has since moved to Nicaragua with her husband). Natalie, a voice-over talent in Oslo, followed soon after “much convincing”.
Sandra, who formerly worked in the showroom of Alessandro Dell’Acqua in the Big Apple, also has a bag label called Ares, and the sisters say that starting their jewellery line was a natural next step. Stocked at W Hotels – The Store as well as their by-appointment-only home-cum-studio at Spottiswoode Park Road (call 9172-5319), pieces range from $88 to $16,000 and have found a fan in one of Hollywood’s leading men, “who’s known for his boho style”.
Their other big influence: their mum, a fine jewellery designer in the ’80s who made pieces with “some of the most amazing stones” the duo have laid eyes on. In fact, she has such has eye for stones that she’s able to tell whether one has been treated just by looking at it over Skype, says Sandra. Naturally, the sisters have become gem experts too. During a recent trip to The Hague in the Netherlands, Sandra stumbled upon a World War II-era 65.6-carat smoky quartz that she knew deserved a space in their collection.
That old-world charm extends to their packaging: Cartier-style leather-bound boxes. Says Sandra: “It’s a pleasant surprise for the customer, isn’t it? A classic packaging with an elegant but edgy piece on the inside.”
She’s lived here since the age of five (her dad’s manufacturing job moved the family here), but this Fukuoka native sticks to a quintessentially Japanese approach towards design: Forget gimmicks; simple can be smart too. That, in a nutshell, describes her five-year-old eponymous line of dainty yet graphic silver jewellery ($75-$500).
A jewellery design graduate from Central Saint Martins, the statuesque 32-year-old has always had a thing for conceptual pieces. Her final year project was a pair of male and female rings each set with a gem-shaped block of Perspex. When worn stacked, an image of a four-leaf clover would emerge inside the “diamond”. Since then, such clever twists have been a defining aspect of her work, which is sold at the likes of multi-label jewellery store Johnny Rocket in London, and Takashimaya D.S. (Level Three) here.
Take her recent Bow collection: A ribbon-shaped pendant comes on an extra long chain that can be twisted around the pendant to create personalised looks. Then there are her inventive clasps that look anything but. An unassuming chain necklace from her signature Starlight collection, for example, is anchored by an origami-like star-shaped sculpture. One can wear it as a conventional necklace, or draped around the neck with the star pulled apart – it’s actually made up of two magnetic pieces shaped like paper planes. “That’s the joy for me as a designer,” says Mitsuyasu. “Seeing customers interpreting my craft.”
Growing up in Singapore has not affected her design philosophy, she admits, with Japanese culture and tradition consistently a key influence. The Bow collection, for example, was inspired by Mizuhiki, the ancient art of knotting usually done with cords made from rice paper. “My minimalist designs are a reflection of my heritage,” she adds.
That’s not to say she bears no local allegiance. “Unlike in Japan, Singapore doesn’t have a long history and tradition in jewellery design,” she explains. “That gives me great freedom to design something contemporary and refreshing for customers.”