Meet the Singaporean jewellery designer who ‘writes with diamonds’
Sara Sze Tan, founder of An Order of Bling, turns handwriting into dazzling statement pieces handcrafted with diamonds. She even transforms old jewellery into new designs to honour the memory of loved ones.
Step into An Order of Bling’s atelier on Claymore Hill and the first thing that catches your eye is a bright neon pink sign with the words “It’s a good kind of madness here”. While some may say that ‘madness’ is too strong a description of An Order of Bling, it only takes one look at the brand’s creations to know that this is not your regular jewellery brand.
There’s a solid gold ring that spins just like a fidget spinner, dangle earrings filled with tsavorites resembling a gem cloth, and a pair of rings shaped like pagodas. Welcome to the whimsical world of An Order of Bling – where jewellery takes on a new life and becomes anything but conventional.
“I don’t know where I get the inspiration from. It just happens,” admitted Sara Sze Tan, founder of the home-grown brand. “But when it does happen, I try to make the best of it and come up with a piece that’s quite different.”
Since launching An Order of Bling in 2016, Tan, a former marketing communications manager at the National Museum of Singapore and more recently, a stay-home mum, has always pushed the boundaries of jewellery design. In 2018, she launched the Writing with Diamonds series, a collection she believes embodies the essence of An Order of Bling.
“I was inspired by a quotation I once read that said, ‘If the words you spoke appeared on your skin, would you still be beautiful?’ It’s a very powerful quote that made me think of the importance of words. And how some words, when spoken, become etched in our hearts and minds forever,” Tan quipped.
The idea is for the collection to immortalise words or phrases in diamonds, creating a piece of jewellery that can be passed down from one generation to another. “I wanted to create this series because if someone were to come to me with a word to be fashioned in platinum, gold, or diamonds, they must have put a lot of thought into that word. It’s going to be captured forever,” Tan explained.
“And if you think about jewellery itself, it has always been made for, or given during, significant occasions. So this piece of jewellery becomes a part of a person or family’s oral history as it gets passed down through the generations.”
Clients are encouraged to use their own handwritings, but Tan laughed as she shared, “Out of 10 people, only one or two would be happy to use their own handwriting. Eight will tell me that they have really bad handwriting and ask to use mine. But I think there’s something very romantic in the idea of using your own handwriting to make a piece, and then passing it on to someone.”
“I was inspired by a quotation I once read that said, ‘If the words you spoke appeared on your skin, would you still be beautiful?’ It’s a very powerful quote that made me think of the importance of words. And how some words, when spoken, become etched in our hearts and minds forever.” – Sara Sze Tan
JEWELLERY WITH A STATEMENT
To showcase the possibilities of Writing with Diamonds, the first piece Tan created in the series was a necklace with the phrase Behaving Badly. The phrase, Tan shared, was chosen as a reminder to her daughters.
“With this piece, I wanted to tell my daughters that I may have started a business in a very traditional industry, but I want to push for unique designs. I want my kids to know that sometimes when you want to make a change, other people will perceive that you are behaving badly. But don’t be scared about it because if you don’t go against conventions, you don’t invent and add to the fabric of what could be out there.”
The necklace sits elegantly draped across a lady’s neck, and while the diamond encrusted phrase is no doubt the star of the piece, the necklace is also laced with akoya pearls for a dainty touch.
Tan also gets her inspiration from pop culture. The collection features a bangle shaped from Yippeekayay, a catchphrase used by Bruce Willis in the Die Hard movie franchise, which Tan explained is her husband’s favourite series.
“When I was thinking of a word for the bangle, I actually liked the idea of ‘yippeekayay’ because it reminds me of him. At the same time, it has a happy notion to it,” Tan revealed. “But if you’ve watched the movie, you’ll know that the phrase is filled with attitude. Bruce Willis says the phrase while he’s shooting the bad guys. People who’ve watched Die Hard will recognise it straightaway and know the cheeky notion behind it. So to a certain extent, it’s a real attitude statement piece.”
Having already dedicated creations in the collection to her husband and daughters, the next piece is the collection is one Tan designed for herself. It’s a pair of earrings with one spelling Quixotic, and the other spelling Disco. The earrings are symbolic of the journey she’s been on with An Order of Bling.
“When I first started the business, I wanted perfection in everything that I did. It’s a slightly quixotic pursuit for perfection. But this is a very traditional industry and I faced a lot of difficulties. For example, craftsmen didn’t want to make the kind of jewellery I wanted,” she recalled. “The pursuit of perfection can be quite painful, but because I’ve found the right partners to work with, it has now become a disco and I’m really having fun.”
Finally, the last piece in the collection is a statement ring bearing the words It’s kismet. “All the other pieces had a certain kind of attitude or are slightly cheeky, but for this piece, I wanted to bring it back to the notion of love,” Tan shared.
The ring is meant to be worn on the pinkie finger, she revealed. “There’s something that I do, or I’ve noticed other people do. When you’re out on a date, you tend to lean a bit closer, support your head with your hand,” Tan said, as she slipped the ring on her pinkie finger and demonstrated the pose by resting her chin on her palm.
“You look intently at the person and listen to what he or she has to say. To me, this pose, sitting across the table from someone you are very attracted to, is a very romantic one. Immediately I thought the words should be ‘it’s kismet’, which means you’re meant to be,” she continued.
Tan revealed that she hopes to expand the collection with a brooch and a headband. “One word that I currently have on file is ‘razzmatazz’. I’m still figuring out how to do it, but as I get inspired by words, I will make the pieces,” she said.
At the same time, she encourages clients to come up with their own words. She’s currently working on a piece for a client, who wanted to give her sister a pair of earrings with the words mei mei, which translates to little sister, as a wedding gift.
“What I’m trying to say with the Writing with Diamonds series is that there’s a whole universe of words out there. And if you pick the right word, it will hold meaning for you as you tell your stories in the future. It will never get old and it will always be special,” she said.
“What I’m trying to say with the Writing with Diamonds series is that there’s a whole universe of words out there. And if you pick the right word, it will hold meaning for you as you tell your stories in the future.” – Sara Sze Tan
A SURPRISE ELEMENT
While Tan’s creations at An Order of Bling are undoubtedly unconventional, she hesitates to label them as quirky. “I’m not so much driven to make my pieces quirky,” she clarified. “There are also some very classic pieces. At the end of the day, it’s really about what inspired me at that moment.”
But even for the more classic pieces, Tan incorporates a surprise element to the design. She picks up a beautiful unheated yellow sapphire ring, shaped like a daisy. And because daisies are known as the flower that girls would recite ‘he loves me, he loves me not’ to, one of the petals on the ring is spring loaded and can be plucked out. “I try to put in these unusual concepts into the jewellery because I think that it makes it more fun for whoever who owns it,” Tan shared.
Then there are pieces with emotional value. A client once came to Tan with 20 pieces of jade, all of different shapes and sizes. She wanted to commission a piece of jewellery that would remind her of her late father.
“At first, the client wanted me to make a necklace with all the different pieces of jade,” Tan shared. “But I said no, let’s try a bit harder and dig a little deeper. So she started telling me about her childhood and a story came up about how he used to love his garden, growing bonsai and orchids. On weekends, people would come to his house to buy them from him.”
Tan came up with the idea of a bonsai tree, using the disparate pieces of jade to form the leaves. She then added yellow gold to form the tree trunk, along with several diamonds dangling among the leaves, a few of which move as if swaying in the breeze. At the client’s request, she added a bird resting at the top of the tree, a symbol alluding to a Chinese idiom that translates to ‘the tired bird has returned home’.
Tan describes this piece as the most emotional one she’s ever created. “It was really quite special. As a designer, it’s the kind of piece that makes me feel that if I were to close my business, I wouldn’t regret it. Because I’ve already put something like this out into the world.”
“I want my kids to know that sometimes when you want to make a change, other people will perceive that you are behaving badly. But don’t be scared about it because if you don’t go against conventions, you don’t invent and add to the fabric of what could be out there.” – Sara Sze Tan