CARATS and karats may top the list of priorities for most buyers of bling. But to the Gemological Institute of America (GIA)-trained, former Christie's veteran Brenda Kang, the value of a piece of jewellery is hardly ever determined by its size.
"I've always had a passion for jewellery, but there was a strong affinity for vintage," says the founder of the newly launched vintage jewellery business, Revival. "It is certainly much more than just about the diamonds and gemstones."
Prior to devoting 15 years to the jewellery department of auction house Christie's, where she worked as a senior jewellery specialist in the US, France, Italy, Switzerland and China, Ms Kang discovered her love of jewels imbued with history during her travels as a Singapore Airlines flight attendant.
"Before working with SQ (Singapore Airlines), I was not exposed to jewellery other than those from brands such as Larry or Poh Heng," admitted Ms Kang, who graduated from GIA in Bangkok and went on to work as a trainer for the institute for a year. "But when I got to travel a lot to cities such as Paris and London, I was drawn to the museums, and those visits opened my eyes."
Last week, the antique and vintage jewellery specialist unveiled the first collection for Revival at Malmaison by The Hour Glass - and managed to sell 30 per cent of the range in just five days. The showcase, which will be held till Nov 10, features 106 rarities such as a dragon-motif bangle with emeralds and diamonds, mounted in 18K gold and platinum, by American designer David Webb. And here's the kicker: The statement piece was owned by the inimitable Elizabeth Taylor.
"Anything with provenance is usually always valuable, such as a piece owned by Wallis Simpson," advises Ms Kang, who also has a Bulgari gold and diamond Celtaura necklace owned by Italian screen siren Gina Lollobrigida in her collection.
It was this passion for sharing the story behind each precious object that sparked the idea for a vintage jewellery business, which currently offers pieces ranging from the Victorian, Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods, to contemporary objets d'art.
"There are people who say, 'I don't like the idea of wearing something second-hand,' and so I admit that vintage jewellery is not for everyone, and just point out some details which make a piece quite rare and special to me," says Ms Kang. "And they become intrigued with the history of the jewellery and how it isn't like anything else in the market."
Instead of setting up shop in Hong Kong and China, where there are affluent jewellery collectors a-plenty and no GST, Ms Kang feels the need to introduce coveted vintage pieces which would otherwise never have made it to our shores.
"I love to see different things in Singapore, things that aren't sold in the same stores found in every other mall," says Ms Kang, whose client base currently consists almost entirely of Singaporeans, as well as other customers in China and Hong Kong.
"I want to focus on a younger generation that is a lot more receptive to the idea of vintage jewellery, and cultivate their interest so they could grow with me as my business expands."
To lure a new demographic of shoppers, in addition to her existing network of experienced collectors and jewellery fans, Ms Kang has acquired pieces from a wide range of periods and price points. A Tiffany & Co heart-shaped locket was sold for $500, for example, and whimsical 1950s charms, including an intricate cash register engraved with the words, "Love 4 Sale," cost around $950 each; while a gem-set, rock crystal Mystery Clock by Cartier, from the 1980s, retails for over $500,000.
And although there are in-your-face items such as a 5.01-carat cushion cut type IIA diamond (one of the purest diamonds available, containing no nitrogen atoms) sold as a ring, most of the collection boasts breathtaking details and workmanship that are hardly seen in contemporary designs, rather than flashy caratage. An Art Nouveau enamel and gem-set choker necklace by Georges Fouquet, circa 1910, for example, may not feature gum-drop sized stones, but the stained-glass-like plique-a-jour (French for "letting in daylight") enamelling and immaculately smooth back - a sign of a well-made piece - makes it a collector's dream.
"I am always asked, 'How much will this go up by in 10 years?'" says Ms Kang, who has worked on numerous high-profile collections and auctions, most notably, the estates of Teresa Po Lau, Baron & Baroness di Portanova, Doris Duke, Harry Winston, Van Cleef & Arpels, and the Elizabeth Taylor auctions. "But I don't look at jewellery as an investment but something that you love and would wear and pass down to your children. The fact that it holds its value is just a plus."