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Interview - Shanya Amarasuriya - Creative director, BP de Silva Jewellers
SHANYA AMARASURIYA, 29, spent two years in New York to obtain a degree in jewellery design at the Fashion Institute of Technology New York. Upon graduation, the fifth-generation scion of the Singaporebased BP de Silva Jewellers returned to Singapore to eventually take on the role of its creative director. Founded in 1872, BP de Silva Jewellers’ history stretches back to the time when Singapore was a British colony, and was a company Lee Chin Koon (the late former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew’s father) worked at.
Ms Amarasuriya previously worked in several subsidiaries under the BP de Silva Group, whose holdings include The 1872 Clipper Tea Co, Italian restaurant Senso and a stake in Swiss watch brand Audemars Piguet. It took her two years at BP de Silva Jewellers to build her team, learn the ropes of the business and get to know its clientele before she assumed her current role.
Now, she has big plans for her tenure as the steward of the brand, using jewellery as a platform to bring about change in an increasingly ecologically and socially conscious world. She spearheaded an initiative to use Fairmined Impact Gold, a type of precious metal artisanally mined in Peru, which channels funds towards financing socio-economic development projects for the mining community. BP de Silva’s first collection crafted with this gold is slated to be launched this year. While the Covid-19 circuit breaker measures may cause a slowdown, she does not intend to let the downtime go to waste. Instead, she is executing a branding exercise to “pivot from a business to a brand” – something she expects to unveil in time for its 150th anniversary in 2022.
What was your time in New York like?
To me, New York is full of creative magic. Everyone talks about the city’s vibrancy and energy. New Yorkers have this unapologetic quality about them, which is very different from Asians who tend to be more self-deprecating. But the work ethic of New Yorkers is very different from Singapore and I to bring that work ethic back with me.
How do you think the city influenced you?
The Art Deco movement in New York really spoke to me. I found parallels to my personal growth with this movement, which happened during a time when women were more vocal and expressive – something which also speaks to the women I serve. I felt like I became more feminine and strong, and a lot more mature.
Feminism was a huge topic in my arts class. Women sometimes struggle with owning their space while still feeling female. That really speaks to me now, being a leader in the family business and working in different places like Switzerland and Sri Lanka.
What are some of your childhood memories with jewellery?
I remember resting in my grandma’s arms and playing with her diamond wedding band. Her soft hands and the glittery things remain in my mind. When I was 10 or so, I also recall walking into the jewellery shop and thinking to myself that the jewels looked like candy.
But I fell in love with jewellery when I visited the watch shop and saw these really strong men in their 70s sawing, filing and hammering away. I was fascinated because they were creating beautiful things by hand and it was just from a sketch. That creativity and handcrafted nature of jewellery really stuck out for me.
When did you return from New York and assume the role of creative director?
Do you have any interesting customer stories to share? I came back in 2017 and spent a year on operational processes and customer relations. I became the creative director last year. I took my time because I wanted to believe that I could be the best person for the job.
The turning point for me was last year, when I had fostered enough understanding of what was happening on the ground. Our customer base is quite varied. We have families who span three generations and have been coming back to us but we also get people who come in because they searched for “heritage jeweller” on Google.
For me, I want to attract a customer who takes pride and values design sentiments, and who spends money on what he or she believes in.
How are you adapting the jewellery business for a new decade and to appeal to the new generation of jewellery lovers?
I have placed a strong focus on design and branding, and we are trying to pivot from being just a business to a brand. We just started on a branding project with a local company, which has been quite thrilling to execute. We hope to unveil it in 2022 for our 150th anniversary.
Also, as I was studying our supply chain to see how we can do better, a revelation came to me. Jewellery can be my platform for change, in creating the world we want to see. I didn’t want to be just part of the jewellery business for the sake of it. Now we are trying out traceable suppliers to create a mine to market process. We have roots and relationships in Sri Lanka that we could tap into to make this happen.
Were there any specific incidents that got you interested in sustainability?
Last year, my elder brother, who is a huge influence in my life philosophy, was talking to a company in the US that audited the sustainability practices of different companies who wanted to commit to the change. My brother wanted to apply this certification to our bigger companies, but I suggested to him that he could try it on our smallest company instead – mine. That forced me to map out our supply chain and where we bought our material.
I actually had a chance encounter with a Swiss company dealing in sustainable gold and we’ve just made our first purchase for the year. In the future, all our collections will be made from impact gold, which is a level above Fairmined. This will support communities in Peru.
What do you do to inspire yourself?
I love hanging out at Basheer Graphic Books. It’s a hole in the wall that has architecture, design and fashion books. It’s every creative’s dream spot. Each time I’m going through a dry spell or feel a bit tired, I always go there, end up with some nice loot and come back to unwind.
How are you adapting to this Circuit Breaker period?
As of late, I enjoy cooking for my loved ones. Maybe it’s a Singaporean thing. I also enjoy having good conversations. I tend to be that person on Monday asking my team what they took for granted this weekend. It’s that sort of introspection I love.
During this period, I’m not alone. My fiancé works with me from home. However, it has also been unusually refreshing because I do get to sit alone with my thoughts now, which rarely happens because I’m always trying to get things done. I’m also taking this time to reach out to friends who I’ve not reached out to in a long time.
This article originally appeared in the May issue of the PEAK magazine