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Celebrating new firsts

Jasmine Alimin
Jasmine Alimin9/15/2022 10:18 AM GMT+08  • 12 min read
Celebrating new firsts
From the opening of a standalone flagship store to the inaugural high jewellery collection, Shanya Amarasuriya shares how B.P. de Silva Jewellers is making new milestones as it looks back on its 150-year legacy
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Pregnant with her first child — and still looking as lovely as ever — Shanya Amarasuriya is excited for many reasons. For one, the creative director of B.P. de Silva is celebrating the heritage label’s 150th anniversary this year, sealing its place as Singapore’s oldest jewellery brand with a legacy that dates back to the 19th century.

It was founded in 1872 by Balage Porolis de Silva, a Sri Lankan immigrant. He travelled to Singapore with only a handful of gems in his pocket and opened the first B.P. de Silva Jewellers Atelier on High Street — the country’s former jewellery hub. Very quickly, the de Silva name became synonymous with royal families, politicians and society’s upper class — from King George the fifth to King Rama V of Siam and admirals of the United States Navy — who would engage his services to craft beautiful, one-of-a-kind heirloom jewellery.

Carrying on the family’s legacy and taking the brand into the future is 31-year-old Shanya, the youngest scion who took over the business in 2018, succeeding her father, Sunil Amarasuriya. These days he plays an advisory role to his daughter while remaining the executive chair to B.P. de Silva Holdings, which owns The 1872 Clipper Tea Co, Risis, B.P. De Silva Jewellers, as well as a minority stake in Swiss luxury watch brand Audemars Piguet.

Armed with a degree in gemology and refined jewellery design at the Fashion Institute of Technology New York, Shanya’s role as a fifth-generation jeweller has been to artfully marry the company’s rich history in safekeeping stories through well-crafted heirlooms, with the addition of ready-to-wear collections for a new generation of customers.

“When you’re born with this kind of a legacy, and you see letters on the wall from sultans and royalties, you feel the enormous shoes you have to fill. But over time, the shoes will change to suit you,” says Shanya.

She adds: “My father and brothers always say that it’s more important to create some- thing you believe in instead of what people say beauty should look like today. And for me, it’s honouring our family’s heritage and creating new experiences for this time. The DNA of B.P. de Silva will always remain the same ... It is centred around human connections.”

See also: Five rules for family businesses to thrive

Since taking on the reins, Shanya has been building her team and getting to know her customers and artisans personally while also working closely with the gem suppliers, 95% of whom are from Sri Lanka, where she receives the finest sapphires, morganites and blue sheen moonstones.

Her first line, launched in 2021, was the Lovedrops collection, inspired by her time in New York and her courtship with her husband. More recently, Shanya has been working closely with her team of two other designers to create a wide array of fine jewellery like the Deco Darling collection inspired by Art Deco. This year, she also launched a line of necklaces, called A Pocketful of Gems, set with different coloured gemstones to honour her great great grandfather’s story.

She has also been instrumental in spearheading various initiatives, such as the 2020 launch of B.P. de Silva’s first collection crafted in fair-mined impact gold, a type of precious metal artisanally mined in Peru.

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More recently, B.P. de Silva has also become Singapore’s first B Corp (Benefit Corporation) jeweller. To achieve B Corp certification, a company must demonstrate high social and environmental performance, ensure a corporate governance structure that is accountable to all stakeholders, and exhibit transparency.

Stylish new digs

To celebrate its 150th anniversary, B.P. de Silva Jewellers unveiled its first standalone flagship boutique in Dempsey Road on June 2. The last time it had a physical store was at Raffles Hotel Arcade in 2010. Due to the hotel’s massive renovations, the atelier was moved into a “hole in the wall” office space in the Alexandra district.

A contemporary luxury haven surrounded by lush gree ery, the boutique is bathed in calming muted hues with natural light that floods in from large arched windows. To create an inviting and homely feel that Shanya envisioned, she worked with her friend creative director Alexandra Beggs from A Common Thread Creative Studio — a multi-disciplinary design firm specialising in global hospitality brands — who transformed the space into a cosy contemporary showroom with Art Deco leanings.

“I wanted to do something international but still pay homage to our roots because eventually, we want to take B.P. de Silva international. And after reviewing three pitches from different interior designers, I felt like Alexandra would be the one to take retail to a new level,” explains Shanya.

“We wanted something that felt elegant and homely like a boutique hotel — washed in neutral tones, filled with flowers with an open larder where we serve refreshments. The idea is to create a very relaxed, comfortable but luxurious environment because sometimes jewellery spaces can feel very intimidating.”

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Key living areas like the plush living room and open larder (where exclusive B.P. De Silva tea blends are served) are punctuated with vintage-inspired accents and displays of jewellery. In a corner, you’ll find a Love & Engagement corner presenting an array of exquisite engagement rings and wedding bands.

For more bespoke creations, the Drawing Room offers VIP customers a private and creative space filled with books, a mood board and the family’s century-old safe (filled with sentimental letters and official documents). This room also leads to a private outdoor courtyard for one to view their bespoke creations under natural light. “Viewing gemstones in natural light is a tradition I always wanted to share with our clients and fellow gemstone lovers.”

High jewellery

Its “Safekeeping Stories Since 1872” tagline refers to stories central to B.P. de Silva’s DNA. And after five generations in the business, it is ready to tell some of its own, starting with its first Heritage High Jewellery collection, which was released this August. Now available for sale at its flagship boutique, the collection features a small but exquisite curation of five pieces of jewellery, each honouring a generation of artful craftsmanship.

One of our favourites is the Deco Empire Morganite Earrings, inspired by Shanya’s late grandmother Hemalatha (B.P. De Silva’s granddaughter). It features a linear Art Deco form paved with diamonds and paired with oval-cut morganites. “The juxtaposition is a metaphor of her: a strong woman ahead of her time, and armed with a generous, youthful heart that made her such a beacon of light to many,” expresses Shanya.

One that Shanya holds close to her heart is The Monument Legacy Sapphire Ring, a piece to signify her fifth-generation stewardship. It is also a father-daughter creation dreamed up by Sunil and Shanya. Taking inspiration from one of B.P. de Silva’s most requested engagement ring silhouettes - the Jazz Age Monument Ring — this design features a breathtaking, unheated 7.55-carat Royal Blue Sapphire, paired with over 3 carats of Diamonds in a mix of custom cuts.

“Beyond being a certified gemologist, my dad truly has a heart for gemstones and jewellery. In doing this design with him, there was no question we would craft with one of the finest sapphires in our gem library. The challenge was to design something representing how we saw B.P. now and for future generations.”

Here, Shanya shares her insights on market trends, sustainability and plans for the future.

How did you acquire such a beautiful unit for your flagship boutique?

I noticed this unit was vacant and thought it had all the qualities I was looking for in a boutique — something tranquil and away from the madding crowd with a historical quality. To acquire the unit, we had to write to the Singapore Land Authority Enterprise Singapore and Singapore Tourism Board and pitch our concept. They have been very supportive, and we’re excited to see how we can collaborate further to showcase B.P. de Silva internationally.

Interestingly, you’ve chosen the open larder to anchor the space.
I love the idea of slow retail where there’s no pressure to buy. Just come in, have some tea, and have a chat. I don’t even want to talk about jewellery for the first 10 minutes because I want people to feel at ease. Our founder started this ritual of serving tea to his clients and suppliers before discussing business. What’s special is that I work with my brother Rehan (executive director of The 1872 Clipper Tea Co.) on creating exclusive tea blends for the boutique.

How have your customers changed since the move?
It’s diverse as they come. We have a lot of love and engagement clients; people who are looking to celebrate anniversaries and birthdays; grandparents who want to design heirlooms; self-purchasing individuals who wish to pamper themselves; or gem lovers like this 10-year-old boy who came in with his father to share his proficient knowledge of gemstones! He reminds me of myself growing up with an interest in gemstones.

Being in this location, we also meet a lot of new faces and people curious about our heritage. My favourite part is seeing the familiar faces who have walked through this journey of dreaming together. This showroom is just as much theirs as it is ours.

Surprisingly our numbers have shifted quite a lot since we’ve opened a retail space. Over here, we get plenty of walk-ins, usually more on the weekends. There was once we had 21 customers in one day.

How have jewellery trends and consumer behaviour changed?

Singapore’s jewellery landscape has become more vibrant. Clients are much more curious and educated about coloured and bespoked gemstones. I think it was in the 90s when more international brands came in, which gave people a lot of exposure to different jewellery styles.

I find clients are now looking for something different that expresses their individuality. And also, maybe the digitalisation movement has created a demand for connection. People now want to find things they are genuinely passionate about.

How important is sustainability in your business?

Sustainability is one of our core DNAs, especially for this generation of leaders. Not only did we acquire B Corp certification — which sets a framework for goals we want to achieve — we also used fair mined gold, which offers more traceability and transparency and gives back to the community. We are also working with our suppliers to create a code of conduct for gem traders.

Currently, 95% of our inventory is from Sri Lanka, where we have built a network over five generations. This is the place we get the best sapphires — our hallmark stone. One of our gem suppliers is so aligned with what we do that he’s given us full access to the mines. We even have a gem testing lab and hope to set up a mining office to have more mine-to-market traceability of gemstones.

Right now, there are policies in Sri Lanka to prevent mechanised mining. When you use machines to extract gold, mercury is used to separate the sediments, and leeches into the soil and water, which goes into the streams people drink from. I learnt this when I was studying in New York and was horrified.

You can step away from the industry and not get involved, or you can make change within that because things will happen with or without you. I feel as a jeweller with so much history and influence; it’s our duty and responsibility to be part of a broader conversation and larger ecosystem.

Has pregnancy changed the way you design jewellery?

I’ve been carrying around a pear-shaped diamond in my handbag — hoping to create a ring for myself. If you look closer, there’s a little cut at the back, which looks grey, almost like how my baby looked at my first sonogram. It feels so insignificant when you first see your baby and a little dot. But it is like the biggest thing that will happen in your life. So, when I saw this, I knew I had to have it.

Before I was pregnant, I was all about linear geometric structures and Art Deco influences, but these days I find myself drawn to rounder, more voluptuous shapes. After talking to many mothers out there who have been giving me so much advice about motherhood, I feel inspired to create a collection about women and mothers.

What else is in the pipeline from you?
We have an exciting launch at the end of the year inspired by letter writing. It not only pays homage to all the historical letters in my family’s safe but just the tradition of letter writing itself. The real inspiration was receiving letters from a 92-year-old former customer who wrote to me from Queensland, Australia, asking to recreate a ring he made for his wife at B.P. de Silva some 60 years ago. Although he eventually found the ring, the idea of nostalgia and human connection resonated with me, which has also been our DNA from the start. I’ll be so upset if I stop getting letters from him.

The next step is to put B.P. de Silva on the world map and do more in sustainability. I think that’s very necessary.

Main photo: Albert Chua/The Edge Singapore

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