Lydia Yap likes to keep herself busy. If juggling full-time studies and working at an accessories company wasn’t enough, she spent her free time making and selling jewellery and custom pieces to her friends.
Yap was living in New York City then. She first majored in jewellery design, followed by another major in entrepreneurship in her four-year study at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
She had it all calculated — she was first to study the craft, and marry that with business management, all done in preparation of starting her own jewellery brand.
Yap founded Ye Jewellery in 2017. She had in mind a brand which defied the societal stereotypes of feminine and masculine — conventions that remain heavily imbued in the universe of jewellery-making.
These pigeonholes bugged her since she was in college. When in design classes, tutors assigned “projects [that] were very specifically for men or women,” Yap recalls. “I found myself questioning what it meant to be more feminine in design, is it the floral motifs and curves? Or for the men — the skulls and crosses?”
“I really didn’t feel comfortable starting my design process like that,” she recounts. She decided to do it her on way — a way which was genderless, unisex, and equal.
“I focussed instead on pure elements of design, such as geometry, proportion, volume, and designed without a gender in mind,” she says. She wanted to find a “common ground in design where men and women alike can appreciate the same aesthetics”.
Gender stereotypes aside, Yap shifted her attention to the other design-related elements of jewellery- making — the material, longevity, function, and wearability.
“I think a lot about the function of jewellery, like how weight is distributed on an earring, how light reflects off the surface of the metal or stone,” Yap observes. When she has a design, she either carves a wax prototype or prints 3D models. “If this initial idea is simple enough, a prototype could be made in a week. For more complex pieces, maybe two weeks,” says Yap.
The final jewellery designs are cast in sterling silver, 14-carat, 18-carat, rose, or white gold “because of their longevity”. Yap decided on this slim list of materials after several rounds of trial and error. “After making my own jewellery, I became more aware about the qualities and longevity of different materials,” Yap explains. “For example, brass is cheap but so heavy and makes your skin green.” Yap personally only wears silver and gold, and believes it should be the same for her customers.
In New York, her jewellery pieces are all handmade by an “Italian-American family-run casting company”. When she is in Singapore, she works with a local caster.
In her nine-piece debut collection titled “Universe”, pared-back ellipses, curves, and orbits cast in sterling silver signify the coincidences of life. “The Comet Cuff (approximately S$305) has a sphere at both ends to illustrate the moment when two people are about to meet, and the negative space in between is that waiting time,” Yap explains. Likewise, with her Eclipse ring (approximately S$200) — a set of two silver stacking rings — it’s a cue to the alignment of the Sun and the Earth’s moon, and “signifies being at the right place at the right time.”
To Yap, jewellery pieces are “more than physical articles. Jewellery is a reminder of times past.” And they are not to be taken lightly — every jewellery piece carries the gifter and wearer’s emotions, memories, conviction and affections.
“Because of their value and material permanence, jewellery is never destroyed unless you melt them down,” Yap continues. “Even if you throw a necklace into the ocean, a diver could find it centuries later and it’d end up in a museum,” she laughs.