Who: Daphne Tann
What: Art director by day, jewellery designer by night
Years of experience: 9
In a co-working space tucked away in the depths of Jalan Besar, six craftsmen are hacking, sawing, carving, and cutting away on a product of their own creation. These six people form Balvenie’s Craftsmen Collective under the whisky brand’s incubator program which aims to “aid the growth of craftsmanship in Southeast Asia”.
I am immediately drawn to Daphne Tann’s unique, exquisite rings. Unlike commercial jewellers that sell multiple replicas of each design, Daphne only creates one of each design singlehandedly. Depending on the complexity of the piece, it can take about three days to over a week to complete a ring. And as with any product crafted with care, her rings are understandably priced at a premium. “As each piece is handmade from fine silver, which is 99.9% silver as compared to what’s usually in the market – sterling silver, 92.5%, and no pieces are alike, prices start from about $150 onwards,” she explains.
Daphne tells us more about how she made her very first ring and why she’s sticking to this craft despite multiple obstacles.
The word “craftsmanship” is used so loosely these days that it has begun to lose its meaning. So it’s great to be part of a program that really understands the meaning behind that word and actively champions it. This is going to sound very cliché, but I almost couldn’t believe that I got the chance to be part of the Balvenie Connoisseurs of Craft incubator programme and to stand alongside the other talented craftsmen of this programme. The opportunity came at a time when I was beginning to get serious about my craft; it was exactly what I needed at a time when I was ready for it. And when things align to help you achieve your dream, you don’t have any other choice but to say yes.
The first proper ring I’ve ever made was during my university days at Central Saint Martins in London back in 2007 – so it’s been almost a decade. And I’ve been taking extra courses locally at JDMIS the last few years to expand my skill set and have been taking this craft of mine of more seriously in recent years.
It’s in the shape of a fish that comfortably wraps around your finger, with its tail fanning out like flower petals at the top. Fishes have been a common motif in my fine art drawings and paintings since I was young.
I often use Mother Nature’s natural beauty as a starting point. It is her seemingly effortless beauty that I try to recreate in my designs. I tend to work rather intuitively, respecting the materials I’m working with to create a product that feels right. So when I was designing my very first ring, the fish design was a natural choice. I’ve always been a big fan of chunky statement rings, so I really wanted my first ring to be an example of that. But, because it was my very first ring, I accidentally made it a bit too chunky and heavy. But the weight of it has grown on me over the years as a reminder of where I started.
I employed a method called “lost wax casting” to make the piece. I began by doing realistic sketches of fishes before stylising them into a wearable design. Based on the drawings, I then make a few prototypes by carving it out in wax. A mould is made around the selected wax piece. The wax is then melted out and silver in its liquid form is poured in. A solid silver ring is the resulting product. Then begins the process of polishing and filing to make it more refined-looking. I used liver of sulphur to darken the grooves, in order to bring out all of the details in the piece.
The fish ring has a lot of sentimental value to me, particularly because it’s the first one I’ve ever made and still wear often these days. It also punctuated the moment and realisation that I could actually do this. That was an awakening and turning point for me.
I’m passionate about both my day job and this craft of mine. So it’s not so much “juggling” between the two, but rather simply being true to myself and expressing myself in different ways. I am who I am, so I just get on with it.
Giving up on this craft has never crossed my mind. This craft of mine is a part of me so it almost feels unnatural to stop. But there are times when I’m just not “feeling it”. During such moments, I just take a break and do something else. Then I come back feeling much more refreshed and inspired, which in turn is expressed through the pieces I create.
“I get into a meditative-state-like focus when creating jewellery and all my other stress or worries simply melt away.”
Honestly, it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be scary, you’re going to have people doubting you. You’re going to have practical problems of finding materials and supplies. You’re going to meet barriers at every step of the way. It’s not going to be easy. But, do it anyway. Don’t ignore your passion. And I promise you, you will thank yourself for doing so.
This craft, as with all forms of craftsmanship, takes a lot hard work. But it can be very therapeutic at the same time. There’s great value and relief immersing myself fully into creating something with my hands. I get into a meditative-state-like focus when creating jewellery and all my other stress or worries simply melt away.