Cover Eileen Phoan and Fabian Tan of Left & Right make quite the pair (Photo: Khairul Imran / Tatler Malaysia)

Mechanical engineers turned bespoke jewellers, Eileen Phoan and Fabian Tan of Left & Right bedazzle us with their knowledge of precious gems and metals

When it comes to the fine jewellery industry, how does one get a foot in the door?

Eileen Phoan: Jewellery making was originally a means to support our studies and our creative outlet. As we got more invested in our hobby, we both realised that we wanted to transform our artisanal jewellery line into a fine jewellery business. We had to change, reinvest and equip ourselves with the necessary skill sets, and therefore attended the Bangkok Gems and Jewellery Fair.

Did you have mentors who took you under your wing?

EP: Along the way we met industry personnel who coached us to identify gemstones with a critical eye and to navigate the ins and outs of the trade.

See also: Highlights From Habib Gem Festival 2020

If a chef were to source caviar for a new menu, he or she would likely contact sturgeon farms in Russia. Similarly, what are your go-to countries for specific gemstones?

EP: This is tricky to answer. We all know about Ceylon sapphires from Sri Lanka, but if our client wanted a colour-changing or parti (three to four different colours) sapphire, we’d trace them to traders or mines in say Australia, Madagascar or Montana in America that are more likely to carry gems with such traits.

A well-known fact in the industry is that diamonds aren’t actually that rare; controlled supply is what drives up their price. Does this rule also apply to other gems?

Fabian Tan: No, coloured gemstones are actually much harder to find. Eileen and I occasionally come across really beautiful sapphires, but once they’re sold, there is little to no chance of encountering them again.

How do experts determine the quality of a gemstone?

EP: First of all, we check on relative weight in relation to volume. Another thing to look out for is lustre, which is hard to explain; something with good lustre reflects light in such a way that it glows in different colours. There are also catchy formulas such as the four Cs—Carat, Colour, Clarity and Cut—that apply to diamonds and the five Ss—Shine, Smoothness, Shade, Shape, Size—for pearls.

See also: How Lorraine Lee From Talee TurnsNautical Knots Into Jewellery

Tatler Asia
Photo: Khairul Imran / Tatler Malaysia
Above The East Malaysian duo moved to Kuala Lumpur in 2020 to be closer to the bulk of their clientele, whom they enjoy meeting face-to-face (Photo: Khairul Imran / Tatler Malaysia)

What advice do you give customers when it comes to choosing their gemstones?

EP: A gemstone should always reflect your story and personality.

The words ‘carat’ and ‘karat’ are thrown around frequently in the business of jewellery. Please explain the differences.

EP: Carat spelled with a C connotes weight when addressing diamonds. Karat with a K means the purity of a gold item. If you go to a goldsmith shop and see a yellow gold ring labelled 916, this means that 91.6 percent is yellow gold; the rest might be copper and silver. Very much like whisky, gold jewellery is often a blend.

Engagement and marriage excluded, what can jewellery commemorate?

EP: Many of our clients, both men and women, might want a piece of jewellery to mark a certain chapter of their life. Some buy jewellery for newborns, to celebrate graduations or anniversaries, or to remember someone who has passed away.

We view jewellery as something permanent that can be passed on to future generations. Its uses are many too, and can be part of your everyday ensemble or be a statement piece like a cocktail ring.

Have you seen any shifts in the industry since the Covid-19 pandemic?

EP: We’ve had customers approach us during or after lockdown with the realisation that their partner is the person they want to be with for the rest of their lives. People have realised that because life is so short, now is the time to act with intention.

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All That Glitters Is Not Gold

Some often misconstrued facts about precious stones:


According to Tan, “There are misconceptions about gemstone colours, like how specific gemstones are a certain colour when in fact, something such as a sapphire might exist in pink, yellow, teal, green, red, clear or even be colour-changing.”


“Many customers equate more carats or heavier diamonds with higher quality, but you have
to look into the cut as well,” points out Phoan. “The same applies to pearls (see point three). Bigger isn’t necessarily better if it doesn’t make sense—a gem has to be cut in proportion to the jewellery and cut well.”


Contrary to public opinion, farmed or cultured pearls aren’t inferior to natural pearls. Phoan waxes lyrical about Akoya pearls from Japan: “They are so beautiful—soft toned with a wide range of colours. The quality of a pearl can depend on farming techniques and the cleanliness of water in the area. Again, heavier pearls aren’t necessarily better. A heavy pearl might contain a glass core, and an unnaturally light pearl might be partially plastic.”

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