There are many things in life that are unpredictable by nature but are things of beauty or can be made into works of art, from the Northern Lights to precious gemstones, just to name a few. You can add the traditional art of painting on metal, or enamelling, to the list as you never know what you are going to get when enamel, or powdered glass, is fired in the kiln.
“The colours burn at varying temperatures, and the metals react differently with the colours every time. There’s a lot of experimentation, and trial and error, before you get the result that you want,” explains Charlotte Hoe, a master enamellist at Royal Insignia, who has dedicated much of the last five years developing her craft. The luxury house, renowned for creating bespoke gifts and diplomatic regalia such as orders, decorations and medals for royalty, such as the Johor and Brunei royal families, and heads of states, is also known for its impeccable craftsmanship in fine jewellery and objets d’art.
One of Hoe’s recent works is a collaboration with other homegrown artisans for Singapore’s first-ever métiers d’art watch series, Project Coalesce, created by Feynman Timekeepers, a collective of watch enthusiasts and artisans. Each of the three timepieces features Peranakan-inspired art, which has been hand-enamelled onto a silver dial. It was the first time that Hoe had worked on a watch dial.
“At Royal Insignia, we do mostly objets d’art, or bigger items, and also medals, so a watch dial is something new for me. We had to make sure that the hands would run across properly without hitting the surface and, if the watches are worn in different climates, that the enamel would hold its place—and not contract when it’s cold, or crack when there’s too much tension,” explains Hoe.
And then there is the Jiwa enamel brooch, worn by president Halimah Yacob at National Day Parade 2020. The collaboration with the I’mable Collective by SG Enable, which is dedicated to enabling persons with disabilities, features the paper cut-out collages of two artists from the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped. Hoe is currently working on restoring a set of very old medals to its former glory, with some dating back to the 15th century and issued by countries that no longer exist.