Options: Congratulations on Selberan turning 50. How do you plan to mark the occasion throughout 2023?
Yong Yoon Li: Selberan has come a long way. A golden jubilee is indeed a major milestone for this fine jewellery brand, so we have some exciting events and activities lined up, including the launch of a brand-new collection inspired by the Selberan archives that our team of designers and jewellers are currently busy working on. Our store at The Gardens Mall will also be given a new look in April, to provide our customers a more exciting retail experience. We hope everyone will join us to toast the brand’s creativity, innovation and craftsmanship this year and in the years to come.
The name Selberan is a portmanteau of Royal Selangor, Swiss jeweller Werner Eberhard and Austrian gem-setter Walter Angelmahr’s names. How did these friendships and collaborations with the Royal Selangor group and the Yong family begin?
Eberhard and Angelmahr were originally in Singapore looking for partners. There, they met with Yong Poh Shin, who brought them up to Kuala Lumpur to meet with Tan Sri Yong Poh Kon, his younger brother who ran the operations here in Kuala Lumpur. Selberan was duly established in 1973, and manufacturing began for export to Germany, Switzerland, Canada and the US. The two master jewellers continued to stay in Malaysia and trained our Selberan craftspeople in European craftsmanship for more than 10 years. The brand specialises in creating 18-carat gold, platinum and diamond jewellery, combined with a European approach to craftsmanship and a distinct aesthetic that harks back to its origins. When we became more confident, we started creating bespoke work for some of our customers. We then launched our first Archive collection, followed by 20 more best-selling collections. In 1983, we opened our first store at Yow Chuan Plaza, KL.
Selberan’s jewellery is exquisite but tell us about some of the more interesting and exciting commissions, like the restoration of the Sultan of Selangor’s coronation crown and commemorative gold coins with a kijang symbol for Bank Negara.
In 2003, my late aunt Datin Paduka Chen Mun Kuen and my cousin May Foon were invited to the palace in Shah Alam to discuss the refurbishment and restoration of the current Sultan of Selangor’s coronation songkok and crown. After taking measurements, we found that the songkok needed some modification. May Foon then travelled to Hong Kong to source rubies to match the songkok and worked with an Australian hat maker to create a new one for the Sultan, as the gold crown would then be mounted onto it. Meanwhile, our jewellers from Selberan replicated the intricate openwork floral section to make the crown larger and mounted it with gold, rubies and diamonds. It is a huge privilege to be shown this much trust by our Sultan. As for the commemorative gold coin, Bank Negara Malaysia’s museum and art gallery commissioned a custom order in 2000. The coin features the bank’s logo; the kijang (barking deer), a sun and a crescent moon.
What are some of your favourite memories working with Selberan?
I’m incredibly proud of how far it has come in the last 50 years. Even before my time, Selberan had a track record of partnering with various local and international institutions, such as the World Gold Council — we designed products just for their use. We also entertain special orders and one-off commissions to commemorate special occasions, both jewellery and non-jewellery forms for many of our corporate clientele. Aside from working on the Selangor Sultan’s crown, Selberan has also offered its services for the Terengganu crowns. The brand has received many accolades in the last five decades, including for one of the five collections from Malaysia at the Golden Design Awards by the World Gold Council. The Buyung Gemilang, or Glorious Vessel collection, designed by Selberan’s then-designer, Guay Boon Lay, carries ornamental motifs inspired by the Neo-Peranakan sensibility while incorporating traditional symbols of happiness and good fortune. Selberan is made up of a fantastic team of dedicated designers and jewellers who know its DNA and produce jewellery reflective of traditional European craftsmanship. Our jewellery collections are made in small quantities to ensure we take as much time as needed, so they are up to the expectations of our customers. Every piece from Selberan is a work of art that will stand the test of time. The originality and individuality stem from the hands-on artistry that goes into crafting each piece with much love and finesse.
Do you remember the first Selberan piece you gifted your wife?
Grace looks good in yellow gold. So, when we got engaged, I gave her a ring with a beautiful ideal-cut Selberan diamond, set in 18-carat gold.
Besides work and the golden jubilee preparations, how are you planning to spend 2023 meaningfully?
Now that we can travel, I want to reconnect with family and friends from all over the world. I also plan to spend more time learning and engaging with like-minded businesses and their owners. Maybe I’ll incorporate some reading into my plans this year as well.
What’s on your immediate travel list and why?
I hope to visit China again. There is a lot of catching up to do and meetings! It’s been more than three years since I made my last trip to the country. China has nurtured many great thinkers and artists, and the culture itself is rich with art and culture. I would really like to find inspiration and explore further to see how we can expand our brand through collaborations with Chinese designers and organisations.
What are you reading right now?
Nothing … seriously. But like I said, I will try to read more this year.
What are you listening to right now?
I’ve always enjoyed jazz and bossa nova. Recently, I was introduced to the wonderful vocalist, Paula Morelenbaum. Paula brings a fresh and contemporary twist to this music genre, which evokes the image of lazy Sundays.
What’s your idea of a perfect weekend?
My perfect weekend is spending time with my family at home.
We hear the Royal Selangor Visitor Centre is also quite the place to be on weekends, with its exciting events revolving around live music. Are there any in particular to mark our diaries for this first quarter?
Visitors can experience Malaysia’s living heritage and immerse themselves in our rich history at the height of colonial Malaya’s tin rush and witness the evolution of arts, culture and craftsmanship through stimulating exhibits, live demonstrations and also pewter-crafting workshops. We have guides to bring visitors and tour groups around the museum on a free tour. Those who prefer the self-guided tour can use our headphones and visit station to station.
We regularly host events and themed weekends that appeal to the crowd at the Royal Selangor Visitor Centre. Every fortnight, we host live jazz featuring local musicians and young talents. We also collaborate with restaurants and cafes for kitchen takeovers. Please follow us on @royalselangorvisitorcentre for the latest event updates.
This article first appeared on Feb 6, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.