“My entrepreneurial journey is like riding a roller coaster,” admits Michael Koh, jewellery designer and founder of Caratell, one of Singapore’s most sought after bespoke jewellery houses.
Any independently-run business, such as his, will know that experiencing and surviving challenging times like the Asian economic crisis, SARS, and the recent Covid-19 pandemic is no walk in the park. But despite these challenges, Caratell has managed to weather through it all. “We have learned how to manage the company from scratch, how and where to position ourselves, and how to create a unique selling point,” he exclaims proudly.
Being a nimble, knowledgeable, and determined entrepreneur recently earned Koh the Spirit of Enterprise (SOE) award, which aims to promote and advance the entrepreneurial spirit of Singapore. It honors local self-reliant entrepreneurs operating small- and medium-sized businesses, with hopes of inspiring young Singaporeans to become entrepreneurs in the future.
(Related: Caratell's fearless forecast)
What is the most satisfying part about being an entrepreneur?
Firstly, I’m in full control of my time without any strict time schedule. I can happily stay up till the early hours of the morning creating new designs. It literally feels like a hobby, where passion overruns the spectrum of a job. Secondly, I am able to create unconventional, out-of-the-box designs, which is almost impossible to do it working for a corporation. I know that some of the pieces we’ve created are meant to be a showpieces, but you’ll be surprised that there are people who end up buying them.
Thirdly, I am able to establish my vision where Caratell’s designers are able to learn and work at the same time. Caratell is a platform for them to display their creativity because they know we’re all working towards the same goal and vision.
Lastly, it allows me to focus on R&D and create new mechanisms that help solve our customer’s problem when they struggle to put on jewellery. Due to their age, some of them feel that their fingers tend to be less dexterous and find it difficult to handle conventional clasps. Age should not deter one from enjoying jewellery and that’s how Ideal Clasp™ has been invented, which recently won the Singapore Good Design Award 2022 (SG Mark). When we see smiles of appreciation from our friends and clients, it is worth the extra mile.
Your work as a jeweler has been constantly recognized over the years. Can you tell us what it feels like being recognized for your entrepreneurial spirit with the SOE award?
Over the years, we have received numerous design and brand awards, but this is the first time I’ve received an entrepreneurial award. Upon receiving the good news, I was overwhelmed, and at the same time, feels surreal. I’ve never expected such an award, so it affords me a completely different point of view when I look at the work I’ve done.
Being a designer, I see myself as an artist, a gem hunter, and an inventor rather than a businessman. I feel like I have rediscovered myself from a different perspective and know that I’m heading in the right direction.
I also want people to know that this award is not just about me – it is also for the dedicated team behind Caratell, the in-house production staff, as well as my wife who constantly supports my vision.
What important entrepreneurial qualities do you possess that helped you secure this award?
To have a clear vision for the future. To have the spirit and stamina to endure and pull through all odds. To have an open mind to share, teach, to inspire the team with the latest industry innovations, and to share my experiences and inspire the younger generation.
What does the SOE award mean to you and what does it represent?
For me, the SOE award is a recognition of years of relentless effort; constantly thinking and creating designs that bring smiles and make life better for others and myself. It gives me the motivation to continue pursuing my beliefs.
The world is a very different and difficult place now, especially for those who are about to start their entrepreneurial journey. What advice can you give to them?
Make sure you have a clear direction of what you want to do, stay focused, and never deviate from your path. Have your own identity and don’t try to follow your competitors.
Be true to yourself and never plagiarise others because that will make you a follower as opposed to a trendsetter. Be modest as the sky is limitless, so learn from established jewellers – whether they’re independent or from bigger companies. Understand the demand and supply, but don’t get trapped in the price war. Gain valuable insights from the younger generation, especially when it comes to the latest technology or digital platforms. Constant upgrading is essential, so try to plan ahead and anticipate future trend so that you will not be caught off guard.