Chelsea Chong is a silversmith who makes custom made jewellery based in Kota Kinabalu. She is a fresh graduate of Raffles College of Higher Education, holding an advanced diploma in Jewellery Designing. She feels that art isn’t appreciated and often mistaken by the community of Malaysia as scrap, doodles and random colours on a piece of paper. Therefore, to help make people appreciate art, she expresses her art on fine metals such as silver and gold. Her day job is as a full time retailer and jeweller at Kedai Emas Kinabalu.
I come from a very good family, a loving one. My dad has been a jeweller since his late 30s, despite studying engineering. It was probably because my grandfather thought that the gold business is good – well, in those days gold was cheap. He told my father to come back from the UK and work for him in his gold business. It was my grandpa who started the gold business, and now my whole family is doing their part in the business. We own one shop now after the division of property.
Before I started going to college (which I never expected to go), my dad taught me things like how to connect chains and how to make rings. After high school ended I worked for my parents, and that was when I started to learn all these jewellery making skills. However, I got really bored as most of the time I was sitting in the shop all day with nothing much to do. It was very depressing and I did not get the kind of exposure I wanted. Furthermore, it was difficult for me to get around because I didn’t have a driver’s license and back then Uber had not existed in Malaysia. I had a few regulars who didn’t mind paying me for a certain price for someone who barely had any skills at all, mostly because they were all my friends! But I felt that it was about time I expanded my knowledge, so that’s why I went to study at Raffles College in Kuala Lumpur with my sister after she finished her SPM.
During college I was much more exposed to jewellery making. I learnt a lot from my lecturers and one in particular really inspired me. Her name is Lucy – she is from the UK, and so are most of her customers. If I remember correctly, she could sell her jewellery for a few thousand Pounds each. I’m so surprised that the customers are willing to pay for that price! Although the market here isn’t as strong as it is in the UK, she still greatly inspired me and I really want to be like her.
I did think of staying in KL after graduating, but I didn’t like the life there despite the convenience of jewellery services and public transportation. My sister however will be going to KL to pursue her own jewellery making business.
I’ve always thought that the things people are selling nowadays are so boring and uninteresting. Everything looks the same to me. Whenever I see something trending and I see people buying them, I always think to myself, why would you buy something when you can make it? It is difficult for me to buy anything because I think I can make it by myself. I can even customise it to my own liking. I used to like dreamcatchers when the Twilight movie series was all the craze. I thought they were very nice, so I learnt how to make one all on my own.
I do an all rounder at my dad’s shop, being a retailer, a bench worker and also a jewellery designer. I work 6 days in the shop, from Mondays to Saturdays, and then Sunday I will be working on my custom made jewellery. My parents are very supportive of my jewellery making business – they invest on my jewellery tools.
The most challenging thing I face is trying to convince people that my jewellery are worth the price I am asking for. I know I am just starting out, so sometimes I don’t mind lowering the price because at least I am learning something out of it. It is my friends and family that are the easiest to sell to because they truly understand the hard work I put into making them! I think we desperately need something different here in Kota Kinabalu, but as for now I will keep on making these small pieces. I’ve only been back here for less than a year, so we’ll see how my business builds up.
I have to thank my few very close friends who helped me with truthful opinions even if they weren’t pleasing to the ears and the heart to accept and even after saying stuff that slices you to the bone, they still make initiative to come up with suggestions and strategies to make things work and help me find what I really want to do with my jewellery knowledge.
The most rewarding thing though is the look on the faces of the customers when they receive their orders. It is also such a great feeling when they promote my jewellery on their social media because it makes me so happy that they really like my work. I’m also really grateful to be getting such exposure.
I hope to have my own accessories line in the future. It would be nice to set up a shop of our own brand here, but I think online shopping is taking over. It’s great because you can reach to potential customers outside KK and you don’t have much overhead to pay!