Karin Majdalany is a mumpreneur who has created magic with her company Kabochon. It’s a Singapore jewellery brand that offers both a ready-to-wear collection as well as a bespoke service. There’s casual everyday jewellery, delicate necklaces that are perfect for layering and some signature evil eyes. But she also creates fine jewellery, from classic rings with gorgeous gems to diamond bracelets.
Karin moved from mathematics – she’s a graduate of Oxford University – to founder, designer and sole proprietor of a boutique Singapore jewellery company. She has found the maths still comes in very handy for business!
We quizzed Karin about her life and work to get to know her a little better.
Was your move to a creative career a conscious one?
It was rather a long journey of self-discovery! I never knew I had a creative side, even though I was always pretty good at the arts. But I always considered myself more “sciency”. After graduating, I actually worked for many years in banking in the City of London after also training as a Chartered Accountant. Once we had kids, I decided to take a career sabbatical. When the kids were older, by chance I started co-creating silver necklaces to help my mother-in-law for a Lebanese charity. That was really the start of my jewellery adventure 12 years ago.
Tell us about the service you offer, the style of fine jewellery you create and your own personal jewellery style.
We offer a personalised jewellery creation service via private appointment. It’s relaxed and informal so clients feel at ease. The key to the Kabochon experience is that anything can be customised or personalised. The world is the client’s oyster: anything and everything is possible! Different styles cater to different ages, tastes and moods but I would say the pieces all have one theme in common: discrete chic.
The ready-to-wear collection ranges from diamond pave pendants, trendy “evil eye” and black/champagne diamond-encrusted casual pieces to classic elegance such as gem “bling” rings, and South Sea and Akoya pearl necklaces. More high-end staples such as diamond tennis bracelets, solitaire studs and engagement or wedding rings are by bespoke order.
In terms of my own style, I am rarely seen without an evil eye necklace or something turquoise – they’re known to ward off the evil eye! When I go out for more formal lunches or dinners, my flamboyant Lebanese side comes out and with it comes a lot of bling – ha! I do also love mixing different styles up: for example, mixing a Middle Eastern evil eye with Chinese symbols and vintage chains with pearls.
What is your creation and production process?
My inspiration stems from contrasting cultures through my mixed Czech-Lebanese heritage and living and travelling abroad. Once an idea is sparked, I design a sketch, which then goes through several rounds of tweaking until all details are perfect and I feel satisfied with the design. I’m never short of ideas; usually it’s the opposite – I have to strictly prioritise what to create first!
After the final computer design of a piece, the gem is sourced (from our repertoire of trusted specialist suppliers) and the beautiful piece is handmade by our amazing craftsmen. During the setting process, I check and re-check the setting at different stages to ensure all the details match the requirements. I always aim to deal swiftly and efficiently with any production issues to avoid delays. All the high-end gems such as sapphires, emeralds and rubies come with a certificate; larger diamonds (more than 0.3 carats) come with GIA certificates.
What are you working on right now, and what have been some of your favourite projects?
I have just finished designing my new collection, which I’m super excited to share with everyone! The pieces are in production as we speak. I also have a number of bespoke client projects I’m working on currently. One example is a modern diamond engagement ring for a very special couple – I’m chuffed they chose Kabochon to be a part of their romantic journey.
There are many favourite projects, but it’s definitely special when clients choose us to help them with jewellery to mark their engagement, wedding, anniversary or a big birthday. We recently did an amazing sapphire and diamond set for a couple to mark their ten-year anniversary, and we also just completed a statement diamond ring for a ‘push’ present.
I also love working on projects that contribute to causes close to my heart. For example, for my LoveLB project I designed a range of Lebanon-inspired bracelets to raise funds for the Red Cross after the devastating Beirut blasts. It was so great to see the overwhelming support they received.
How have you coped in the pandemic?
It’s been a tough year not being able to travel freely to visit family, and generally a roller-coaster ride of anxiety. I haven’t seen my eldest daughter since she went back to university, nor my parents and extended family for a long time. Having said that, I do realise this pales in comparison to the hardships many have had to face globally.
In terms of my business, at the beginning I didn’t know what to expect. Thankfully, things have remained stable, and I’m infinitely grateful for this. There have been various hurdles to overcome such as the cancellation of bigger physical events, delays in production and delivery of products, higher costs as well as some materials being scarce due to the knock-on effect of the pandemic and lockdowns. Fortunately, my customers are very understanding!
What do you love most about your work?
Definitely the people and the creative design process. The creation of a piece of jewellery is the result of communication and understanding between my client and me. I generally love meeting people and creating long-lasting connections – and this is even more true in the pandemic. Through my business, I have met some wonderful people and discovered truly rewarding connections amongst clients and suppliers. Trust is a big element in the jewellery business; from the first trade fair I attended a decade ago, I’ve been working with some of the same trusted people over many years and that’s very special.
I’m so truly grateful for my customers too, as well as for all the other supporters (on Instagram, for example). Seeing an idea come to fruition through the design process and be appreciated by my customers is hugely rewarding.
Do you think the craft of handmade personalised jewellery will eventually die out?
On the contrary, I think people will value pieces of hand-crafted jewellery more and more. We are living in an increasingly virtual world – and the pandemic has only sped up this tech revolution. Our son and his friends like buying and selling virtual items in game platforms; in the adult world, an intangible item like a ‘tweet’ can now be sold as an NFT (a non-fungible token)! So, I think that people will increasingly crave a physical item, such as a piece of handmade jewellery with a story behind it; something that can physically be passed on from generation to generation and become a piece of history itself.
What are the benefits and downsides of owning your own business?
A big plus is the flexibility: I’m my own boss so I can work to my own schedule, take time out during the kids’ holidays, and generally manage my workload. It’s hugely fulfilling to know that over the course of the last decade I have built my (small) brand, and quite a few people now recognise it.
Owning your own business can be rather stressful and there are no boundaries between work and personal life. As the owner, you take all the risk and responsibility. Also, in fine jewellery, the outlay can be substantial. There’s the less glamorous side of the business too: accounting, tax, compliance, supplier negotiations, managing customer expectations, post-sales customer service and repairs, to name a few. In recent years, there have been added compliance and regulatory requirements.
How has having two teenage daughters influenced your business?
It’s so great having their input as they’re very into fashion, style and of course jewellery. I love getting their advice on matters. They do have strong likes and dislikes so they naturally can sometimes influence what I create too. At the moment, they’re keen on crosses, evil eyes, anything in chunky yellow gold, and anything with white diamonds rather than coloured gems or coloured diamonds.
The girls are the ones that introduced me initially to the world of Instagram; more recently, they also encouraged me to use TikTok to create music videos of my jewellery.
Who is your role model?
From a young age, my parents have been a strong, supportive and influential force. My father definitely sparked in me the ambition that still drives me to this day. My mother has always been inspirational too: she’s multi-talented and instilled in us a great work ethic. Last but not least, my husband is always my rock: an incredible force of support and encouragement.