19Like many scions, Rachel and Charlotte Hoe grew up immersed in the family business. They have vivid memories of their father, Ivan Hoe, founder of bespoke gift maker Royal Insignia, bringing home examples of the objets d’art and medals he had crafted for royalty and heads of states from around the world. One gift, commissioned by a South-east Asian sultan for his wife in 2005, left a deep impression when they were younger. “Our dad came home with this open-ended design brief that the gift should capture the essence of the royal family. We followed him through conceptualisation and design,” says Rachel (pictured far left), now 29 and the older of the two.
The elder Hoe eventually set his mind on a sterling silver sculpture of lilies – the sultana’s favourite flowers – embedded with lights to mimic the glow of fireplaces. “What stood out was the amount of thought that went into the project. We understood then what it meant to design a gift in order to capture unspoken desires,” Rachel, director of Royal Insignia, elaborates. “It’s not just about buying a crystal vase off the shelf.”
Even though the sisters were young, their father took their input, like tweaking the size of the lilies or adding leaves where they suggested, seriously. “He was never dismissive of our comments and that helped to nurture us into who we are today,” Rachel adds. It is not entirely surprising then that they eventually returned to the fold after their studies, although they took different routes.
Charlotte, 26, the quieter one, says joining the company was a no-brainer. “I have been helping in the factory and office from
a young age. I never thought of getting a job elsewhere.” The Lasalle College of the Arts graduate with a bachelor of arts
in product design had initially signed on to do design work. She soon hopped over to the workbench when that department needed help and began picking up craft skills, including silversmithing.
Then enamelling, the process of adding powdered glass to metal, caught her attention. “When enamelling medals, the workshop usually does solid colours but I discovered through research that there are many other techniques,” she says. Determined to learn more, Charlotte embarked on apprenticeships with enamel experts in the US and Europe. Since 2016, she has been on trips of two
to four weeks to expand her skills.
To master this rare art, which includes some techniques fiercely protected by practising artisans, she had to deal with rejections along the way. One of the first masters she approached ghosted her without a reason after one video call. She chalks it up to the former’s suspicion of her eventual application of the skill, with her ethnicity being a possible contributing factor. Nevertheless, she persevered and eventually found others who were willing to take her under their wing.
Now, as Royal Insignia’s master enamellist and one of the few enamel experts in Singapore, Charlotte has helped to expand the brand’s range of products, from medals to other gift items such as photo frames and jewellery boxes.
Spreading the word
Charlotte Hoe hosts workshops on enamelling to grow appreciation for the craft among the young.
At the other end of the spectrum, Rachel jokes that “trickery” got her into the business. Despite being certain that she did not want to join Royal Insignia, she could not find a job that piqued her interest after graduating from Singapore Management University with a bachelor’s degree in business management. “One month after graduating, my dad suggested I work on a project,” she says.
She was tasked with creating a boutique collection for the wealthy at a price point that was lower than the cost of their usual bespoke gifts. “Six months turned into six years. Now, whenever people ask why I joined the family business, I tell them it was a combination of laziness, coercion and bribery,” she quips. Today, she oversees the company’s strategic and creative direction, which includes working with VIP clients. One of her career highlights was conceptualising and designing the bespoke wedding dowry for Princess Aminah of Johor in 2017.
Rachel’s love for heritage has also led her to establish an in-house restoration and conservation department to breathe new life back into historical metal and enamel artefacts. Royal Insignia works closely with local museums, royal archives and high networth families with a rich heritage in the region to restore medals and other gifts that are several centuries old. Her “armchair historian” instincts have also turned her into a treasure trove of esoteric trivia about gifting protocol for the blue-blooded.
For instance, a datuk cannot present a yellow-toned gift to a sultan as the colour is reserved for royalty.
The future is now
While the Hoe family’s work is steeped in culture and heritage, they are certainly not Luddites. Their father, who now focuses on
crafting commissioned pieces, was the one who pushed them to embrace the digital sphere. About three years ago, Royal Insignia
introduced a new video service to complement the bespoke gifts. “Increasingly, customers are looking for narratives. We can film
a video that captures the intention behind the gift and the painstaking craftwork. When it is presented with the video, there is so much more to it,” says Rachel. “We mark history with our creations. Now, we want it to be relevant throughout the entire process.”
To introduce enamelling to the next generation, Charlotte works with the local crafting community to host hands-on workshops. “This will help the community to develop an appreciation for this craft,” she says. Then, about three years ago, Rachel, Charlotte and their brother, Shawn, launched Swiss chocolate brand Laderach Chocolatier Suisse in Singapore.
They currently have outlets at Jewel Changi Airport and Takashimaya. They discovered the brand while visiting a customer in the Middle East who was the Laderach distributor in the region – and were “mind blown” by the taste and freshness of the chocolates.
Sensing a business opportunity, as chocolates have a strong gifting angle too, they introduced it here. “We have been creating very exquisite chocolate boxes and customers would ask if we supply chocolates. Now, we do,” says Rachel.
Symbol of fertility
This intricate “egg” decorated with garnets and tourmalines was a wedding gift for Brunei Crown Prince Al Muhtadee Billah in 2004. Carved out of a 20kg rock crystal, it has panels that open to reveal the royal couple’s portraits in the hollowed-out interior.
Food is not just a business interest for Rachel. A self-professed foodie, she indulges her gastronomic passions by delving into the origins of her favourite dishes. During Singapore’s Circuit Breaker, she learnt to make pasta from scratch. “Trying out different variations of the ingredients until you achieve the right pasta recipe is so fascinating. It is a craft, so there is room for improvement in every single step,” says Rachel.
As for Charlotte, who also does botanical and porcelain painting, her spare time is spent mostly in nature. “I’m adventurous
and enjoy outdoor activities like wakeboarding, hiking and trekking.” Her observations of the natural world spur the young artist to greater heights in her work. “Being outdoors inspires my work as my designs feature a lot of flowers and animals. I feel that
flowers are usually not well depicted in enamel works, so I hope to better showcase their beauty,” she says.
Photography: Darren Chang
Photos: Royal Insignia
Hair & Makeup: DaxLye