By Bernardette Sto. Domingo
Indonesia-born Chinese designer Erny Pontoh Johnstone is making strides in Asia’s fine jewellery sector, thanks to her innate flair for beauty and innovative use of diamonds and coloured gemstones.
A private banker by profession, the designer decided to pursue her passion for jewellery in 2009 and eventually founded Kura Fine Jewellery of Hong Kong.
Johnstone sat with JNA to talk about her transition into the world of jewellery design and her long-term business strategies.
JNA: What inspired you to forge a new path in jewellery design?
Erny Pontoh Johnstone: I was in the finance industry for 10 years. I then got married and started to move around the world with my husband, who is also banker. I decided to start my own business since I was moving around a lot and having my own business gave me more flexibility. Why jewellery? Because it is one of my passions. I love buying and collecting jewellery during my days as a private banker. To equip myself with the necessary skills, I enrolled myself at the Gemological Institute of America to learn more about diamonds, gemstones and pearls, and the philosophy behind jewellery design. I am lucky that I have a very good relationship with my ex-private banking clients because they were my initial customers. Through word of mouth, I eventually was able to build a solid customer base of high-net worth private clients mostly based in Indonesia, Singapore and Hong Kong as well.
JNA: Who are your biggest design influences?
Johnstone: I don’t have anyone or anything in particular but if I have to choose one, I would say my main inspiration came from my company logo, which is a turtle shell. My brand is Kura Fine Jewellery, and kura means turtle in the Indonesian language. And from this logo, I came up with my signature collection, The Cage.
JNA: How would you describe your design philosophy?
Johnstone: My main design philosophy is versatility. My designs can be worn in many different ways to showcase a variety of looks, which are perfect for all occasions. I would like to believe that through my jewellery designs, my customers are able to freely express themselves and their distinct personalities.
JNA: What are your favourite gemstones to work with and why?
Johnstone: Those would have to be aquamarine and morganite. I love the soft, pinkish colour of morganite and the subtle blue hue of aquamarine. I find these two stones visually soothing. I’m also very partial to large and extra-large baroque South Sea pearls and I am constantly on the lookout for them. I love working with baroque pearls because each piece is unique in shape – you can never find two baroque pearls identical in shape. They are perfect for my bespoke pieces. The bigger the pearl, the better because it exudes luxury and individuality. My pieces are set in a combination of 18-karat and 14-karat gold. I also have a secondary collection in gold-plated sterling silver.
JNA: What do you think will be the biggest jewellery design trends in 2017?
Johnstone: I would have to say chokers, micro-chains for bracelets and necklaces, and open-front cuff bangles will figure a lot in women’s choice of jewellery this year. I am currently working on a variety of choker designs as part of my new gold collection as well as open-front cuff bangles and micro-chain necklaces.
JNA: What else can we expect from you this year?
Johnstone: I am expanding my business to hopefully capture a wider audience by creating an online store and taking advantage of social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I am currently working on collections that are more affordable, with prices ranging from around $400 per piece and below to cater to a younger generation of buyers. This is a new strategy, on top of my existing business model that is mainly focused on trunk shows and private exhibitions, and involving high-end jewellery pieces.
JNA: You mentioned about maximising social media as an effective business tool. Do you see this trend further evolving overtime? What are the advantages of adapting this online business model?
Johnstone: I think we will see more and more jewellery designers and companies adopting this innovative marketing approach. The advantages of setting up an online business are lower costs and a wider global reach, particularly among a new breed of Internet-savvy buyers.