By Aisha Hassan on June 16th, 2021
Stars of the show
Ying Li Goh remembers her late mother as someone who sang Italian opera, loved jewelry, and took joy in dressing up. “She was quite an extrovert with that flamboyant kind of character,” Ying Li says.
Ying Li’s mother, Madam Wan Ming Chin, was a pioneering character too. In 1973 she founded the brand La Putri, which stood out at the time for its focus on gemstone jewelry. La Putri’s flagship store at Ampang Park, one of the first malls in Kuala Lumpur, soon became not only a fine jewelry destination but also a social hub. “It was a meeting place, and a lot of women used to hang out,” Ying Li recalls. “I’d be brought there to wait until my mom was done, and there were other kids hanging around...The store had those spinny stools and you’d see kids waiting, spinning away.”
Fast forward through the decades and La Putri has gone from a local neighborhood gem to retailing in Singapore and having outposts as far afield as Seattle. The brand even loaned its pieces to Crazy Rich Asians actresses Constance Lau and Amy Cheng, who played socialites Celine Lim and Jacqueline Lim respectively, for the Hollywood film premiere. La Putri’s versatility is at the heart of its success.
“Our pieces can be worn casually or be simple and classic — yet it can also be that very glamorous, one of a kind showpiece,” Ying Li says. “There are many facets to La Putri but what it has always stood for, even when my mom started, was an emphasis on design and providing quality gemstones.”
From mine to market
Ying Li’s training as a gemologist at the renowned Gemological Institute of America in Los Angeles has influenced how she sources for La Putri. For instance, she learned that stones can be manipulated in many ways, and is adamant that her staff and customers are educated on how to establish true quality. “We are very careful about the people we work with to ensure that we’re sourcing everything, from the gold to the diamonds to the gemstones, from well-managed mines,” she says.
La Putri only uses diamonds that comply with the Kimberley Processes, a UN resolution to remove conflict diamonds from the supply chain, and works with stone dealers who implement transparency and fair labor practices. La Putri even strives to use recycled precious metals. “We have tried to introduce what we could to be as environmentally friendly as possible,” Ying Li says. Discerning shoppers still have their part to play, however, as their increased awareness lets conscious brands like La Putri demand more accountability.
“The more consumers are concerned about where stones are coming from, the easier it is for us to ensure it is ethically sourced,” Ying Li says.
The global stage
What elevates La Putri’s array of exquisite, mindfully sourced stones, of course, is the design. Imagine pearls handcrafted into goldfish with ruby eyes, or a golden pendant that reveals a small dog. Think diamond earrings in the shape of coral or hand-carved icy jade. After conceptualizing and completing a design, as well as finalizing its 3-D rendering, it’s down to a small team of remarkably skilled artisans to make each La Putri piece what it is. “The actual crafting process would be around 6 weeks, and each piece would go through at least four pairs of hands,” Ying Li says.
This process, and the artisanship infused at every stage, is part of what makes La Putri pieces special, and Ying Li hopes every customer will take ownership of that. “I would like them to feel like each piece is theirs,” she says. This commitment to extraordinary jewelry, Ying Li hopes, will continue to propel La Putri into the future as a brand worthy of international renown.
“Our Southeast Asian brands are often overlooked,” Ying Li says. “I would love it if there was a recognition that you are providing something, design-wise and quality-wise, that’s worth being on a global platform.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Aisha Hassan is a writer, journalist, and co-founder of Dia. Previously, Aisha worked for Quartz in New York and Harper’s Bazaar in Malaysia. Her fiction has been published in international literary magazines. She has a bachelor’s degree in English Language & Literature from the University of Oxford, and a master’s degree from Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism.