"I don't know where to begin," when asked about her jewellery label, Myrrh, the 26-year-old designer Melissa Tong plunges into deep thought. It turns out, to explain what her brand was about, Tong had to circle back to her childhood and schooling days. The jewellery brand is not merely a collection of beautiful accessories but an aching autobiography.
Tong started Myrrh in 2015 after she graduated from art school. It was at this transitionary phase that she collated parcels of her life and decided to piece them together, hoping to make sense of it. "I felt very worthless and struggled a lot with my life," Tong confides.
Back in primary through high school, she didn't fit well into the unrelenting Singaporean educational system. Tong spiralled into depression and was kept on medication for years. "I was 18 and had suicidal thoughts."
At that juncture, it didn't occur to Tong that she was in the wrong place and might thrive better in the creative industry. When she did stumble into an art college, Tong realised she finally found her place. "I excelled at design. I topped the class for this design module where I melted wax, put them in the fridge, made wearable sculptures – and made them into jewellery."
Tong then went on to apprentice at another local jewellery label, By Invite Only. There, she understood the purpose of starting up an independent brand – it was storytelling. "I'm sharing my story to let [others] know... there's a purpose in staying alive."
The story began with the label's name, Myrrh. "Myrrh is a medicine that people take to get healed in biblical times." It continues in her next three collections.
The first collection was titled "Small Things" – after the jewellery label's humble beginnings. It was a small collection of five necklaces. They were "triangles, geometrical shapes made in sterling silver and hand assembled." The collection didn't sell well, and the brand's existence was threatened. "I didn't know how to run a business because I was inexperienced," Tong laughs.
A year later in 2016, the second collection was named "Full Circle". It signalled at Myrrh's revival. It was an eight-piece selection of spherical pendants, rings, bangles in sterling silver. This time round Tong designed the pieces and got them manufactured in a small silversmithing factory in Thailand.
Last week, Tong unveiled Myrrh's third collection. "This is called Glimmer and Dust," she explains shyly. "Glimmer is not like diamonds that blings. It's a very faint light." It's a ten-piece jewellery collection of rings, bracelets, necklaces and earrings in sterling silver and stainless steel.
Jewellery pieces are symbolic for many reasons. They may cue at a promise of life – marriage, family, or friendship. For Tong and her label Myrrh, jewellery pieces are the promises she made to herself. To her, the small rings that she unknowingly toys with while speaking, they are a huge source of courage for life.
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