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Jewellery Shining brighter than ever: Lum May Yee

Shining brighter than ever: Lum May Yee

Shining brighter than ever: Lum May Yee
By Melissa Gail Sing | Photography (Portraits): Lionel Lai/Acepix | Make-up/Hair: Benedict Choo
September 11, 2014

She may have long put her modelling days behind her, but Lum May Yee shows Singapore Tatler she’s still got star power when it comes to juggling her roles as marketing director of her family’s jewellery business, wife, and mother.

Lum May Yee

Former model and actress Lum May Yee is proof that one can only get better with age. At 41, the mother of a gregarious toddler and who's expecting her second child looks just as stunning today as she did over a decade ago when gracing fashion magazine covers and local cinema screens.

Since coming out of the limelight, a different sort of fire has been burning within May Yee. As marketing director of her husband’s family business, The Canary Diamond Company, for five years now, she is constantly studying jewellery trends and consumer tastes, whether she’s visiting the brand’s various outlets in Singapore or on vacation. I enjoy discovering new brands of jewellery that are beautifully handcrafted, and have an edge and interesting story about them. I also love seeing a diamond or other precious gemstones turn into a stunning piece of jewellery with thoughtful designs and good craftsmanship,” she says.

The past few years have been an eye-opening journey for May Yee. She learnt to appreciate jewellery craftsmanship by watching her father-in-law William Lam, who is a skilled jeweller, work. In 2013, she launched a multi-label jewellery concept, bycanary, at Tangs Department Store where designer labels like M.C.L by Matthew Campbell Laurenza and Jade Jagger are stocked alongside pieces she designs herself.

May Yee tells Melissa Gail Sing how her modelling past influenced her career in the jewellery business. Still well-connected in the fashion sphere, the style connoisseur also dispenses her personal tips on the most interesting new ways to wear jewellery.

1. You joined your husband’s family business, The Canary Diamond Company, in 2009. With your background in acting and modelling, what do you bring to the business?

I spent five years with Singapore Airlines working in customer service, public relations and marketing after I left modelling. During my modelling days, I built a network of stylist and media contacts who have been very supportive of the brand, using my jewellery for tatler_tatler_stories, photo shoots and when styling celebrities. The success of any brand depends on the visibility and awareness of its products among consumers.

I have had many friends in the fashion, media and retail business who trust both my taste in jewellery and my husband’s ability to bring them in. (May Yee’s husband, Steven Lam, is a director of The Canary Diamond Company and managing director for Hugo Boss SEA). Sometimes, when the media comes across a great brand or product, they will make introductions for us to bring those brands into Singapore.

2. What have you been keeping busy with lately?

I opened a new multi-label jewellery concept at Tangs Department Store in December 2013. It’s called bycanary and represents brands like M.C.L by Matthew Campbell Laurenza, Jade Jagger, Kelly Wearstler, Darsala, John Hardy, and my own line of jewellery made from 18K white gold set with coloured diamonds and semi-precious stones. So, I’ve been busy running the operations, marketing and sales for the new business.

I have always enjoyed the variety of jewellery and brands available in places like Florence, Tokyo and Hong Kong and I hope we can replicate that in Singapore through bycanary. My biggest focus now is ensuring that my brands at Tangs are well received, and continuing to search for and bring in fresh ideas for bycanary. The idea is to keep it fashionable, young and relevant.

Jewellery designed by May Yee

3. Where do you see the business in the future?

Our vision is to establish bycanary as a brand that brings in fashion jewellery brands, and we also strive to build The Canary Diamond’s reputation as Southeast Asia’s go-to place for bespoke jewellery made using quality diamonds and fine gemstones. There is both a market for international independent jewellery brands and bespoke services. We target a very similar market and they complement one another.

4. What are some of the challenges you face at work?

Staffing, online diamond businesses and growing competition are just some of the main challenges. It is always important to find good people in our line of business. They must have good characters, be honest and trustworthy. We are also facing some competition from online diamond businesses and new luxury jewellery brands entering the Southeast Asian market.

I always find it very perplexing when someone is willing to spend thousands of dollars for something they see on the internet without first seeing and feeling the real thing and comparing it against other products. Buying a piece of jewellery is not like buying a book or an electronic gadget with operational instructions. You always need to touch them, observe them in a variety of lighting conditions, compare them with similar pieces before making a selection.

It is also important to trust the seller. We always work with our clients to design something unique to them. Buying from a jeweller is about fulfilling a dream, creating an experience and a desire to own something beautiful which is yours only.

Diamond necklaces designed by May Yee's father-in-law, William Lam

5. What kind of person do you design for at bycanary?

I design for the independent modern working girl who is looking for age- and work-appropriate jewellery pieces that can go from office to after hours. She does not rely on her parents, her partner or anyone to buy her jewellery. She is well travelled, confident and wants her own brand of accessories. She will not buy jewellery just because it’s by a famous brand or designer, but jewellery that makes her stand out with her own style at work and at play. She looks for her jewellery and not the other way around. Her clothing is her canvas and it’s her jewellery that defines her style. Accessorise, accessorise, accessorise.

6. Outside of work, how do you occupy your time?

I enjoy travelling, going for walks, cooking, watching movies and going for massages.

The Canary Diamond has been actively supporting charities like the Dover Park Hospice, HCA Hospice etc. We believe that we should work with good causes to help the less fortunate. We designed two diamond pendants for the charities, which were auctioned off during the gala dinner to help raise money. It was a very successful fundraiser and we were glad to be able to contribute.

Diamond rings/necklaces designed by May Yee's father-in-law, William Lam

7. What are your top suggestions for unusual ways to wear jewellery?

The current new trends of wearing jewellery are mid-rings, cleavage rings, palm cuffs, ear cuffs, and stack on all your bracelets and bangles to create arm swag! As a mother however, I tend to wear jewellery that is smaller and daintier on a daily basis, as babies and toddlers tend to grab and pull at the bigger pieces. I reserve my chunkier pieces for a night out with friends or events. 

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