THE MUSIC BOX most often evokes the childhood memory of a beautiful dancer confined for eternity within the walls of her mechanical instrument home. You can only catch a glimpse of her graceful spinning and twirling when the secret treasures of the box's compartments are briefly revealed. But what, as Royal Insignia proposes, if the music box's exterior were the jewels themselves, and nature's motifs and horology were centre stage?

"As the 19th-century naturalist philosopher, poet and author George Santayana said: 'The earth has music for those who listen'," Hoe says.

Royal Insignia has transformed the standard music box into an extraordinary piece of bejewelled art. Graced with swans and butterflies, the box represents the rising of a new day. Making reference to the Hans Christian Andersen tale of a duckling that becomes a beautiful swan, and a caterpillar's transformation to a butterfly, "The Guardian of Time" is conceived to depict the beauty of time, and the metamorphosis that it brings.

The music box features two lily pads carved out of green aventurine. The lily pads rest on a small rock formation crafted entirely out of 18ct gold. Leaves pavé set with a soothing gradient of white diamonds, yellow sapphires and tsavorites twine around the rock formation.

Three butterflies perch at the edge of the lily pads, one of which is a detachable brooch for the owner to discover in their own time. Each is decorated with precious and semi-precious stones, the centrepiece of which is a sliced rough diamond nestled in each wing.

"The use of precious stones in their natural state is a particular preference of Royal Insignia, and our craftsmen seek to bend gold around stones instead of cutting them to fit a mould, and in doing so in this case aim to accentuate the inherent, raw beauty of the butterfly," Hoe says.

The pleasing pink and red tones of the butterflies will demand much care by Royal Insignia's gemsetters when selecting stones of the right shade so there's a harmonious gradient from light pink to intense red. To achieve the delicate wings on the butterfly, the gems need a very fine setting to ensure that the prongs do not distract from the gems. This setting is the greatest challenge in crafting the creature.

Atop the main water feature sits a rose quartz clock case with tsavorite detailing, framing a clock face with white mother-of-pearl inlay. Rows of dazzling white diamonds line the clock bezel and two delicate clock hands designed to resemble the wings of a butterfly.

A rock crystal stream decorated with sprays of white diamonds cascades down one lily pad to another, accumulating with a splash at the bottom. Two swans carved out of rock crystal rest at the bottom of the rock formation, the movement of their wings creating further ripples in the lake.

The entire objet d'art is seated on an elegantly crafted piano-finish black lacquer box. A butterfly latch secures two panels which open to reveal rows of drawers for storing keepsakes and jewellery, lined with soft, black calfskin leather.

"All Royal Insignia designs contain an element of curiosity," Hoe explains. "The intention is a design concealing details that reveal themselves slowly as the viewer's gaze carefully considers its every corner."

With "The Guardian of Time", the mystery is in the music box mechanism. Hidden discretely as a little lotus flower floating inconspicuously on the rock crystal lake to the left of the swans, a little twist of the lotus flower will set the music box in motion.

The crisp notes of Antonio Vivaldi's La Primavera from Le Quattro Stagioni (The Four Seasons) violin concertos have been chosen as the fitting soundtrack. "Vivaldi wrote that piece in praise of spring, the season of new beginnings, renewal and beauty, so La Primavera is the perfect accompaniment to our celebration of the beauty of time and the changes that it ushers in," Hoe says.

As La Primavera's melody rises out of the music box, the rock crystal lake with its two swans rotates slowly around the rock formation.

The total height of the creation is 340mm, and its width is 240mm. The most difficult part of the design is the rotating rock crystal disc and ensuring that the disc rotates only when the music box mechanism is activated.

Hoe says: "The rock crystal disc has to be sliced extremely thin in order for it to rotate with the mechanism, and it is very tricky to slice the crystal that thin without it shattering into pieces."

There is also a lot of lapidary work at the heart of the piece - the lotus leaves carved out of aventurine, the clock case carved out of rose quartz, and the swans carved out of rock crystal. Hoe believes it is the inclusion of stone carvings that shows a craftsman's ability to shape such hard materials into the most natural looking organic forms. Lapidary work, especially boundary pushing feats, is painstaking.

"With the components of this unique gem-set music box, my team truly gets the opportunity to express its range of artisanal skills. The pursuit of perfection by our gemologists, designers, lapidarists and master craftsmen drives us to meet the most precise demands."

 

WHO: Ivan Hoe

FOUNDER OF ROYAL INSIGNIA

Singapore's Royal Insignia is a medallist, jeweller and purveyor of fine gifts that enjoys the patronage of nobility, governments and connoisseurs. Hoe built his house's reputation on orders, decorations and medals for members of the world's royal families and international ministries, and it was his technical expertise, first gleaned from a British medal master mentor more than three decades ago, which enabled the company to explore handcrafted objets d'art and jewellery.

Royal Insignia's first gift commission came from the Brunei royal family, a request to make a sterling silver box set for the installation of Crown Prince al-Muhtadee Billah. Hoe's team of goldsmiths and lapidarists worked on a staggering 12,000 boxes for the ceremony.

Today, Royal Insignia has boutiques at the Grand Hyatt Singapore and The Empire Hotel & Country Club in Brunei Darussalam.