A sparkling love story

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Actress, ex-model and beauty queen Kavita Sidhu that features sapphires and spinels.

WHO would have known when I walked into the La Putri boutique in Pavilion KL that I would receive a little lesson in gemology? Or that I would listen to a few love stories - one of passion; passion for art; and a passion shared between two individuals.

But let's start with the love stories first. The first was in 1973 when a lady called Ming Chin opened a shop in Ampang Park, back then arguably the only shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur. She sold jewelery - crafted in her mind but put to paper by someone else. She and her partner, a member of the one of the many royal families in Malaysia, decided to call it La Putri. But according to her daughter Goh Ying Li, it was also chosen because her mother loved to sing an old patriotic song called Putra Puteri.

"People naturally took to her because she enjoyed their company and quite organically the shop became a meeting point for friends and customers who eventually ended up being friends too," said Goh.

Growing up, she spent a lot of time in the shop as she was dropped off there after school every day. But Goh did not follow the natural path and join the business. Parents of yore, she says, "wanted their children to do learn something proper, and not art, which was actually my passion. So I studied to become an economist and after a short stint in a bank realised it was not my calling."

She decided to give gemology a chance and so studied that subject and jewelery design at the Gemological Institute of America in Los Angeles in 1991.

There, she found her true passion and discovered another.

A fellow student Richard English caught her attention. And as Goh laughingly proclaimed, she took every course she could to prolong her time with him.

Their shared love affair for gems also segued into a passion for each other. So English became her husband and partner when Goh returned to take over the company's design portfolio.

In 1999 her mother, who had still been managing the company's front line, passed away and Goh took over the mantle of managing director while still being lead designer. Her elder sister had by then given up a career as a stockbroker to manage their boutique in Singapore while the couple managed the KL boutique, an arrangement which persists to this day.

English sources for gemstones and gets them accredited. Though her sister and husband both give their input on designs, "I have the final say," noted Goh.

The gemology lesson is from English, who spins a tale of sapphires and spinels - both apparently among the hardest and toughest gemstones around - even more than diamonds. Also they are both come from the same family and the only thing separating the two is that a spinel has an extra element in it, namely magnesium.

When gemologists talk about hardness, they refer to gems' ability to withstand scratches. Toughness indicates how easily a gem cracks or shatters. So, being hard and tough means sapphires and spinels are truly durable and will last a long, long time.

Sapphires and spinels, which are also Goh's favourite gemstones, feature very prominently in La Putri's latest Prêt-a-porter collection, which is called Lithos (Greek for stone). The stones are all uncut and the designs are moulded to suit the contours. So no two stones and no two pieces are alike.

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