This Mother’s Day, four mum-and-daughter pairs show us the family heirlooms that strengthen their filial ties, and reveal their love affairs with objects that tell stories of the past.
Susan Peh, in her 50s, & Melissa Peh, 28
“It is infinitely important to have something passed on through generations” – Susan Peh
Susan Peh can easily let busy days get the better of her time. But amidst prepping for a slew of legal cases, she’s found a way to nourish her family ties through food.
“When I was in Raffles Girls’ School, I bought a notebook and started compiling my family’s recipes,” Susan recalls. “I must have been about 14 when I started writing them down by hand, in a bid to preserve our traditions and satisfy my fascination with cooking.” Like her mother, Melissa Peh’s expression of love is often shown through what she can serve up on a plate. “This Mother’s Day, I plan to honour mum by organising a nice family meal together. Each family member will whip up a special dish.”
Susan also intends to pass down a glittering diamond necklace, containing pieces of jade given to her by her late mother-in-law, to Melissa.
“I believe they were gifts from her own mother, but my mother-inlaw graciously bestowed them on me in 1987. It is infinitely important to have something passed on through generations,” says Susan.
“I think the necklace makes a very precious heirloom, since each jade piece is unique and is formed by interlocking microcrystals, very much like how each of our lives and multitudinous threads of memories are unique.”
The heirloom is a sentimental object for the family in other ways as well. “On my birthday many years ago, my husband Adrian had the jade designed into a diamond necklace and surprised me with it,” Susan reveals. That touching gesture is one of the many reasons why Melissa can’t wait to call it her own.
“It is an honour to inherit this, knowing it has been passed on from my paternal great-grandmother to my grandmother, my mum and now me. It also speaks of my dad’s love for my mum,” says Melissa. “It will always be worn, literally, close to my heart, and I would love to pass it on to my own child in the future.”
SUSAN WEARS RED DRESS FROM JIL SANDER AT THE OUTNET; MELISSA WEARS BLUE DRESS FROM DIANE VON FURSTENBERG; AND HER OWN JEWELLERY.
Jean Yip, 59, & Rachel Wee, 29
“My husband sold his car so he could afford this jade necklace for me” – Jean Yip
Jean Yip’s father did not like any of the beauty mogul’s boyfriends when she was younger, but all that changed when she brought Mervin Wee home. “He was immediately taken with Mervin and said he had a kind face,” Jean recalls. “He told me that this was the man I should marry.”
Having met in 1975, the pair dated for 10 years before tying the knot and have now been hitched for over three decades, sharing lessons of triumph and hardship – as well as tokens of love – along the way.
“The simplest piece of jewellery I own, but one of my most precious possessions, is this jade necklace that Mervin bought for me before he left to hone his hairdressing skills in London,” she says. “It cost about $5,000 and he had to sell his car and eat bak kwa and pork floss for three months just so he could afford it. It really made me worry about how he was able to take care of himself while he was overseas.”
Mervin’s generous trait is something their daughter, Rachel, has inherited too, which is why Jean is happy to pass on this priceless heirloom to her second child. Rachel, in turn, is absolutely delighted at being able to hold onto a part of her parents’ love.
“Even though this jade necklace is just a material thing, what it represents makes this piece mean so much more to me,” she says. “I’m honoured to receive something that showcases my father’s selflessness in his love for my mum. With this jade necklace, I’ll always have that memory to cherish and pass on to my children, and their children after that, so they can hopefully develop that trait as well.”
Jean’s second-most treasured piece is a traditional hand-woven kua, or Chinese wedding outfit, embellished with silver thread. “I remember my grandmother saying that for a marriage to be free of problems, the kua must be chosen carefully. So Mervin and I flew together to Shanghai in the ’80s, and we bought this antique piece together at the cost of about HKD$35,000 (S$5,860) at that time,” she explains.
It was a well-made purchase as several family members have worn it on their wedding day, including Cheryl, the couple’s eldest daughter. Rachel, who is getting married next year, also plans to don the kua on her big day.
“Young people tend to like modern and fashionable things but when it comes to marriage, my parents rooted my upbringing in tradition, so this kua symbolises the sanctity of marriage for me,” she explains. “Even though it’s heavy with elaborate embroidery and sequins, I want to wear it beyond the tea ceremony and hopefully for the entire wedding celebration.”
JEAN WEARS HER OWN POLKA DOT SHIFT DRESS; RACHEL WEARS SATIN DRESS BY H&M; AND HER OWN JEWELLERY AND KUA.
Jamie Chua, 44, & Calista Cuaca, 19
“Growing up, I couldn’t afford to buy jewellery, so heirlooms are a new tradition for us” – Jamie Chua
While the Singaporean socialite is well-known for her extravagant lifestyle, Jamie Chua also harbours a sentimental side that belies what you see on Instagram. Though she greets us while impeccably primped and polished, Jamie lets her guard down the moment our conversation veers towards her daughter Calista.
“I bought a heart-shaped solitaire pendant and matching ring for her future wedding a decade ago, when she was just nine years old. I used my own savings because I wanted it to be my little gift for her, but at $300,000 it was definitely a big splurge,” says Jamie.
“All my jewellery pieces will eventually be hers anyway, but this particular set is significant. Personally, I don’t like heart-shaped stones but when I looked at my sweet little girl then, I thought the heart was so appropriate.” The youthful-looking 44-year-old tends to favour classic designs, so even if a piece were to be passed on through the generations, it will still be in style.
“It’s my wish that Calista will pass on what I’ve given her to her daughter, too, and start a new tradition of leaving meaningful heirlooms behind because growing up I didn’t come from a rich family. We simply did not own jewellery,” she confesses. “In a way, it’s why I have a lot of jewellery now, to make up for that lost time.”
Calista, on her part, has not come to fully appreciate her mother’s taste in investment jewels.
“I was very young when my mum bought this set for me, so I didn’t particularly appreciate the meaning behind it,” she says. “I’m not against inheriting her jewellery, clothes, or bags: It’s just not my style right now. I don’t like fancy things, but that might change when I’m older – I’ll probably cherish this jewellery set more then.”
JAMIE AND CALISTA WEAR BLOUSE, SKIRT AND DRESS FROM DOLCE & GABBANA; AND THEIR OWN JEWELLERY.
Chng Hwee Siang, 70, & Pamela Seow, 36
“It is important for families to stay connected through the shared histories of the objects we own” – Chng Hwee Siang
Being the heiress of homegrown jewellery empire Poh Heng comes with lots of perks: Access to blinding sparklers, first dibs on newly-released jewels and the ability to purchase the best in gemstone regalia. Despite all this, the most valuable piece of jewellery for Pamela Seow is rooted in heritage instead.
“This kerongsang represents an era of Singapore that’s long gone. If you look at other similar pieces, you’ll find that the quality isn’t as refined or as delicate as the one my father acquired from two Peranakan sisters in the ’70s,” says her mother, Madam Chng Hwee Siang.
“Both my grandmothers were Peranakan and we were very culturally influenced by that, so it’s really a piece of heritage. For me to inherit something from my mum, which also once belonged to her mum, makes the kerongsang priceless. I’m also a very sentimental person, so the emotional value of receiving this piece is quite high,” shares Pamela.
For Madam Chng, whose father started Poh Heng in 1948, the kerongsang also represents the unique connections that have been passed down through her family.
“It is important for families to stay connected through the shared histories of the objects we own. I’ve always tried to give my children something that will trigger an emotional response,” she explains.
“When you give out money, it’s spent and then forgotten about, but heirlooms like jewellery will be with you forever. Even if you don’t wear them, there’s still the emotion and sentiment of receiving it.” Pamela wholeheartedly agrees.
“If you really want something people will appreciate and keep, it’s jewellery. Plus, the object will soon have its own history, and history always has value.”
HWEE SIANG AND PAMELA WEAR BLOUSE, PANTS AND DRESS FROM H&M; AND JEWELLERY FROM POH HENG.
ART DIRECTION: CHRISTINA LIM / PHOTOS: FRENCHESCAR LIM, VEE CHIN/SPHM & JEFF CHANG / STYLING: DEBBY KWONG / HAIR: DEN NG/PREP LUXE, DESMOND NG AND AUDREY WEE / MAKEUP: ZHOU AIYI/MAKEUP ENTOURAGE USING YSL BEAUTE & RIE MIURA