Career Guide

Joe Ng finds fulfilment as jewellery designer

Joe Ng Kim Chew, head jewellery designer of Joe’s Design and managing director of Calanthe Art Cafe Joe Ng Kim Chew, head jewellery designer of Joe’s Design and managing director of Calanthe Art Cafe

Since his college days, Joe Ng Kim Chew, head jewellery designer of Joe’s Design and managing director of Calanthe Art Cafe, had always known that he wanted to be his own boss.

The Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators graduate started off his career in a Taiwanese and Malaysian joint-ventured stainless steel manufacturing factory in Malacca as a personal assistant.

As his career progressed, he soon found himself in charge of three departments, overseeing administration, personnel and general affairs.

“I started off working in a factory because I knew that in order to pursue my dream of starting my own business, I had to master the skill of handling people,” shares 41-year-old Ng.

“I was thrown all types of issues that needed to be settled. This training and experience made me even bolder in my decision-making and widened my knowledge. All this was extremely helpful when I started my own business.”

In 2005, Ng and five of his friends ventured into the food and beverages industry by opening an eatery called Calanthe Art Cafe, which promotes locally grown coffee.

According to Ng, the initial stages were tough given that Malacca’s tourism sector was not very strong at the time.

The jump into jewellery

Ng always veered to the creative and innovative. It was for this reason that he ventured into business, believing that it would lead him to exciting opportunities that would put his talents to good use.

Upset when his café was not doing well, Ng was unsure what to do, when advice came from his better half.

“Business was bad in the beginning and I did not know what to do. My wife then suggested that I take up jewellery making classes whilst looking after the café. I took her advice, and it has proven to be the right move.

“In 2006, I started displaying my products in the café. They were simple glass bead necklaces and full-beaded glass bracelets, priced from RM3.90 to RM5.90 per piece.”

Ng’s first creation was a necklace made of thread, wood, beads and shells. Although he felt it looked ordinary, he displayed it at the Calanthe Art Cafe. To his surprise, it sold quickly.

Successful sales like this and encouraging feedback from his customers motivated Ng to continue with his new-found talent.

“Through trial and error, I slowly mastered the skill of making copper wire artisan handcrafted jewellery. I began incorporating shells, pearls, crystals, semi-precious stones and precious stones as well as fossils into my creations. I eventually started my own studio to display and sell my work.”

A typical day

“My day starts at 9am when I arrive at my studio. The mornings are busy, because there are usually quite a number of tourists who visit the studio to purchase jewellery. I attend to the tourists and chat with them.

“During the holiday season, we get even more customers. My employees man the studio while I work on my designs. This goes on until the afternoon,” says Ng.

At about 2pm, Ng and his workers take a break for lunch. Naturally, they head over to Calanthe Art Cafe for their meals. The studio resumes business at 3pm.

Ng explains that he spends most of his time after lunch working on his existing creations or designing new ones. A coffee lover, he always has a cup beside him as he says it helps him find inspiration.

“Recently, I started taking a course to be a professional tour guide, offered by Tourism Malaysia. So from Monday to Wednesday, I attend classes from 6pm to 9pm. When I am at class, my wife looks after the shop.

“On other days, after spending hours at my work table, I take a break at around 6pm to walk around the streets of Malacca. This is refreshing for my sore eyes after all the time spent designing in a closed room,” says Ng.

Rejuvenated after the walk, he continues with work and attends to customers at the studio. Ng enjoys mingling and talking to his customers, sometimes even assisting them by pointing out the best tourist spots in Malacca.

He closes the studio at 10pm. After a hard day’s work, he catches up with his wife and 5-year-old daughter over supper.

Obstacles and triumphs

Ng’s challenge is coming up with new ideas and techniques when creating various jewellery pieces. He aims to continually come up with unique and creative designs that will attract more customers.

“Thanks to today’s technology, I have easy access to information. So I can do my own research to get new ideas and improve my skills.

“My work involves intricate craftsmanship and because of this, it’s difficult to mass produce designs. Even though I employ helpers, somehow, many pieces still require my final touch,” he explains.

When Ng first ventured into the jewellery business, he did not get much support as people did not see this industry as a profitable one.

However, with his perseverance and belief in his capabilities, he has managed to attract tourists who visited the Jonker area, where his studio is located.

“They find my jewellery to be perfect souvenirs since it is handcrafted locally. Over the years, I have seen many of my customers returning to my studio again and again.

“Besides purchasing my creations, they have recommended their acquaintances to visit my studio as well. The praises and recognition from these people give me great satisfaction and motivation to do even better.”

Ng’s creations have not gone unnoticed. Throughout his career, he has created unique and intricate jewellery pieces, which have resulted in invitations to Japan to display his works at jewellery exhibitions. These moments have been his proudest ones.

Lessons Learnt

“Having been in this industry for about seven years now, I have evolved from a person who knew nothing about jewellery to a person who understands the likes and preferences of people when it comes to the various types of jewellery pieces.

“This insight was gained from years of research and speaking to people from all walks of life to gauge their interests,” Ng shares.

For those contemplating to go into this industry, Ng’s advice is to give it their best without holding anything back. “Be innovative and have lots of perseverance as you won’t hit the jackpot at your first try,” he advises.

“Believing in yourself and never giving up are the keys to achieving success and happiness in your career.”

This video won the second prize in this year’s A Day in the Life competition organised by Leaderonomics in collaboration with TalentCorp. To view the other winners, visit