Reunification through time – A chance encounter of Namiki late founder’s Granddaughter & the book on Namiki
The Fall weather does not seem any unusual time for Ms. Yoko Namiki browsing for daily items along Orchard Road to replenish her new home in Singapore. As a housewife who had just followed her husband’s new posting as a visiting teaching staff in the local university; everything starts new and fresh.
Along the mall walkways, a wide opened book caught her eyes, something warm and familiar. It was not so much the theme of the book but a portrait illustrated on the book – a picture similar to one she had at her home in Japan since she was small.
It was a pen shop, Elephant & Coral, with so many maki-e pens and other unique items decorated at the carefully decorated front window. The book was Namiki ~The Art of Japanese Lacquer Pens by Julia Hutt & Stephen Overbury.
As she asked within the boutique more about the book, she realized that it was a book written about the history and tradition of Namiki fountain pens. The portrait in the book, Mr. Ryosuke Namiki, the late founder of Namiki Manufacturing Co.Ltd., was her grandfather!
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Face to face with legendary Namiki Master – Kyusai Yoshida – Kokokai
A personal experience of meeting one of the most extraordinary urushi master of Namiki, Mr. Kyusai Yoshida is exhilarating and exciting for someone who had seen and transacted the many breathtaking masterpieces he had created.
What is it like, in my own eyes, of a master urushi-shi that makes these wonderful works like?
It was my first trip visiting Hiratsuka, the factory of Pilot Corporation in Japan. The early summer heat in 1999 heralded a familiar welcome to the land of the rising sun.
The first thing that I noticed when I stepped into the factory premise was a flag that welcomed the visitor. As if like clockwork, I was welcomed into a meeting room where I met Mr. Yoshida; then a slim figure with a soft gentle voice.
After showing me around the factory where thousands of pens were being produced, I was led to 2 rooms where the names of artists like Masato and others are supposed to be working. Personally, I have met Mr. Masato at Elephant & Coral when he first came to Singapore on his honeymoon!
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An Extraordinary collection – The Tomihiro Murakami Collection
Collectors of maki-e pens have definitely come across this book written by Mr. Tomihiro Murakami – “Dunhill Namiki and Lacquer Pens” – Maki-e Pens Guidebook.
Every pen and desk accessories within this book is a gem and took Mr. Murakami years to search, collect, catalogue and kept in safe custody. Tremendous amount of time and effort was expensed to ensure the owner of this collection is honoured to hold and claim ownership over it.
It took some time when he was approached to ask if he wanted to part with it. The affinity of this collection far exceeds the temptation of parting with it with a good price.
For some reasons, months later, he had decided to part with the entire collection because he had wanted to groom his son as a professional Go (a form of Japanese chess) player.
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The World’s Smallest Pencil by Faber-Castell
Elephant & Coral first started Graf von Faber-Castell in November 1997 at Holland Road Shopping Centre. It was just one vertical vertrine with several layers of pens featuring the classic wood range in Pernambuco wood, Ebony wood and the sterling silver collection.
Fast forward to 2001, Elephant & Coral opened Graf von Faber-Castell’s first shop-in-shop in Asia with the image and colours of the flagship Graf von Faber-Castell.
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KANE Collection – Beautifying thy neighbour’s garden
When I first saw Kane Bounty on PenWorld, he came across to me as a Canadian celebrity with deep set shinning eyes and profound features. Least to expect, behind such a handsome face lies a creative mind who did one of the most stunning filigree onto a black urushi emperor pen.
It was the Spider filigree which he used white gold overlayed onto the jumbo 50 emperor pens which attracted my full attention.
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A Business No One Believes In The Beginning – An extract from Business Times
This article was first published in The Business Times on May 20, 2008
HANDWRITING is a neglected art in this age of digital communication. But one man is on a crusade to revive it – Herman Chan, managing director of Elephant and Coral, a local company dealing in pens and specialty stationery.
Known by collectors as a top location to visit, Elephant & Coral is a treasure trove of beautiful – some would say decadent – writing implements. Prices range from a humble $75 up to a staggering $1.5 million. And the more expensive items draw clientele accordingly. Sheiks, sultans, princes and royalty worldwide are among Mr Chan’s clients.
Elephant and Coral’s boutique is all done in a rich warm hues of wood, lush carpeting and subtle lighting. The store exudes opulence and luxury but stay on the right side of the fine line that divides ostentation.
Surprisingly, the decor has remained practically unchanged since the first shop opened in 1996 – a modest 170 sq ft alcove in Holland Road Shopping Centre. ‘Literally a hole in the wall,’ remarks Mr Chan dryly.
He began with $100,000 – $60,000 from his savings and $40,000 from a neighbour. He remembers the lady fondly. “She told me, ‘that’s money for my coffin, don’t cheat me out of it'”, he says. The loan was repaid with interest in three years.
Amid such a humble beginning, Mr Chan spared no expense on decorating, because ‘it’s a branding business, all about image, all about how you sell’. He envisioned from the start what Elephant & Coral was to be – a name synonymous with luxury, quality and the art of writing.
So incongruous was the store’s opulence among the drab surroundings of the shopping centre that Mr Chan was besieged by doomsayers. He remembers a woman walking past and saying loudly in Hokkien, “So beautiful. But over here, who will buy? Nobody can afford this”.
An engineer by training, Mr Chan graduated from Imperial College in London and began his working life handling derivatives trading as treasury manager. He credits his ability to read the business situation and market economics to a strong mathematical foundation and his time doing trading.
The luxury pen business is about reputation – ‘all about branding and telling a story’, he says. Above all else, Elephant & Coral is selling a lifestyle. ‘We’re about the personal touch and that sincere, special connection with people. We’re not just about utility and functionality. We associate ourselves with writing, reading and literature.’
Aspiring writers take note: Elephant & Coral gives a $325 pen to any writer who publishes their first book of fiction. And Mr Chan can count authors like acclaimed novelist Neil Gaiman and Professor Tommy Koh as recipients. ‘I have a whole cupboard of books,’ he says with a laugh. ‘I do this to support the writers in a way I can. I say, if they have the guts to write, I applaud them.’
Elephant & Coral’s business is one intimately tied up with memories and emotions. ‘Many people buy our pens to remember a special event or to reward themselves after a job well done,’ Mr Chan says. ‘Pens have a meaning deeper than just writing instruments.’
He tells how, during his second year of business, he received an urgent call on a Sunday morning to deliver a $15 pen. ‘I was shocked,’ he says. ‘First we didn’t stock pens of that value – too low. Second, it was a Sunday morning. But the man sounded urgent, so something in me just told me to go.’
So Mr Chan went – with a his wife and children in tow – to the address that the caller gave. They were in for a shock. ‘It turned out to be a hospice,’ he recounts. ‘The atmosphere there was quiet and oppressive. I went in alone to the highest floor, where people went to spend their last moments. There was moaning and groaning.
There was an Indian man lying on a bed, he said to me: ‘I know you have good pens, and I need it to write my will’.
Stories like these are ones Mr Chan remembers vividly. ‘These are the stories that make up Elephant & Coral,’ he says. As the man behind the company that won the Singapore Prestige Brand Award 2007, Mr Chan says integrity and a commitment to customers have taken him this far. ‘A lot of this business is trust – clients trust the shop not to pull a fast one.’
Why the name Elephant & Coral. Mr Chan explains that it pays tribute to Elephant & Castle, a south London suburb where he spent most of his university days. Copyright issues prompted him to gain inspiration from his wife’s name, Coral.
Mr Chan has this advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. ‘My parents told me: work hard, dress well. I say, work smart and believe in our dreams. It’s a lonely road when you’re the only one with the vision, but once you make it real, you know you’ve succeeded.’