Sarawakian jeweller Martiana Chia on celebrating nature’s beauty with Sangon & Co.

When passion meets purpose


By Benedict Unang

Featured images courtesy of Sangon & Co.
Sarawakian jeweller Martiana Chia on celebrating nature’s beauty with Sangon & Co.

If there’s one thing Sarawak is truly known for, it has to be the culture. From the tantalising flavours of traditional cuisine to the intricate attire, the people of Sarawak take immense pride in preserving their rich heritage. But did you know that the Land of the Hornbills is also famed for its jewellery? Beads, especially, have adorned the indigenous groups for generations. Each tribe has its distinctive style and symbolism through these finely detailed designs. 

Exploring beyond traditional beadwork, artisans like Martiana Chia, the creative force behind Sangon & Co., infuse pearls, shells and stones into her jewellery. Founded in 2020, Sangon & Co. is based in Kuching and honours the local landscapes through its meticulously handcrafted pieces. The name, ‘Sangon,’ borrowed from the Bidayuh language, meaning ‘beautiful,’ encapsulates the brand’s value of showcasing the magnificence of nature in every accessory. 

Just in time for Gawai, we spoke with Martiana about her earliest memories of jewellery, the eagerly awaited BerGawai drop, and the inspirations behind her enchanting creations.



What is your earliest memory of jewellery? 

“When I was 10, my parents gifted me a bead-making kit from Toys “R” Us. I loved it so much that I started playing with my mum’s jewellery collection, which usually ended with me getting into trouble!”


Who inspires you when making jewellery, and why? 

“My grandmothers are my inspirations. I remember my Chinese grandmother sharing stories about my grandfather bringing home strands of pearls or precious stones from his travels in the ’60s and ’70s. Meanwhile, my Bidayuh grandmother always made a statement with her pearls on special occasions, never missing the chance to wear a traditional necklace or a pair of pearl earrings.”


What is the biggest lesson that you have learned since you started your brand?

“I’ve learned that inspiration and stories are everywhere. I’ve realised I don’t need grand, dramatic experiences or far-off travels to find them. My friends, new acquaintances, and my family are all great sources of inspiration.” 


What advice would you give someone who wants to start their label? 

“Just do it! Build a brand you love, one that you’re passionate about and that keeps you inspired. That way, you’ll never get bored and work will become fun! Your enthusiasm will eventually drive you to do more and learn more.” 


Can you tell us more about the inspiration and the creative process behind the BerGawai drop? 

“Our BerGawai collection this year showcases unique finds gathered from my travels—discoveries from vintage stores, along coastal shores and rare pendants from an uncle who owns an old shophouse in Penang. We’ve remained friends with the owner since then and he has been generous enough to supply me with some of his collections whenever he can. Some pieces are also inspired by tradition, such as the Orang Ulu Kabo necklaces infused with our signature style. While deeply rooted in Orang Ulu heritage, these pieces resonate with the Dayak spirit and embody the essence of all Sarawakians.”


Which piece from the new collection is your favourite, and how will you incorporate it into your Gawai look?

“I love the fossil pendant! I’m excited to see how people react when we release it and I’ve already thought about repurposing it for our next collection. For now, I will layer it with a pearl necklace to enhance the Gawai look.” 



What’s next for the brand?

“At the moment, we’re consigned with six stores across Malaysia and one in Brunei. However, I look forward to our product being stocked in Singapore in the near future.”


What’s your dream collaboration? 

“I would love to collaborate with Simone Rocha. I think the essence of her brand perfectly aligns with our mission, which encompasses femininity, rebellion and romance mixed with a nod to heritage. A girl can dream!” 


What do you want people to associate or remember your brand with?

“I want our brand to be recognised as a true reflection of our native heritage in Sarawak, representing the indigenous people of our land. Despite the abundance of brands representing Malaysia, there’s a glaring absence of representation for the indigenous communities, particularly the Dayak people, who make up almost 50 per cent of Sarawak’s population.” 


What would you be if you were not a jewellery maker? 

“I would probably be broke! But in all seriousness, I would most likely pursue graphic design as a full-time career.” 



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