At 24 years old, she sets herself on the path to join her father at the helm of Malaysia’s household jewellery brand, Habib, founded by her grandfather nearly 60 years ago.
It’s an ugly truth that most family businesses don’t make it past the second generation, or last after the third; but Marissa Meer is not going to let that deter her from perpetuating the darling and pride of her family. At 24 years old, she sets herself on the path to join her father at the helm of Malaysia’s household jewellery brand, Habib, founded by her grandfather nearly 60 years ago.
“We are so excited to be entering into the third generation with my older brother and I now involved,” she eagerly tells. “After 60 years, there are no doubts that we are extremely proud to be Malaysian and to be recognised as the country’s heritage jeweller.”
This self-made decision expressed itself after about a year of working in the family business to gain experience in the industry. Prior to that, she had pursued an undergraduate degree in Business and Economics at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland and a Graduate Gemologist Program at the Gemology Institute of America (GIA).
One might think it only a matter of time for the baton to be passed on in any family business, but it wasn’t the case for the Meer family.
“To be completely honest, I never knew much about jewellery growing up,” she confesses, while meekly complying to the hair and makeup artist’s requests behind the scenes of our photoshoot.
Shocking as it may sound, growing up with two brothers has inherently made her a bigger fan of the outdoors than playing dressing up. In fact, her early memories of jewellery were more distant than personal: watching her maternal grandmother (a customer of Marissa’s paternal grandfather and founder of Habib, the late Datuk Habib Mohamed, even before her parents had met) arrange her jewellery collection.
Her parents had also kept work and home separate all along, so the world of jewels and trinkets was very much foreign to her until her late teens.
“For most of my life I had no idea what I wanted to do! Lucky for me, I never felt pressured into doing what my parents did either, and I naturally found a passion in it on my own,” she admits.
A passion for jewellery
How then did she end up following her father’s footsteps?
“My dad did the same course with the GIA a few years before me, so I always knew I wanted to try a hand in it because it sounded like a really cool course,” she says in amusement. “But I said to him before I went, ‘Dad, if for some reason, I don’t like it, please don’t expect me to do it’ and he said okay.”
As it turned out, she eventually developed a serious interest in the field. Having specialised in sourcing and buying raw gems, she put her know-how into practice at Habib as the company’s certified gemologist.
Scroll through her Instagram and you’ll get a glimpse of what the job entails: travelling the world to find rare gemstones and diamonds; scrutinising exquisite jewellery pieces; and of course, educating her followers along the way. Despite how glamourous that sounds, she insists that there’s more than meets the eye.
“One of the biggest things I have learnt and have to mention is how blown away I am by the people who are involved at every stage. The skill, knowledge and understanding to design and create a piece of jewellery that will be appreciated and bought by a large amount of people truly inspires me,” she reveals.
“A lot of hard work, trial and error, and patience gets put into the crafting of a beautiful piece of jewellery which I believe should never be forgotten.”
To help enlighten customers on the various stages of jewellery making, she even created a short video series on YouTube at the end of last year. With that insight, she now hopes to deepen her knowledge on the intricacies of craftsmanship, sales and retail operations.
“I am a large believer in education and would like to keep furthering my studies and learning in the field through talks and short courses,” she divulges, “As my dad always reminds me, ‘nothing beats hard work and experience!’”
Her pursuit of tutelage comes in tandem with the fact that she will soon spearhead the new luxury arm of the company. But ‘new’ in this case doesn’t necessarily mean discrete.
A reverence for tradition
“Moving forward, I would like to be able to study and identify where we may have gaps, such as the generational difference in taste, for example,” Marissa discloses.
“However, I do believe that my generation is also proud to be from this beautiful country and I hope to continue to create pieces of jewellery that represent modernity whilst preserving our heritage.”
Said heritage includes celebrations that form part of our culture – and none come quicker to mind than Hari Raya.
“It is a tradition for Malays to want to buy new clothes and jewellery to celebrate Raya. Therefore, it the busiest and most important time of year for us,” she says.
Largely attributed to the success of the brand’s annual Rantaian Kasih campaign, it’s not surprising that Habib and Hari Raya are synonymous in their significance.
Translated as “Chain of Love”, the campaign emphasises the importance of family ties and the passing of wisdom and traditions in the Malay culture from one generation to another during the Raya season. The idea ties back to jewellery being passed down as gifts or heirlooms through the generations, something she identifies with herself.
“I’ve inherited quite a few earrings from my mother, and I have a lot of antique-looking jewellery – which I love – from my grandmother as well.”
Guess who will be wearing some of her inheritance with her baju raya this year?
Follow @marissameer on Instagram for more updates on all things jewellery.
Photography: Xerxes Lee from Awesome Image
Art direction and styling: Gan Yew Chin
Hair and makeup: Gavin Soh
Special mention: Marissa wears a pair of diamond earrings and a ring from the Habib Jewels exclusive collection in the featured image