The importance of embracing change according to the Chief Executive Director of DeGem

The importance of embracing change according to the Chief Executive Director of DeGem

Bright Ideas

“Someone once told me that one of the best things about being in the jewellery industry is that it makes people happy. My reply was that only happy people come to see us because they want to celebrate some special occasion,” says Stephen Choong, the Chief Executive Director of premium local jeweller DeGem. For Choong, who has been in the business for nearly four decades, his foray into the world of high jewellery was a natural one: “I had been exposed to jewellery from a very young age, as my father was a pawnbroker while my older brother owned a goldsmith in a small town in Perak. In the mid 1970s, my brothers came to Kuala Lumpur to open a jewellery shop with one of our cousins. I started training during my school holidays and, eventually, joined the business after finishing my high school studies.

“We started mostly with diamonds and some gems. Many customers also started bringing in old jewellery or gemstones because they wanted to create an original piece from scratch, so we decided to branch out by establishing a small factory that focused on producing fine jewellery. Business really began picking up during in 1990s, which was the golden age for the local jewellery industry – the economy was booming and those who were wealthy started to really appreciate fine jewellery.”

However, as the famous adage goes, nothing lasts forever. So, when the Asian Financial Crisis struck in 1997, the brand found itself unable to neither bring in nor sell imported jewellery due to the depreciating Ringgit. “When you have access to quality diamonds and gemstones, you’re not competing with local players but with the top brands of the industry. We decided it was time to adapt and change. In those days, a lot of the traditional ways of manufacturing just couldn’t produce large quantities. So, we decided to expand our factory to increase our production while also maintaining quality control. Today, almost 100 per cent of our jewellery pieces are made by us.”

To this, Choong posits that the ability to embrace change plays a significant role in sustaining any business. “The jewellery industry is definitely evolving, albeit very slowly. It’s still quite conservative in many ways. While trends and technology have changed tremendously, those who come from the older generation have a tendency to resist these changes, especially during the early stages. By the time they are finally ready to adapt, it’s already too late. This is why, at DeGem, we constantly remind ourselves that you need to buckle up and learn new things. Once you become too content, someone else will seize these opportunities.”

For Choong, the only thing that should always remain constant is maintaining the quality of work and the relationship with customers. “You have to treat them well. People go back to brands that they have good experiences with. If you don’t adopt this strategy, you won’t be able to entice customers. We’ve been around for so many years and now we’re dealing with customers whose parents have placed their trust in DeGem. As the saying goes, word of mouth is the best advertisement.”

According to Choong, most of today’s customers simply do not have the patience to go through the entire design process. “This is especially true for the younger generation. While they are enthusiastic about owning something unique, when you ask them to explain their ideas, they wouldn’t know where to begin. So, you have to show them something to give them a clearer idea of what they want. At DeGem, we can show you a new piece every day of the week. If you visit our boutiques, you’ll notice that more than 50 per cent of the products on display are unique. While we do produce wedding bands and engagement rings, we also have a variety of unique designs available for coloured stones and diamonds.”

As for his thoughts on luxury brands becoming big players in the e-commerce game, Choong believes this is an unstoppable trend that is worth serious contemplation: “Initially, we didn’t think this strategy was suitable for our products. If the customer is unable to experience our jewellery, how would we convince them to buy from us? But, then, we realised that having an online presence would enable us to educate consumers about the brand, with the hope that, if they trust us enough, they will be willing to buy from us online. We’re planning on launching something special in 2018 for the online market that won’t be available at the boutiques.

“For me, e-commerce is a tool that can be used to enhance a brand. We have found that many young customers who come to our boutiques will usually do their own research online beforehand. Since this platform is exposed to a larger audience, this will allow us to educate customers on what to look out for when buying jewellery, which is important, because not all the information that is available online is factual. You must know which sources are trustworthy.

“The diamond and gemstone sourcing market is shrinking nowadays, and mining companies now prefer to supply directly to established retail jewellers. These companies are very selective about who they sell to – in every country, they opt to go to trusted jewellers with larger market share and excellent financial track record. This is the point of difference DeGem offers – our customers can have the confidence that we are getting the first pick for the best stones, directly from ethical miners.

“Knowing who to buy from is very crucial as there are some businesses who do not disclose information about the authenticity of their gems. Synthetic stones have been in the market since the 1920s and the market has seen its resurgence in recent years.”

Invented by General Electric in the 1960s, the synthetic diamond was very expensive to produce until a decade ago, when a new technology was introduced that enabled them to be produced in much larger quantities at a faster rate and at a lower cost.

“These diamonds are known as lab-grown diamonds because it contains only two to three per cent of natural diamonds. It becomes a risk for customers, as people want to invest in natural diamonds that appreciate in value, as opposed to lab-grown diamonds. The latter depreciates in value as manufacturers are able to produce it to continuously generate the unlimited supply.

“With our unwavering principle of upholding the integrity of our business, we are the first jewellery in Malaysia to invest in a state-of-the-art patented machine that is able to filter lab-grown diamonds from natural ones. It is our responsibility to our customers that the diamonds they buy from DeGem are natural ones and also a way for us to ensure that our standards are always safeguarded.”


, , ,

Type keyword(s) and press Enter