Innovation - Agent of Change

Change is law of nature, but unfortunately, the gem and jewellery industry is not witnessing many changes except the change of faces. Challenges like the deep rooted Indian mindset, which is averse to changes and avoids risk, fascination towards quick and easy money and most important no attempt to venture out of their comfort zone—are posing serious threat to the industry. Preeti Srivastav talks to a few agents of change like Hemant Shah, Anup Bohra and Umesh Ganjam, for whom innovation is a mission
Innovation - Agent of Change

“On a scale of 10, our industry stands at one, when it comes to innovation,” opines Hemant Shah, partner, Priority Jewels. Shah is one of the speakers at the seminars being conducted at the forthcoming IIJS. He will be discussing the challenges that hold the industry from embracing changes and getting more innovative.

A look at the other luxury product industry like high-end watches, automobiles and others suggest that they have changed with time and maintained freshness in their products. But the gem and jewellery industry has hardly seen any revolutionary change in terms of designs, marketing strategies, or for that matter manufacturing.

“Unfortunately, very little has been done in terms of any kind of innovation in the industry. We are a big industry and jewellery is one of the most sought after luxury products. But because we have been too lax about the marketing we have failed drastically to create the much needed hype about our product, while other industries are matching steps with the changing times and ruling the young minds. For example, if we don’t have a good, expensive phone to flaunt today then our own friends make us feel low. In such pressure, irrespective of the age or profession, an expensive phone has become a necessity. This is what is required for the jewellery industry.”

Though the industry boasts of some big names, it’s mostly about carrying the legacy forward and in the name of tradition, same old marketing methods and designs are being recycled.

Marking the same, Shah says, “I hardly see any new players in the market doing anything new. One thing the industry must understand is that we badly need innovations—not only to improve our market, but for our survival in long term. We need a little unity and vision to get back the glory of the industry.”

Shah points out that the industry has failed to attract and retain good talent. “While nine out of 10 diamonds are polished in India, still Indian is not a design destination. No cut, so far, has been developed in India, this says it all about the country’s position in jewellery design market. Except for a few designers, who are innovative, not all take risk.”

In an attempt to find the root of the problem in history, Shah says that since the time immemorial we are traders. We know how to make money from buying and selling things, but creating something is not our culture. That same culture is holding us back from expanding our horizons and venturing into unexplored arenas like contemporary jewellery designing.

Seconding Shah’s opinion was Anup Bohra of Jewels Emporium, who has been actively making efforts to make India a brand in the jewellery design market and embracing innovative ideas. Bohra said, “India has already been identified as a supply centre in world. In fact we rank among the top suppliers, however, when it comes to designing, we don’t have much to boasts about.”

One of the key factors behind India’s image as only of a supplier is lack of any research or marketing. “Because of no research, we have become redundant and have nothing new to offer to the buyers, who were already inching away form jewellery given the inflating prices. Apart from research, we also have been very poor in marketing ourselves and because of that we are losing our share of market. Today the scenario is this that jewellery does not feature in the top 10 wishlist of average consumer. Gadgets and other luxury product, because of their strong marketing strategy, they have become a mandate for common consumers.”

Signaling on to the silver lining, shah says that India’s past has been very good and it needs a revival along with innovation. “We need a change of approach and be more receptive in order to match our foreign counterparts. And to begin with we must first recognize these situations as challenges and not ignore them. The industry, as a unit must allocate resources in terms of money, machines and manpower to have a dedicated research and development centre. IN a nut shell, we need to change the DNA of the industry.”

Another crusader in the league, Umesh Ganjam of Ganjam Jewellers agrees with shah, as he says, “Jewellery industry needs to be sensitized about the low craft quotient in the designs. In India, we have so much to get inspiration from in terms of design. Our villages are replete with various crafts, which can be incorporated in jewellery. We had made such attempts in past when I tried to incorporate the flower garlands, which are very popular in South India, in the jewellery designs and this was successful. It also brought us the Gold Virtuosi Award in 2002. However, later when we repeated the experiment with tribal jewellery, but that did not do very well.”

Talking about their experiment, Shah said that to begin with the introduced Dokra art from Odisha and Madhya Pradesh in the jewellery sector. “I introduced Dokra art, a famous art form in Odisha in our jewellery sector to bring back the craft quotient into the jewellery. The art primarily has usage of brass and hence is cheaper, so making people pay more for that because of change of metal was little difficult but we promoted this as a brand and that helped. We have come up with a collection under the name of Alcraftist. Turning craft into jewellery was the idea and was well achieved, though it took lot of efforts convincing the artisans from rural background to work for us and convincing the council about the project. But the first generation has been well received by council and people. No I get these jewellery pieces made at a village in Chambal Valley and in Odisha. It’s good to see that people are waking up and taking note of our effort and appreciating it. The GJEPC is supporting it and they have spent 1.8 crore on this project.”

Apart from Dokra, other art forms like bamboo, bidri and filigree has also been incorporated in jewellery industry. While Umesh Ganjam brought filigree, Anup Bohra of Jewels Emporium experimented with Bidri and bamboo art.

“I have been trying to bring that change in the mindset of jewellers in India and my efforts have also bore fruits and that is encouraging me to keep going. “The industry looks at experiments as financial burden, while the truth it’s an investment and not an expense. The change in mindset is possible only by a collective effort from the industry. We have to create an environment where people can learn creativity. Every person is passionate about something or the other, we should encourage that passion and use it for benefit of the industry.”

Talking about the hue and cry about the diminishing margin of manufacturers, Shah says, “We should stop giving break ups and start selling jewelry like a brand. Bosses need to have a vision and courage to take risk. We have huge budgets for weddings but no budget from new ideas. Our format should be—realisation and need and urgency for innovation, educating the bosses, educating the employees and most important is setting up of a research centre.”

Umesh Ganjam who is now experimenting with Filigree art, says, “Filigree comes from the land of Odisha. Whilte it is primarily a silver centric thing, we have translated it into gold. It was an uphill task to convince council, but now it is smooth. However, once the brand finds acceptance in the market, it will again become a challenge to keep up to the expectations of people. We are looking forward to make jewelers and council appreciate the art and the artisans”

Bohra of Jewels Emporium, who have been working relentlessly towards giving industry a new collection in form of Bamboo and Bidri, says, “As a young boy, I always thought why cannot create something as beautiful and distinct as nature. Project Bidri, which is based on an ancient art from the place Bidar in Karnataka, is a cheap art given the material used. However turning this into jewellery and thereby making it expensive was not easy. Apart from these, other challenges included ire of the council and hesitance from the artisans. It took us good lot of time and effort to convince the artisans to make jewellery for us. But the challenge will be bigger when the council agrees to do this project and more people join in.”

Talking about his role, Bohra says, “Though my role can be looked at like that of a bridge between the artisans and the big jewellery industry, I look at myself as a person whose job is to keep the team excited about the product and the project. Council’s support is mandatory, if we want to go long way. The project is teamwork and every member is as important as the other. After the production, we also need to plan a marketing strategy and that is where the role of council comes into picture.”

While these flag bearers of innovation in the jewellery industry bring out the real beauty of India through various rural and tribal art forms, it becomes more of a responsibility for the industry to acknowledge the effort and appreciate the attempt. Just like Filigree, Dokra and Bidri have already found their place in the jewellery industry; other art forms from various parts of India are also raring to contribute in making some difference to jewellery industry. Jewellery industry too has woken up to the fact that change is constant, and it’s time for some change.

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