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The Growing Network of Asian Jewellers in London
London Jewellery Retail - Analysis
By: Diamond World News Service
Oct 24 2019 4:05PM
Reference: 22557  

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Market size and characteristics
Based on the 2016 census, UK has a population of 65 million and a per capita GDP of 28,448 pounds. Retail is the largest private sector employer in UK and employs 3 million people. According to Mintel, a London based privately owned market research agency, United Kingdom’s jewellery market is estimated to be around 4.5 billion pounds per annum. Adam Smith the Scottish Economist famously known as the father of capitalism was the first one to describe United Kingdom as the ‘Nation of Shopkeepers’ in his book Wealth of Nations published way back in 1776. He had said that the Government of Britain was exceptional because it was “influenced by shopkeepers”, by which he meant small and medium- sized traders and businesses.

The UK economy differs today from the rest of the developed world. The entrepreneurship spirit still runs strong. In 2018, there were 5.7 million businesses in the UK, of which 95 per cent were small ones. 65 per cent of UK’s retail sales are contributed by independents and the jewellery sector is no different. It is dominated by independent family run businesses. While there are some large multiple chains, such as H Samuel, Ernest Jones, Beaverbrooks, Fraser Hart, Goldsmiths and F Hinds, which have a presence in many shopping centres and larger town centres, the family jeweller is commonplace and remains one of the last bastions of true independent retailing to be found on Britain’s high streets.

Consumer preference for buying fine jewellery in the UK

  • 29 per cent of the consumers prefer to buy jewellery from chain stores such as H Samuels. Their preferred destination for fashion jewellery is Argos chain store with a store count of over 883 doors.
  • 22 per cent from Independents.
  • 12 per cent from premium store chains & departmental stores such as Harrods, Harvey Nichols & Selfridges.
E commerce: According to Euromonitor International, the UK is at the forefront of digital retailing among Western markets. Relative to countries such as the US, France and Germany, the UK sees e-commerce capture a greater share of sales. Mobile commerce accounts for a larger proportion of e-commerce. Services such as click-and-collect are more developed in the UK.

Online sale as per cent of total retail sale in UK is 20 per cent and is the highest in the world. France is 17.4 per cent & U.S. is 16.4 per cent.
UK jewellery sales via the online channel continue to be driven by demi-fine and costume jewellery brands rather than fine jewellery players due to the enduring perceived risk associated with purchasing big-ticket items online. The vast majority of UK jewellery sales still take place offline, with jewellery and watch specialists alone accounting for two thirds of all fine jewellery value sales and a third of costume jewellery value sales (Source: Euromonitor).

India’s jewellery trade with UK
India exported U.S. $ 108.60 million worth of cut and polished diamonds to UK during the year 2018 – 2019. The corresponding figure for the export of plain and studded gold jewellery was US $ 233.20 million (Source: GJEPC). While the export of rough and polished diamonds increased by 5 per cent over the previous year, the export of plain and studded gold jewellery fell by a whopping 50.65 per cent.

Wembley is another area that has a high population of Asians and is dominated by persons having roots in the state of Gujarat. The largest concentrations of British Bangladeshis live in east London boroughs. They form one of the UK’s largest groups of people of overseas descent and are also one of the country’s youngest and fastest growing communities. Green Street in East London has emerged as a major market for Asian consumers.

Jojan Thomas, Joy Alukkas
Jojan Thomas, Joy Alukkas
The jewellery retail scenario in Asian dominated areas looks underdeveloped and primitive as compared to rest of London. Visiting jewellery markets in Southall and the Green street gives you a feeling as if you are Delhi’s Karol Bagh market.
All the jewellery stores in these areas have two sliding doors that are locked from inside. One has to press the bell in order to enter a store. There have been increasing instances of armed robberies at retail outlets that has necessitated the need for caution.

With the exception of Joy Alukkas, all jewellery stores are mom and pop stores. Joy Alukkas set up a store on the Green Street way back in 2009. Their store is comparatively smaller as compared to any of their stores you find in an Indian city. Visuals of film start Kajol adorn the stores and there are danglers announcing the Big Summer Sale offering 0 per cent deduction on old gold exchange. Jojan Thomas, the showroom manager informed me that the store has been in operation for the last ten years. It has been doing reasonably well. The clientele of this store is predominantly Bengali Muslims of Bangladeshi origin who prefer to buy plain gold jewellery. As 85 per cent of the customers are Bengalis, the store is stocked with plain gold jewellery. They prefer to get married in the UK. Weddings are big buying occasions. The fastest moving product categories are bangles and chains. Joy Alukkas’ brand ambassador Kajol finds an instant connect with Bengalis.

British Bangladeshis are people of Bangladeshi origin who have attained citizenship in the United Kingdom, through immigration and historical naturalisation. During the 1970s, large numbers of Bangladeshis immigrated to the UK, primarily from the Sylhet Division in north-eastern Bangladesh. The largest concentration lives in east London boroughs, such as Tower Hamlets. They buy gold jewellery for adornment and investment.

Thomas informed me that 100 per cent of their stocks are imported from their Dubai office. Joy Alukkas has been contemplating opening their second store in Southall. They advertise primarily on Bangladeshi TV channels and it has proved beneficial for them.
Most of the other jewellery stores on Green Street are owned by Gujarati jewellers from Kathiyawad who migrated to London via East Africa. Vikram Santilal of Jeram Jewellers is one such jeweller whose ancestors migrated from Madagascar. He is an active member of the Green Street Jewellers Association (GSJA). Vikram has been trying to bring innovation in designs and choice of materials and precious stones. He informed me that Bangladeshi women are decision makers when it comes to buying jewellery. Self-purchase is common among Bangladeshi Muslim Women who have high disposable income as they get Meher or mandatory payment from their husbands when they get married. By focusing on design and diamonds, Vikram has been able to improve his margins in a market that is characterised by high volumes and low margins.

Jayant Raniga, Pure Jewels by Bhanji Gokaldas
Jayant Raniga, Pure Jewels by Bhanji Gokaldas
Tulja jewellers are a leading jeweller on Green Street. While all other jewellery stores wore a deserted look, Tulja jewellers store was crowded. Named after the Indian Goddess of Jewellery, Tulja is a family-owned business where every British bride of South Asian heritage dreams of selecting her wedding jewellery.The family are descendants of jewellers in Rajkot , who expanded their business internationally in the early 1900s, sailing to Yemen, then moving to Khartoum, Sudan, and eventually to London in the early 1990s. Vijay Lodhia Tulja’s coowner was very frank and upfront in expressing his views. He informed me that the last two years have been bad for business. The prices of gold has shot up drastically that has led to the customers adopt a wait and watch approach. Customers are postponing their purchases hoping for prices to come down. Tulja caters to customers from all communities including Punjabis, Gujaratis, Bengalis, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans and other South Asian customers, as well as non-Asians. Over a period of time, they have diversified their product portfolio to include wedding sets, diamond jewellery and 22 carat yellow gold jewellery.

By spreading their net wider, Tulja jewellers have been able to succeed in a competitive market. Vijay has spent substantial money on sponsoring musical shows to attract clients to his store. Vijay was all praises for the Pakistani customers. The affluent Pakistani customers don’t haggle. Their preference is towards jewellery studded with precious coloured stones. They are few in number in Green Street but are his favourites. The same sentiment was echoed by Zahid Khan the owner of Pakeeza Jewellers. Zahid is a jeweller of Pakistani origin who owned a jewellery store in New York. He chose to migrate to London after the 9/11 attacks. The average price points of jewellery purchased by a Pakistani jeweller are higher than other Asian customers. Zahid was unhappy about the heavy price under cutting prevailing on Green Street. There are unscrupulous elements who are selling smuggled gold ornaments and it is not possible to match their prices was his lament. Dr. S A Khan of Daata Jewellers of Pakistani origin is an accidental jeweller. He came into the jewellery business serendipitously. A qualified medical doctor and an academician to boot, Dr. Khan is a manufacturer and a retailer. He is a respected name on Green Street. According to Dr. Khan, Brexit is the main culprit as it has created an uncertainty in the minds of the consumer.

Jayant Raniga of Pure Jewels by Bhanji Gokaldas is one of the most proactive South Asian jewellers on Green Street. Over 40 years ago, Bhanji Gokaldas and his three sons arrived in London and set up their bespoke Asian gold jewellery workshop. They have the distinction of being the first Asian jeweller on Green Street. Jayant, an ex-banker and economist joined the family business in 2003. He was quick to spot an opportunity in the wedding market. The area around Green Street in East London is a hub for wedding related purchases. Indians either bought their wedding trousseau in India or they would buy it from Green Street. Asians from far flung areas would commute all the way to Green Street. The challenge was to get them to his store. He did this systematically by advertising in wedding related magazines, taking part in exhibitions and doing store events.

Retailing of international watch brands such as Rado, Omega and Seiko also helped to attract the attention of consumers from all nationalities. The next and logical step was to focus on diamond jewellery. Pure jewels manufacture wedding, engagement rings and gem set bands in house. These are fast movers and contribute to 90 per cent of the studded jewellery segment.

Their key to success has been the fact that they have changed and evolved with the new set of young and urban customers. Jayant likes to call Pure Jewels a technologically driven company. He is also an early adopter of digital marketing techniques to attract consumers to his online ecommerce store as well as the physical retail outlet. The online channel contributes to 25 per cent of his total sale.

British Asian weddings are known for their grandeur and lavish celebrations. The instances of mixed marriages have increased in London. It is common to find an Indian girl getting married to an English groom and vice versa. This segment is open to suggestions and has a higher budget. These couples love diamonds and the designs play an important role in the choice of their jewellery.

Jewellery displayed in Southhall Store
Jewellery displayed in Southhall Store
Proactive jewellers such as Naveen Kumar of Ra-mesh Jewellers and Kishan Kumar of Taj Jewels have worked meticulously on the jewellery that they retail. Both of them have their stores on The Broadway in Southall. More than half of the retail area at Taj Jewels is allotted to diamond jewellery. The Ramesh Jewellers’ store has all the jewellery that the Asian bride would look for.
Sunil Babber of Ram Prakash Sunderdass & Sons (RPS) Jewellers in Southall is a leading player in the UK. The secret of his success is in the quality of relationship that he enjoys with his customers, business acumen and foresight.

Explaining the Punjabi psyche, he explained to me the importance of jewellery in their weddings. Weddings are occasions where the entire family gets an opportunity to display their wealth and status.
A Punjabi from India or Pakistan has similar tastes. The joint family spirit is thriving among the Pakistanis It is more so because of economic compulsions. Most Pakistanis have small businesses. Living in a joint family has its advantages. Costs get shared and the closely knit members help each other. Weddings are occasions where they do not hold back and splurge on jewellery buying. The investment angle is predominant in their purchase.

Talking about the Indian consumers, Sunil said that the new generation Indians are well educated. They are earning good money in their professions and corporate careers. They are setting up nuclear families and moving away from Southall to other localities for a better quality of life.

RPS jewellers have expanded their business to London’s diamond district located at Hatton Gardens. This commercial area is in the Holborn district has over 800 diamond merchants involved in the wholesale and retail of diamonds and diamond jewellery. Hatton Garden was once dominated by the Jewish community. It now has a sizable presence of Indian businessmen. Sunil’s son Sameer Babber looks after the retailing business at Hatton gardens. Their two outlets Abrahams and RPS diamonds are among the prominent stores.

Vivek Khandelwal Director of Emdico London Limited has an office in the building that is aptly called 100 Hatton Garden. The name ‘Emdico’ is derived from ‘EM’erald ‘DI’amond ‘CO’mpany and originates from the company’s early focus and specialty in supplying high quality Emeralds and Diamonds to gemstone dealers and jewellery manufacturers in the UK. Emdico has production facility in Mumbai and workshops in London & Italy.

Explaining the prevailing situation in the jewellery industry, Vivek opined that the sale of diamond jewellery has been affected. The middle and low priced segment comprises of customers who buy diamonds & jewellery for gifting and as fashion accessory. Increase in price of diamonds has resulted in customers looking for alternatives such as watches and mobile phones.

Dilip Sekhawat of Rosin Jewels is a leading wholesaler of gold and diamond jewellery in the UK. They have sourcing offices in BDB and Italy. According to him, the depreciation of Sterling Pound and the fluctuating gold prices have impacted the gold jewellery business. This has resulted in consumers buying less gold during weddings. In the UK, the burglaries have increased and keeping gold at home has become risky. The fact that the young consumers are losing interest in gold jewellery is well documented. To address the concerns of the industry, British Asian jewellers are setting up an autonomous networking, lobbying and educational forum comprising members who are interested in the British Asian jewellery market and doing business with Asia. The jewellers are currently crafting a constitution for a so-called British Asian Jewellers’ Alliance (BAJA), expected to comprise mainly UK-based retailers and wholesalers with business and family ties to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, Turkey and other countries. The British Asian jewellery market is believed to account for more than 2 percent of total UK jewellery turnover, and is a high-value segment of the market due to British Asian tastes for 22- and 18-carat gold jewellery.

“BAJA will welcome anyone interested in the British Asian market whatever their background and will be completely autonomous,” said Mehul Lodhiya, owner of wholesaler Nysa Creations and one of the architects of BAJA. Jayant Raniga of Pure Jewels and David Brough, editor of Jewellery Outlook complete the trio of BAJA architects.

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