Started with Rs 51, this Indian jewellery brand now designs for Oscars, is worn by Olivia Wilde, Sonam Kapoor, Taapsee Pannu
In 1932, Ambalal Chokshi was contemplating if he should join his father’s jewellery business or start one of his own. The Vadodara-based man, realising he had a penchant for Indian jewellery, decided to put his knowledge to maximum use and launch a business.
With just Rs 51 in his pocket, Ambalal started a wholesale jewellery business under his name. In 1940, he transitioned to a retail model to sell directly to customers.
“My grandfather Ambalal had to manage all aspects of the business on his own. There was no concept of hiring people in those days. With no major public transport and no proper roads, he walked long distances on foot, or used a horse cart to deliver the goods,” says Ketan Chokshi, third-generation entrepreneur and co-owner at Narayan Jewellers — the jewellery enterprise that Ambalal’s modest business would eventually become.
Ketan Chokshi, coowner, Narayan Jewellers
Today, the family business is a success, adorning the likes of Olivia Wilde, Sonam Kapoor, Taapsee Pannu, Shilpa Shetty, etc., with its jewellery on red carpet occasions. It has also collaborated with Forevermark to design jewellery for celebrity attendees at the Academy Awards (the Oscars) for seven years.
Narayan Jewellers has a 5,200 square foot flagship store in Vadodara, Gujarat, showcasing gold, polki, diamond, and jadau jewellery. It also has 35 employees on its payroll.
In an exclusive interview with SMBStory, Ketan describes how Narayan Jewellers’ became a success and explains its business model.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
SMBStory [SMBS]: How did Ambalal’s business grow into a large, family-run jewellery company?
Ketan Chokshi [KC]: Being young and new in the business, my grandfather had limited resources and no help or assistance. Right from sourcing raw material at the best price to identifying the right logistics for transport, he had to do it all by himself. His sincerity, hard work, and honesty paved the path towards becoming a trustworthy name in the business.
In 1969, Ambalal’s son (my father) Narendra Ambalal Chokshi joined the business, and he was full of ideas. He introduced diamond and jadau jewellery in 1971, and restructured the company, and relaunched it as Narayan Jewellers in 1984.
Between 1997 and 1999, my brother Jatin and I joined the business and brought in our design intellect and management expertise. We grew it into a leading designer jewellery brand, won numerous awards, and launched our flagship store.
SMBS: Where does manufacturing happen? Do you own the manufacturing units?
KC: We deal with a variety of products and jewellery designs, and so, sourcing from one unit does not happen. Further, the jewellery industry in India is skills and talent-based. We need a Marwari kaarigar (worker) for jadau jewellery, and a Bengali kaarigar for diamonds and gold jewellery. The industry is skill-driven rather than volume-driven. Every skill has a particular style and strength of workmanship, hence the idea of having everything in-house does not work.
Our designs are our strength, and we get the jewellery articles manufactured from the best craftsmen of Bikaner and Jaipur in Central India, Chandigarh and Delhi in North India, Kolkata in East India, and Mumbai, Rajkot, Surat, and Vadodara in Western India.
About 30 to 33 percent of these facilities are controlled by us, and the rest is outsourced. The model depends on the manufacturer’s capacity — this is the standard business arrangement in the jewellery industry so far in India.
Bridal Earrings by Narayan Jewellers
SMBS: What is your business model?
KC: A systematic and engineered approach to design, as well as the USP of not creating a second piece of the same design, has made us a preferred brand. A brand with a lineage of 80 years, we have been conducting continuous research and working on innovative designs to meet global standards and trends.
Besides our flagship store, we are working towards being present globally, and are going omnichannel with the launch of our online store this year.
Narayan targets a varied audience, as we cater to everyone, right from the niche and high-end customers to the masses. We have jewellery that starts from a few thousand rupees and goes up to crores.
SMBS: How is the company raising brand awareness and handling its marketing?
KC: We have a jewellery category which showcases exclusively-designed pieces in jadau and diamond jewellery, which was launched at the prestigious New York Fashion Week, Lakme Fashion Week, and FDCI couture week. This section is targeted towards high-end clientele for wedding, parties, etc. There is also a section which showcases gold and polki jewellery, along with coins and smaller daily wear for a wider choice.
Narayan Jewellers has been a part of celebrity weddings such as of Harbhajan Singh and Geeta Basra. We’ve also styled Bollywood and Hollywood celebrities. Our collection has been showcased at the New York Fashion Week for five seasons, including February 2020, in association with Forevermark and Bibhu Mohapatra.
We are active on social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and WhatsApp, where we interact with our customers and understand their needs regularly. We will also be launching our ecommerce website soon.
SMBS: What are the toughest moments the company has faced?
KC: Before the abolition of the Gold (Control) Act in 1990, no one was allowed to keep 24 carats of gold in their home, and it was not easy to do business during the time. We faced it with a strong attitude until it was abolished.
We became the first family jewellery brand to get the BIS Hallmarking License in Vadodara when it was introduced in India in 2000. Other tough periods included the global recession in 2008, demonetisation, implementation of GST, and now, the COVID-19 pandemic. We have stuck with a positive attitude through the tough times, and come out as a winner.
Two-finger diamond ring by Narayan Jewellers
SMBS: How has COVID-19 affected the business, and what is being done to address it?
KC: COVID-19 has put the entire world on pause. People are still scared to go out of their house. Footfalls are limited. The jewellery that has been ordered is not getting picked up right now. Everyone is taking their own time to settle with this new scenario that has been created around us.
Usually, April to mid-July is the lowest quarter of the year, and COVID hit us exactly then. It resulted in business going down by 30 to 40 percent. By Diwali, we should be in a better situation.
Our store resumed operations just 20 days ago, and I believe people will slowly come back to the jewellery sector. I am sure that the future holds good things for us. The wedding season has also been postponed by three to six months, so there are challenges in that aspect.
But being in a high-end, niche designer jewellery segment, we will definitely sail through this. Lifestyle customers for whom jewellery is a part of their lives are our biggest strength.