Saturday, 17 January 2015 19:30

The Future of Amber is in India – an interview with Neeraj Kayathwal

Written by  Anna Sado
Neeraj Kayathwal Neeraj Kayathwal

The tremendous size and cultural diversity of the Indian market certainly can put off amber jewellery producers who are focused on China and are not looking for new outlets. In Neeraj Kayathwal's opinion, however, now is the right time to invest there. Why?

What do Indians see in amber? Does the stone have any traditions in India – the country of gold jewellery encrusted with diamonds?

Knowledge about amber is rather limited here. Especially taking into account the fact that to hear about amber and to know what it actually is, are two completely different things. Most of amber that can be seen on the Indian market is in the form of jewellery. Unfortunately, most often those are fakes make of plastic and other materials. Amber became more popular when back in 2013, in Gujarat in the western part of India, deposits of fossilised resin were discovered. In Hindi amber is called kaharua. Some tribes, such as the ones in the northern-east part of the country, use amber in their jewellery. Amber has never been promoted in India as a jewellery stone, in the way that for instance sapphires or diamonds are. Currently, diamonds are very popular among the mass customers, mainly as a result of the DeBeers concern’s activities.

At the moment, Polish producers of amber products are focused on the Chinese market. However, the voices that they should slowly begin to look for alternative markets, can also be heard here and there. In your opinion, could it be the Indian market?

Yes, Polish producers concentrate on the Chinese market, as there is high level of acceptance for amber. It appears when some stone or material becomes socially accepted. In order to achieve this status, promotion connected with such a product is necessary, so as it becomes fashionable on a particular market. Platinum wasn’t socially accepted in India, however it changed when the Platinum Gild launched appropriate promotional activities. Today, the platinum market in India is growing from one year to another. In my view, India is a very good market. Although that market is sensitive to price changes, its potential is enormous. Each market becomes saturated sooner or later, and China is surely no exception to that rule. The question is: China and what next? 20-25 years ago amber virtually didn’t exist in China.

You said that acceptance for amber is necessary. Is the Indian market ready to accept amber in the form of modern jewellery, rather that the beads as it has been the case so far?  

Yes. The Indian market has changed a lot in the last few years, and in my opinion it is the right time to implement new ideas, concepts and products. An Indian consumer is highly aware of the latest jewellery trends in the world. As I mentioned before, the Indian market is highly price sensitive and at the same time has a great price awareness. Introducing amber beads in necklaces or earrings is an easier and safer way of entering this market. The more modern the jewellery looks, the higher its chances for success are. The Indians will as happily wear beads as the western fashion. I’m not trying to say that the larger and more exclusive jewellery cannot be introduced to this market. It is important, however, how amber is launched to that market. Decisive promotional activities should be taken with the emphasis place on the fascinating history of amber and its unique healing properties. Yes, the Indian market is ready for modern jewellery.

What does the term modern jewellery mean in reference to the Indian market? I assume that it is completely different jewellery to that from Europe or different regions in Asia.

In India trends don’t change as dramatically as in Europe. For a long time, people there were very conservative in their approach to the new fashion trends in the world – it’s the same in the case of jewellery. A lot has changed in the last 10 years, as far as the acceptance of European trends is concerned, and the changes are really well visible. The Indians buy European style jewellery. In the last few years many international brands and makes have opened their shops in India. It is a very big country and the fashion sense is greatly varied depending on the region. A contemporary Indian woman is well-read and travels a lot. She is familiar with the trends and brands all over the world. In November Bulgari opened its first shop in New Delhi.

At the IIJS trade fair in Mumbai I didn’t notice a single piece of amber jewellery. I couldn’t find any in the shop in the city centre, either. Are you sure that in India it’s really a good time for amber?

If a product has not been introduced to the market, how can we expect any results? Is India not a brand new market, which might be explored? Let’s consider how fascinating entering this market might be. Let’s imagine its marketing capabilities. Amber has a great origin and rich history. Currently the Indian market is worth about $40 billion, and by 2016 it is projected to be 45-50 billion. Obviously, the large part of it, that is 80% is gold jewellery. However, 20% of its value is still a lot.
DeBeers appeared in India when the masses had no idea about diamond jewellery. It’s enough to take a look at what is happening there today: nobody can even think to wear jewellery made of semi-precious stones. Where did this fashion come from? It’s a European fashion that has been adapted by the Indians and now they treat it as their own. I am convinced that the time is always right to start, otherwise it will never be right.

DeBeers is a cartel with a huge marketing budget. Contrary to amber jewellery producers, who don’t form a cartel, and don’t have the funds to build a brand new market.

Start with small steps. It’s a mantra. I agree that there is no comparison between DeBeers, which has a huge budget, and amber jewellery producers. However, DeBeers is merely an example here. It does not mean, though, that small budget plans have no chance to succeed. Not everybody needs a full page size advert in a newspaper or on billboards in each city. A non-standard way of thinking, independent of the budget, is very important. Showing jewellery with amber at the main exhibition events for the industry and the public will allow to reach consumers. Placing information in the media on a regular basis will also help here. Individual meetings with goldsmiths can make a really big difference and have a considerable impact on the future of amber in India. In my opinion, amber organisations, the Polish government, Polish embassy and consular offices should increase the scope of the support they provide.

You have attempted to produce amber jewellery yourself. Have you achieved a success in sales? 

I bought a few blocks of amber at the trade fair in Hong Kong and I was fascinated with amber. Back then I saw real amber for the first time in my life. I made only 5 pieces of jewellery, no more. It was rather an experiment, carried out in order to understand how amber can be processed. During those attempts of production a few pieces were destroyed, as the workers didn’t know how to process amber. I showed the finished products to my family and friends – they really like them. However, to sell you need a whole collections of 100 or 200 pieces, with a proper story to support it. In my opinion amber will be a great discovery for the Indian market. Perhaps even bigger than the one from the Jurassic Park? (laughs)

Have you ever thought about selling jewellery with amber from Poland in India?

Certainly. After my visit to Hong Kong in 2013 I was more than convinced that amber and amber jewellery can successfully be sold in India. I launched a partnership with one of the Polish companies and became their representative in India, south-eastern Asian countries, Australia, and other countries located around India. We’ve signed an agreement, but to my disappointment nothing else has happened in that field. I think that the lack of raw material resulting from the problems in the Ukraine has forced this company to revise their plans connected to entering new markets.

What forced you to give up on your plans? Are you looking for a new, better partner?

I have not given up on my plans. From the perspective of time I think that it’s perhaps better that the things worked out the way they did. That company was clearly not ready to enter a new market, and I needed more time to learn more about amber. All marketing ideas must be well thought-through and only then they can be implemented.

What is your plan? 

There is no point in generating any plans without support.  The plans will make sense only when amber companies notice the potential of the Indian market and their future connected with it. It’s teamwork, where everybody has the same vision and goal. It surely won’t be easy. The plan itself must come from the amber organisations, or the producers. Currently I am a member of the management board of a jewellery company, which is about to begin its activity. We’re going to deal with fantastic, light-weight diamonds and gold jewellery. Online sale is the future both in India and all over the world. It also means tremendous possibilities of amber promotion. As the proverb says: “Rome wasn’t built in a day”.

Neeraj Kayathwal, has over 25 years of experience in the jewellery and precious stones industry. He specialises in the diamond and precious stone trade, jewellery marketing on the Indian market and beyond, he’s focused on growth, researching current trends in the jewellery industry. He is a member and exhibitor at many leading fair trade events of the jewellery industry in the world. Currently, he is the director of a company dealing with stationary sales, which is soon going to launch online sales in Mumbai, India.

Anna Sado

Anna Sado

Trade journalist specialising in jewellery related topics. Since 2007 has been co-creator of the amber portal

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