A Golden Journey
Parekh brothers add glitter to all that is goldA
s the seventh generation of a family of jewellers, Nillesh and Umesh Parekh have something that sets
them apart from the pack: gold in their blood. Umesh, 46, the younger of the two brothers, says: “I love gold. If you cut my skin, you will get it. I dream in gold; in golden colour, not in black and white.” Nillesh, the more understated of the two, says: “When I touch gold, I am not boasting, I know if it is gold or not. I can feel the vibration.”
Ever since they figured out that having their own manufacturing base is key to making it big in exports, their company, Kolkata-based Shree Ganesh Jewellery House (SGJH), has been on an award-winning spree. And the awards are backed by an impressive performance. Its revenues have grown at a compound annual growth rate of 56 per cent and profit after tax rose 41 per cent in the three years up to 2010-11. After it went public in April 2010, SGJH reported Rs 5,241 crore in revenues in FY 2011. It has already crossed Rs 6,000 crore in the first three quarters of this fiscal.
The sharp rise in gold prices has done nothing to dampen their growth or ambitions. Shree Ganesh has buyers in the Gulf who pick up jewellery by the kilo. It is beginning to service domestic demand with its own retail chain, Gaja. At the back end, it is setting up a gold refinery and a manufacturing unit for hand-crafted products and Italian fusion jewellery — machine-made beauties that look twice as large but weigh half as much as hand-made jewellery. With plenty of money to spare, they have also invested in a solar-power project in Gujarat
Gold In Their Blood
Nillesh, chairman of SGJH, recalls how they began learning the ropes the hard way under their father. They were in their twenties then. “We were given jewellery and asked to sell it. We went from place to place by train to sell it. To Hyderabad, Bangalore, Delhi, places in Bihar… any place you name,” he says. Their father was a hard taskmaster, says Umesh, managing director of SGJH. He lent them money at steep interest rates and demanded his interest payment on time. “He gave me Rs 10 lakh and charged me like Shylock: 28 per cent, to be paid by the third of every month. If I failed, the money would be recalled. I was paying Rs 28,000 to Rs 30,000 every month,” he says.
As they went around selling gold jewellery made by small-time artisans, Nillesh and Umesh realised they must have their own manufacturing to get to a different league. They began with an export-oriented unit in Falta, West Bengal. Recalls Umesh: “Many people objected. They did not like a jeweller becoming an artisan. But they could not imagine that the Rs 100-crore market could turn into a Rs 8,000-crore or Rs 10,000-crore or even a Rs 20,000- crore market.”
From 1998 to 2002, exports of gold jewellery from Kolkata amounted to Rs 100 crore. Today, this stands at Rs 16,000 crore. SGJH was incorporated in 2002. Shortly afterwards, the West Bengal government promoted Manikanchan, a special economic zone (SEZ) set up exclusively for gems and jewellery. The government was determined to capitalise on the skills of the famed Bengali goldsmiths, who had to work in faraway places for a living. Seizing the opportunity, SGJH set up its unit in the SEZ in 2004. Today, it has eight units and employs more than 500 expert craftsmen or karigars.
Manufacturing is not the only thing that sets SGJH apart from rivals in hand-crafted jewellery. Umesh prides himself on their huge design bank. “When I talk of designing facilities, I don’t mean just a few designers drawing designs. We have a design pool of more than 30,000 designs. That is a large pool for any jeweller globally. This has been built over 75 years,” he says. They have also signed on the likes of Sabyasachi Mukherjee and Abhishek Dutta to do a men’s line. “No jeweller in India has done it. We will have cuff links, tiepins and ear studs for one ear. We will not have nose pins, bracelets and rings. Of course, chains are there. We will also have a piercing service for men,” says Umesh.
How does it help to employ karigars instead of going around buying from goldsmiths? According to the brothers, family jewellers will not be able to maintain the purity of the gold even if their intentions are true. A family jeweller has to get it made by a karigar, who gives it to a sub karigar. “There is a lot of pilferage, loss of gold and all this is passed on to the customer. The quality cannot be uniform, while our products are hallmarked for purity,” says Umesh.
Nillesh points out that karigars in traditional gold jewellery hubs such as Bowbazar work in dingy rooms, amid poisonous fumes. The modern factory ensures better quality control and safety. “We have purity testing machinery at every stage — right from melting to ball making to chain-wire drawing. We check (quality) at least four times. We check at every stage, with lasers. We have purchased 15 machines for our stores,” says Umesh.
The Heart Of Gold
At the Manikanchan SEZ, a guard waves us in desultorily. The seven-storey building — barely eight years old — is unimpressive. Someone has put out towels to dry and the unofficial “guard” dog is tending to her litter. The lobby is deserted, the floor stained with spilt tea and the lift’s corners stained with paan juice. But inside the main unit of SGJH, it is a whole different world. In a corner room, pots of gold are being melted down at temperatures of over a 1,000 degree Celsius in small chulhas. Next to it, a group of men squatting on the floor are hammering away at what look like iron bangles. Only they are solid gold, just steps away from the gleaming pieces that people die for.
Here, the company has created a unique world where laser technology, Italian automation and computer-aided design fuse with Bengal’s karigars, who continue to work sitting on the floor. A computer may transfer an intricate pattern on to a film of wax, but it is up to the karigar to position the gold balls and wires on this wax template and weld them into the intricate handcrafted gold jewellery for which SGJH is famous.