Friday, August 06, 2010

All that glitters….. is gold, as well as diamonds


The Geeri Pais, famed jewellers in Kochi for more than hundred years, is going as strong as ever, led by the fourth-generation scion, Ramesh Pai

Photo: Ramesh Pai with a diamond necklace which costs Rs 9 lakh

By Shevlin Sebastian

A few years ago, a Pala-based rubber planter, James Mathew (name changed) and his wife came to the Geeri Pai showroom on M.G. Road. They were browsing around in the diamond jewellery section, but it was clear they had no knowledge. In stepped young Ramesh Pai.

“At the counter itself I gave them a class for three hours,” says Ramesh. “I made them understand the concepts of cut, colour, clarity, and carat, which are used to evaluate diamonds. I also informed them about the enhanced re-sale value of diamonds.”

The enthused couple was faced with an option: should they buy a small diamond or a solitaire? “A solitaire is more expensive, but when your wife wears it, she will stand out in society,” Ramesh told the planter. “Taking me at my word, James bought a solitaire worth Rs 3 lakh.”

Recently, James came to the shop and asked Ramesh about the re-sale value of the solitaire. Ramesh inspected it, and said the value had gone up to Rs. 5.6 lakh. James was taken aback. “I made a big mistake,” he said. “When I bought the solitaire, I had also bought a car worth Rs 6 lakh, but I re-sold it for only Rs 1.5 lakh a month ago.”

Ramesh laughs when he recounts the incident, and says, “I told James that a car has a different use and value.” For his 29th wedding anniversary, in June, James bought solitaires worth Rs 12 lakh. “James became a valuable customer, thanks to a class I gave so many years ago,” says Ramesh.

The shop gets customers from all segments of society. The elite -- the wives of planters, business magnates, top professionals, and non-resident Indians -- are looking for custom-made jewellery in diamonds. “For gold jewellery, we have customers from the working, as well as the upper middle class,” says Ramesh.

The majority are looking to buy jewellery for investment purposes. It is a sensible option, because the price of gold has shot up by 60 per cent in the last two years. “That kind of returns is not available for any other product,” says Ramesh.

As he talks, a staff member enters his office with a few pieces of gold jewellery placed on a tray. Ramesh immediately takes out a 10X Loupe, a magnifying glass, which he has bought from Antwerp, Belgium, for Rs. 15,000.

“This is like a doctor’s stethoscope,” says Ramesh, as he squints and inspects the jewellery through the lens. “I want to check that the gold is of the right weight and price, as mentioned on the label, before it is sold.”

The inspection is soon over because the items are few. But the price is steep. “It is Rs 5 lakh worth of jewellery,” says Ramesh.

Incidentally, the Geeri Pais are not Malayalis. They are Konkani Brahmins from Goa. Ramesh’s great-grandfather M. Madhav Pai fled from Mormugao district in Goa, because the Portuguese were doing forced conversions.

Madhav Pai landed up at Mattancherry, and later moved to Kochi. Initially, he began dealing in ayurveda medicines, before branching out into gems, stones, and gold jewellery. “He used to supply jewellery to the Royal family at Tripunithara and other members of the elite,” says Ramesh.

Today, the business, more than 100 years old, is thriving. Ramesh is a member of the fourth generation. He says the most popular jewellery is an antique type, called Chettinad, which is sourced from Karaikudi in Sivaganga district, Tamil Nadu.

A fan and regular customer is Saritha, the wife of actor Jayasuriya. “The designs of their antique jewellery are superb,” she says. “In fact, it is unique. And what I most like about Geeri Pai is their personalised customer care.”

Not only do they look after customers well, but the company takes good care of their jewellery. For that, they have an elaborate security system. At night, ultra-violet rays will continuously sweep across particular areas in the shop. “If someone touches one of the rays, which cannot be seen, an alarm will go off,” says Ramesh.

After closing time, every single piece of jewellery, which is on display in the shop, is put into a box, and stored in two 100 sq. ft. safe rooms, which have 12” concrete walls, and costs Rs 9 lakh each. “It is foolproof,” says Ramesh.

The jewellery business is also recession-proof. That is because of the deeply entrenched gold culture among Malayalis. “In Kerala, among women, there is no greater happiness than buying gold,” says Ramesh. “That is why there are more than 3000 jewellery shops all over the state.”

Because of this popular demand, the future is bright for Ramesh and succeeding generations of the Geeri Pais.

Fact File

India was the predominant source of diamonds for over 2,000 years, until the mid-eighteenth century.

916 Hallmark jewellery is a rating given by the Bureau of Indian Standards guaranteeing the quality of 22 carat gold

Keralites prefer 22 carat gold because of the high re-sale value.

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)


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