After living in UK and US for a considerable part of his life, Ashraf Ahmed returned to UAE where he lived as a child, only to set up shop in a sector he is passionate about... gem stones and jewellery.
A graduate in Business & Finance, Ashraf is adequately qualified in the gems and jewellery business with diplomas and certificates from the Gemological Institute of America and the International Gemological Institute.
With over 30 years of experience in the sector, Ashraf's companies, Diamond Infinity DMCC and his online venture Dubai Wholesale Diamonds cater to clients directly as well as online. His Hong-Kong-based company Diamond Investments HK Limited handles diamond investments.
In an Interview with Rough & Polished, Ashraf Ahmed speaks on the whole gamut of the gems and jewellery businesses he is involved in... right from manufacture, retail, wholesale and investment.
Was your venture into the diamond business due to your interest in the sector or was it a family business you took over? As a wholesaler, can you give us your client profile? Please give us an overview of how it all began...
Primarily my own interest as my family is not involved in this business. I think my passion was to break free of the high-street retail model and offer diamonds at the lowest prices so everyone who was interested could actually buy. Using a pragmatic approach, we designed this business model by sourcing our diamonds from the source itself and offer them to all our clients with nominal margins. This proved to be quite successful and our sales volume then and more so now reflects our desired efforts for penetrating into the global consumer market.
Do both your current companies deal in wholesale loose diamonds and jewellery? Can you walk us through the workings of both the companies in respect to their business strategies, clients, markets catered, etc.?
We view ourselves as professional diamantaires or diamond merchants equipped to handle retail, wholesale and manufacturing orders.
Yes, one of our companies (Diamond Infinity DMCC) is based in Dubai and handles most of our operations in ranging from wholesaling, attending to private clients and is instrumental also in managing our online operations.
Our company based in Hong Kong (Diamond Investments HK Limited) handles diamond investments as we have quite a few VIP clients who are viewing diamonds as a serious investment vehicle and purchase high quality diamonds. Investment ranges from $50,000 to $1,000,000 depending on the client.
Due to technological advances and our commitment we have been quite successful in increasing our online presence and our website has enabled us to increase our traction and acquire more and more clients on a daily basis. We are averaging now close to “50+ enquiries” daily from all over the world and have a referral system in place where we connect with our purchased clients network. This along with offering diamonds at the lowest possible prices globally has helped us tremendously.
Do you deal in color diamonds as well? How is the demand for colour diamonds right now, given that price comes with a premium? What's your opinion of diamonds (white/colored) in general as investment vehicle per se?
Yes, we definitely deal in colored diamonds. Demand for colored diamonds is increasing and overall investors /clients achieve the best returns on these diamonds historically. The reason is that coloured diamonds are quite rare when compared to white diamonds. So, the simple demand and supply principle applies to them. As they are scarce the returns are better.
Which lab do you use to certify your stones? Do labs need to be more assertive and think of better ways to provide services without loopholes, so that they are not misused? What are your suggestions?
We only deal in certified diamonds firstly. And the only 3 we use are GIA, IGI and HRD. As these are the best and most reputable diamond certifying labs that are presently accepted by diamond dealers globally. There are other labs such as EGL that we have stopped using over 3 years back as the grading was far too liberal for our liking.
Understand that you are into diamond jewellery business as well. Are you a manufacturer of diamond jewellery? Or source jewellery from others and operate as a wholesaler/retailer of diamond jewellery? Are you into high-end jewellery only or also into entry-level everyday jewellery? Please elaborate.
Yes, we manufacture jewellery in our state of the art jewelry manufacturing facility in Dubai. Both every day jewelry and high end. Depending on the clients’ needs, our designers via the assistance of CAD software are able to replicate or create new designs that they choose from. As we deal with clients with various budgets, we are open to all sorts of jewelry that we are commissioned to manufacture.
That Dubai is a huge market for gems and jewellery is well known, but what is your company's niche strategy in jewellery trade? Demand wise, from which countries do you receive maximum enquiries and eventually turn into clients/buyers?
Our website, Dubai Wholesale Diamonds, is a well-established and respected global player. Daily we receive 50+ enquiries from our clients placed all over the world. Being serious diamantaires, GIA certified coupled with the largest diamond stock of over 1.4 million diamonds offered at the lowest prices with the best possible customer service we believe that there is more growth to come as the global market turns to online purchasing as compared to their high street local jewellers selling inferior quality goods at higher prices. Current diamond purchasers are educated and mindful of the current developments and do their homework before purchasing. This definitely helps us to make our mark.
Secondly, we have been featured on the BBC, ITV, The Telegraph and other various international publications and due to our reputation being solid - new customers are swayed to us due to this feature. Plus our dedicated GIA gemologists educate our potential clients to the point that trust takes over and we are able to convert them into clients.
What's the current position in the diamond financing scenario in UAE? With Dubai growing into a major hub, lending banks may be vying to serve the gem and jewellery industry in the region. What's the scene at present?
Our philosophy has been to take no credit and neither lend credit to any of our clients. We notify our clients that the minute banks get involved prices increase. We have a very simple philosophy which our clients respect. They pay us and then we do the needful. This is the reason why we have the lowest prices globally! Clients do understand and are prepared to purchase.
Are you into online diamond and jewellery business as well? Are you doing solo or associated with other ecommerce companies to market your products? What is the equation with the numerous online companies who carry your products? Your comments please.
Online activities account for 60% of our revenues. The rest is derived from wholesaling to retailers located in the Middle East, UK, Australia, etc., and selling to private clients. Currently our only source of online activity results from our own website, which is rated quite highly globally.
From where do you source your polished diamonds? What quality and size of stones do you mainly source? How important is legitimate sourcing for your company? Also, what is your opinion on Kimberley Process and steps taken by UAE-KP Chair in particular?
We deal directly with sightholder companies that buy rough diamonds from De Beers and ALROSA. Once these diamonds are cut and polished and then certified, we are then given access to sell to our global clientele. Basically, more than 80% of our sales are directly to end clients who purchase for themselves or their families. 20% of our sales is to retailers for their local client demands.
Wrapping up, what's your opinion of the current diamond industry globally, given that the slowdown in most of the consumer markets shows no sign of improving? Has it affected your business and how? From where do you source your colour stones. Demand-wise, how important are colored stones in your company's diamond jewellery?
On the contrary - we feel that the diamond industry will increase. Our sales have increased and not decreased over the past one year if we were to take a snap shot. I think clients are looking for the best prices, reputable companies to deal with, and the best possible transparent 24/7 customer service. This in effect leads to referrals and our own clients become our marketing agents by using the ultimate form of marketing: the word of mouth advertisement to their own family members, friends, work colleagues and network.
We are confident that 2017 will be a very good year as we are in the process of further decreasing our prices to focus on sales turnover and make concrete advances in penetrating aggressively the global diamond consumer market.
Aruna Gaitonde, Editor in Chief of Asian Bureau, Rough & Polished