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17 may 2021
ashish_pethe_xx.pngAshish Pethe, Chairman of All India Gem and Jewellery Domestic Council (GJC), formerly known as All India Gems & Jewellery Trade Federation (GJF) is based in Mumbai. As the third-generation heir of M/s Waman Hari Pethe Jewellers established in Mumbai way back in 1909, Ashish Pethe comes with decades of experience in the jewellery sector.

After completing his bachelor’s degree in B.E. (ELECTRICAL) from VJTI, Mumbai followed by masters in MBA (Marketing) from Symbiosis Institute of Business Management, Pune, and a certificate course in Diamond Grading from International Gemological Institute, Ashish has been actively involved with the trade bodies at various levels.

Now, as Chairman of GJC, Ashish Pethe’s vision is to transform and energize jewellers across India to bring more synergies within the indigenous industry. His motto is to unite the entire industry and work towards achieving GJC's set goal of ‘One Industry One Voice’.

Here, in an Exclusive Interview with Rough&Polished, Ashish Pethe takes us through the Indian jewellery sector, articulating the nuances of the traditional market…

As the Chairman of the All-India Gem and Jewellery Domestic Council (GJC), what are your initial plans to grow the Indian G&J industry into a more transparent and compliant industry? Are there ideas in your mind that may be implemented soon?

There are a lot many initiatives that we have planned and shall be executed soon, but due to Covid 19 pandemic, we are taking it slow because still there is a lot of uncertainty due to lockdowns and stricter social distancing norms. Currently safeguarding lives should be the priority of everyone.

However, we have not stopped doing webinars and digital activities. Our Labham seminars are being conducted online as well, which focuses on educating the Jewelers to become compliant and organized. We have plans to initiate more interactive seminars and webinars in the coming days. Mandatory Hallmarking and GST laws are the subjects in which the industry requires handholding. We are holding regional seminars to educate the industry and help them in understanding and implementing the Compliance requirements.  

Has GJC started any new initiatives/projects recently? Are any strategies being planned now, despite the current challenging pandemic times?

Although the markets were seeing an upward graph, now with a new outbreak of the second wave of Covid-19, where social distancing is the only norm, new physical events practically would be difficult for the next few months considering the safety and wellbeing of all concerned. However, depending on the situation the decision will be taken on new plans. End of last year, we succeeded in organizing GJS Virtual and it was a grand success. This year, we are looking forward to our 1st B2B grand jewellery show - GJS, maintaining all the Covid guidelines and protocols given by the Government.

As a new initiative, we will soon launch a Youth Forum for all the GJC members as the youth are the ones who will take our industry to the next level.

GJC’s popular flagship platform ‘Preferred Manufacturer of India' event was a success. Will the Council continue organizing the event across the country even in the future…maybe a virtual event?

Preferred Manufacturer of India (PMI) is one of the most prestigious events of GJC. This year before the second wave struck the country, we organized two super successful PMIs at Bangalore and Cochin. Recently, we had planned a PMI in Chennai from 4th-6th May 2021, however, with the new lockdown restrictions we had to postpone the event keeping in mind the safety of all concerned. PMI is a luxurious event with the best of both Leisure and Business. It is truly a benchmark buyer-seller meet of the Industry and GJC shall continue to serve the industry through PMIs. Doing PMI virtually, may not do justice to the core values of PMI which is networking and one on one interaction between the participant manufacturers and top retailers of the country.

India’s domestic jewellery sector is still not completely organized. Have the steps taken earlier by GJC resulted in some sort of order till now? Are the jewellery manufacturers/retailers now willing to follow rules and regulations?

One needs to understand that a large part of the industry is uneducated and works like a handicraft industry. Everyone in the industry wants and desires to follow rules and law of land. GJC has been working with the Government to try and get the rules and regulation formed in such a way that it makes easy for the industry to implement it without much disruption. Excellent examples of this are the implementation of Excise and GST laws.

Still, a major part of the Industry is yet to become organized and GJC through Labham seminars has been helping and hand-holding jewellers to conduct business in an organized manner. To date, we have conducted over 76 physical and over 20 Virtual Labhams, with a total participation of more than 15000 Jewellers. Apart from Labham, GJC has also been conducting various seminars and webinars to impart knowledge and instill the importance of having a compliant business structure.

As a jeweller yourself, do you see any changes in terms of the way the jewellery business is done now in India compared to a few decades ago? In what way has the attitude/taste/ choice etc of customers changed over the years? Has high gold price resulted in jewellery demand declining in the country? Your opinion.

The choice and preference of customers keep constantly changing. Today’s generation is keener towards lightweight Jewellery, which they can wear regularly, while heavy Jewellery is more preferred during the wedding season. The designs have also gone into a major transformation, especially to attract the millennials.

More buying occasions have been added as well as newer distribution channels. Online sales are picking up in India. A new generation of customers gives preference to designs and brands in their purchase decisions. Almost 70-80% of the decision-making process is done at home or online when the customers do the exploration process. While the end process of purchase happens offline or in-store.

The rising Gold price sometimes also helps in generating demand, because in this scenario customer takes quicker decision in buying Gold as they anticipate that the price may increase further. The pandemic has reinforced the confidence of customers in gold as an asset class.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the jewellery sector? What is the current situation of the gem and jewellery sector in the country? Do you see the industry get over the present hurdles and return to a healthy industry, going forward?

Covid 19 has impacted our Industry very severely. In 2020 and now also in 2021, wherein once again the lockdown has been imposed, a lot of jewellers have shut their businesses, many 'karigars' (artisans) and employees have lost their jobs. The Gems and Jewellery sector is also identified as one of the 26 stressed sectors of India due to Covid. Interestingly, while all other asset class investments such as real estate, mutual funds etc were volatile, Gold was the only investment option that gave a substantial return in 2020. Hence Gold has once again proven to be the best investment option that helps people sail through difficult times. Hence, I believe the love for Gold has further increased in the minds of the customers. A lot of marriages were postponed last year. Marriages are happening on a smaller scale. So, a lot of money was saved from marriage expenses which are getting invested in Gems and Jewellery.

What is the outcome of the GJC representations made to the Maharashtra government recently regarding keeping the jewellery sector open during the festival/wedding season?

As an industry, we appreciate the Government’s concerns about containing the spread of Covid-19. We had urged the Government to relax the restrictions imposed because of the rising COVID-19 cases during 'muhurat' days to ensure the livelihood of many craftsmen and self-employed jewellers. The traditional 'Make in India' indigenous Gem and Jewellery will not be able to survive one more lockdown as the on-ground situation is worse. All the expenses are ongoing while the business is shut due to lockdowns. Also, these few months are very important for our industry with Akshaya Tritiya just around the corner followed by full wedding seasons. There are thousands of customers who have placed the order and waiting for the pieces of jewellery to get delivered. So, we have requested the ministry to keep our industry exempted from the rules as a jewellery store is undoubtedly one of the only secured retail formats where protocols are adhered to very strictly. However, our appeal was not fully considered but we have obtained an exemption from the strict Covid-19 measures in Mumbai and the surrounding region where manufacturing and support activities can continue in India.

Aruna Gaitonde, Editor in Chief of the Asian Bureau, Rough&Polished