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More people are now opting for diamonds rather than plain gold jewellery, because they offer a greater investment opportunity and are trendier

15 september 2014

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Rajiv Popley, Director of Popley Group, is well-known in the jewellery and watch sector in Mumbai. His expertise lies in diamonds and luxury retail and he is a pioneer of luxury and jewellery e-commerce. In the year 2006, Rajiv launched the first Indian boutiques for Tag Heuer and Omega. His passion for watches and luxury led him to build trade relations with Switzerland by fostering the Indo-Swiss society.

Rajiv was also one of the first few to launch platinum jewellery India in association with Platinum Guild International. He has been promoting this rare metal for over a decade.

He was also one of the first few to be accredited with the Bureau of Indian Standards for gold hallmarking in India. A firm believer in assuring high quality jewellery to his customers, he introduced diamond certification for every sold diamond, loose and set in jewellery.

In an interview with Rough&Polished, Rajiv sees the Indian jewellery market becoming more demand-driven with the younger generation playing a major part in the future.

Some excerpts:

Please give us an overview of Popley Group, its history, growth graph and its present position as a major jewellery Group.

Founded in 1927 by Kewalram Ghanshamdas Popley, the Popley Group has been the ambassador of luxury lifestyle in India and the Middle East for over 85 years. Maintaining its heritage of a family owned operation, our Group has evolved into one of the leading forces in the luxury business.

Today, with a portfolio of several luxury brands, a presence across nations, the Popley Group represents some of the finest international brands and jewellery in the region. The Popley Group specializes in the retail, distribution and marketing of fine jewellery in gold, platinum and diamonds, solitaire diamonds, gold and silver bullion, silver artefacts and luxury brands within the sectors of watches, accessories, luxury communications, writing instruments and gifts. Popley has encompassed trusted relationships with prestigious houses such as Swatch Group, L.V.M.H. Along with international councils and associations like the World Gold Council, Platinum Guild and Trade Federations of India and U.A.E.

It is understood that you market various brands from overseas, besides your own jewellery. Can you give an insight into this area of your business?

Our Popley Group has been a pioneer in luxury jewellery and watches. We are a one-stop shop for premium jewellery, watches and accessories. The demands of the Indian consumer have always been growing in terms of luxury, quality and technology. To cater to the growing needs of the Indian consumers, who are keen to indulge in premium watches; it was necessary that we offer them an array of choices that entails futuristic quartz technology, complemented by international styling.

Our motive has always been to ensure that the consumers cherish their experience while shopping at Popley. Currently international luxury brands like Rado, Omega, TAG Heuer, Tissot and Raymond Weil are available at all the retail outlets of Popley along with many international jewellery brands.

In which part of the Group’s business would you say your individual ‘signature mark’ can be seen? What is your contribution in the whole business of Popleys?

The Popley Group has been synonymous with the jewellery in India and UAE since 1927. We have always ensured that we are creating pieces of art, not necessarily jewellery. So, many of our pieces are about making imagination and myth a reality. Each of the collection is inspired taking into mind a particular theme. We like to get involved in the design process and ideate with the entire team from the merchandisers to the R&D. Therefore, there is a lot of backward integration invested in each line of jewellery that we create, keeping in mind the aesthetic and commercial aspect in mind simultaneously. Our Group is an integrated player, because of which we are able to grow very fast.

Over the years, what transformations have you seen in jewellery demand in the domestic market. What is the trend at present?

The gems and jewellery industry is a sunshine industry. As investment and fashion go together, the industry witnesses transformation. We have also seen the industry shifting from an unorganized to organized sector. India is currently the world’s largest market for jewellery. With changing mindsets Indian consumers are now adopting the new trends and are more willing to buy and celebrate different sorts of jewellery. But the charm that gold holds in the consumer mind-set is still irreplaceable. Initially the jewellery market only entailed gold purchases. However, in today’s time there is demand for diamonds, platinum, semi-precious, coloured gems and light-weight jewellery.

According to you, what percentage, in terms of demand, would you place for pure gold jewellery, diamond studded jewellery and colour stone studded jewellery in India?

In India gold is not just synonymous with jewellery but it is considered to be auspicious as it is a mythological metal. But in this contemporary period, the consumers are more inclined towards diamonds as it is said to be forever. More people are now opting for diamonds rather than plain gold jewellery, because they offer a greater investment opportunity and are trendier. Diamond solitaires outperformed gold in the stock index by over 10 percentage points in recent times, further lowering India’s profound love for gold.

Profit margins on pure gold have shrunk after the government introduced a series of measures to cut dollars spent on imports of the precious metal, including higher import taxes and tougher import procedures, in an attempt to surface the current discrepancy.

Like China, India’s domestic demand for diamond jewellery is expected to boom in the coming years. Your comments.

Indian demand for diamond jewellery has been on the rise with over double-digit growth for the past 6 to 7 years now. With overseas economic crisis and India's potential to service diamond requirements, the market development locally took up and filled in the lacuna for supply. India's diamond jewellery demand is quite visible and growing consistently. Indian consumers are also maturing in their tastes for higher end diamond jewellery and this is boosting the markets now in the tier 2 and 3 cities. With a larger younger audience demanding diamonds, the markets are only going to grow larger and more significantly.

Your take on the Indian domestic jewellery sector and its growth over the past few years. What challenges, if any, do you perceive in the future?

The domestic gems and jewellery industry is likely to proliferate in the next five years on growing demand of bullion for investment and ornaments for household consumption and gifting purposes.

Some of the challenges that might crop up in the near future include high import dependence and limited domestic recycling, limited financing options, etc. These attributes if not addressed can impact the industry’s performance and contribution towards the economy. To mobilize the investment made in gold by Indians, the government must look at gold bond issues and other tax saving modes to avoid import of the metal; and at the same time keep the metal in circulation.

Where does Popley stand in the already crowded Indian domestic market? And how many stores does Popleys have now? Plans for the future?

Popley Group has created its own niche and is a one-stop shop to varied and distinguished jewellery coupled with luxury watches, Vertu phones, accessories and an extensive corporate gifting inventory. We have three stores in Mumbai, a flagship store at Turner Road, Bandra, Grand Hyatt and Opera House. Also, we have around thirteen stores in Dubai. The future roadmap will witness more focus of setting up more stores in India and Dubai with larger emphasis on owning huge stores area wise and not just multiplying the number of stores.

The curbs on gold imports... how has it affected your business? How do you see the gold curb panning out in due course?

Restricting gold imports has had an impact on exports of gold jewellery and export has fallen by considerable amount in the recent months. There has been an all-round loss in revenue for the government on account of falling exports and a multiplier effect of losing jobs. Of course, curbing imports reduces the supply of the metal and dampens the spirit of the industry on the whole.

Aruna Gaitonde, Rough&Polished, India