Looking Beyond The Stereotype

RITZ catches up with Pratap Kamath to capture a glimpse of his journey

It was at the cusp of the new millennium that Pratap Kamath joined his family run jewellery business that has its roots in the 1930s, when his grandfather Burde Sadananda Kamath opened the first jewellery store in Udupi. And now, a decade and a half later, he is instituting a series of dynamic changes to lure in a fast-evolving clientele that seeks jewellery which is high on design, is light-weight and wearable on a daily basis. RITZ catches up with Pratap, Managing Director of Abaran Timeless Jewellery at his opulent multi-storied showroom in Bengaluru to capture a glimpse of his journey and plans ahead

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Positioned neatly next to the opulent gold and diamonds at Abaran’s tasteful showroom which is replete with imposing chandeliers, intricately designed upholstery and chic counters, are a whole range of Rolex and Rado watches and Mont Blanc pens. Sensing our impending question, Pratap is quick to respond.

“It’s all changed in the last 15 odd years. Changed rapidly,” he says. He is referring to changes in the consumer’s buying pattern, from the amount of jewellery consumed, to the designs, and the mindset of the modern day consumer. Pratap’s customers are now not just predominantly women. He wants more men to make a purchase. And what better product than a premium watch or a pen to attract the quintessential successful man?

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“Earlier, men wore bracelets. We are not seeing that trend nowadays. So beyond chains and rings, watches are a great accessory for men and retailing them is a conscious decision that we have taken,” says Pratap.

But the evolution from bracelets to watches is just one of the myriad changes transforming the business of jewellery.

Dissecting buyer psyche of the earlier generation, Pratap explains that back then, it was primarily during weddings that the whole family would visit a jewellery store, with the patriarch sitting in front and deciding on the jewellery as per his budget. “The designs were repetitive. The patriarch would say that he has four or five women in the family and he would like seemingly identical pieces of say a necklace or a pair of bangles. So more or less one design was replicated into four to five pieces. Handling one customer meant a large volume of business. ”

But today, the patriarch sits behind, while the ultimate wearer of jewellery, the lady sits in front and spells out the exact design and pattern that she would want, with no repetition in designs. With higher disposable income levels, it is the wearer of the jewellery making the final decision. “And people today want pieces with a unique design element, which is light-weight and can be used on a regular basis,” states Pratap. Which means today, more resources are needed to not just design a piece of jewellery, but also handle each customer in a very favourable fashion.

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Understanding Core Challenges

If the design element is one big hurdle for jewellers, skyrocketing gold prices induce another major headache.

Pratap recalls that in the early 2000s, gold traded at around  Rs 350 per gram. Today, it hovers well above Rs 3,000 per gram, marking a 10-fold increase over the years. This automatically impacts the buying decision, with people going in for lesser units. So from buying a set of four heavy bangles, it’s now maybe just two light-weight ones that consumers would actually purchase. Yes, minimalism is in, especially in jewellery!

Secondly, the change in lifestyle implies investing more on smartphones, cars, gadgets, as well as luxury handbags, designer clothing, international holidays and more. “This has affected jewellers as earlier, all this money was coming to jewellery,” says Pratap, going on to add that jewellers today confront competition not just from their contemporaries, but also from makers of lifestyle products and services.

Innovation And Transformation

To counter the challenges and attract more buyers, especially in the below 40 years category, Pratap has invested and innovated to introduce ‘modular’ jewellery – mainly a large piece of jewel that can be worn in multiple ways, giving the wearer a completely different look each time. For instance, a large heritage necklace will come with attachable pieces that can be used as a haar, or a choker or a kamarbandh or bajubandh, with the pendant being threaded to a chain and worn independently. “So the wearer can decide to use all these pieces in one go, or part-by-part. With modular jewellery, the wearer invests in one piece and wears it in distinct ways.”

Abaran has also introduced ‘fusion’ jewellery, wherein 50 percent of the design is Western, with traditional Indian motifs being incorporated in a fine manner.

To balance the price rise, they have consciously focused on reducing weight by as much as 30 percent. So if a mango necklace weighed 100 grams earlier, today it would weigh about 70 grams. When the weight falls, prices for end consumers also reduce, making it a more attractive buying option.

Moreover, with platinum being a popular choice with working professionals, the brand has a range of chains, bracelets, necklaces, bangles and rings for both men and women. When compared to gold, although platinum constitutes a minuscule number in terms of sale, it is a segment which is galloping at 18-20% every year. “Therefore a crucial segment. Especially with youngsters,” says Pratap.

He calls Abaran a ‘premium jewellery’ brand. Premium, not luxury. Again a conscious decision, in order to attract clients from every segment of society.

The moment you say ‘luxury’, you are cutting off almost 80 percent of the market, he says. “And when you say ‘mass market’, the moneyed class does not really want to come in. ‘Premium’ is in-between and appeals to all, from an entry-level buyer to someone who wants to splurge.”


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The Road Ahead

Despite challenges, the opportunities in jewellery are for all to see. The market in India is growing at a compounded annual rate of almost 16 percent.

“Jewellery, especially gold jewellery is still perceived of as an investment and a superb accessory. People know that jewellery is any time money. You can liquidate it whenever you want, in part or in whole. Something you cannot really do as easily with your other assets,” says Pratap.

Abaran has two outlets in Bengaluru and plans are afoot to open a third one. The brand is also eyeing markets such as Mysuru, Belgaum and Mangalore for expansion. “I actually dream of being present in every district in Karnataka,” says Pratap, whose father, Madhukar S Kamath heralded the era of jewellery showrooms in Karnataka way back in the last 1970s.

He attributes the ethos of Abaran to his father. “My father believed in doing ordinary things in an extraordinary way. What I’ve learnt over the years is that consistency is the key, especially in terms of product quality and service. We are in the business of retail and the service delivered is as important as the product itself. The way a product is presented to a consumer matters a lot and that is something I’ve learnt from dad,” says the proud Pratap, an able horse-rider who owns several winning thoroughbreds and often spends Sunday mornings indulging in his passion along with his children.