The name ‘Ganjam’ spells opulence, elegance and grandeur. And that’s what the family has been endeavouring through its exquisite and luxurious products all along. Having been in the business of jewellery for close to two centuries, a rich legacy, heritage and tradition define their existence in Karnataka. A key member of the clan, GB Umesh, Joint Managing Director, Ganjam, is at the helm, steering ahead the business started by his forefathers in an evolving consumer-centric landscape which is marked by volatility and intense competition. As he strives to consolidate the brand through a market for premium luxury jewellery, RITZ meets the simple, soft-spoken, straightforward and self-effacing man for an exclusive chat.
“It is our artisans, to whom we owe it all. They are a set of highly creative people who handcraft our jewellery and I am forever grateful to them. Ditto for our customers, who have seen us through all these years and are closely involved in what we do. A thousand salutes to our artisans and customers.’’ This could have made for a nice conclusion, but with GB Umesh, it’s the starting sentence into the conversation. “Aren’t our customers and artisans the wings that help us fly high?’’ asks the man as he seeks to unravel the progression of Ganjam from 1889 to 2016. The brand is synonymous with high quality gold and diamond jewellery ever since the company was formed 127 years ago with a base in one of the oldest parts of Bengaluru. “But as a family, we’re almost 200 years old in jewellery”, says Umesh, recalling a journey that started from the Andhra-Orissa border to Hampi, then to Srirangapatna, and finally into this city.
It’s a super insightful story, as it’s the journey of a family whose craftsmanship and intricate designs found favour with the royals in Mysore, Nepal and Japan!
Spearheading A Revolution
At the turn of this century, when gold and diamonds reigned supreme in the market for premium jewellery, Ganjam did the unthinkable and embraced platinum. It was an audacious move at that time, around the early 2000s, when platinum was a rarity in jewellery, especially in India.
GB Umesh was introduced to renowned Japanese platinum designer Kazuo Ogawa, and together they held an exhibition showcasing avant-garde pieces of platinum jewellery for Ganjam’s elite clientele. “Bengaluru was our spot. The reaction from our customers was phenomenal. They were mesmerised and were keen to make a purchase. This was an eye-opener as we didn’t presume our clients will have a penchant for platinum,” he reminisces, adding that with new-found confidence he then flew to Japan and sold in Tokyo, Osaka and Hokkaido through exclusive exhibitions. “That was a big turning point. As that’s when we contemplated on re-launching ourselves as a premium luxury brand.”
Some of the splendid platinum pieces crafted by Ganjam, such as Iraja, the neckpiece that winds around the neck and ends in a cascade on the shoulder are iconic. Like platinum, doesn’t the company plan on discovering the might of other elements and creating another revolution now? Palladium and titanium are already creating ripples in the jewellery scene overseas. “We’re not averse to any metal. We could perhaps think about another bold move,” he says, adding that palladium and titanium have the potential to upset the gold and platinum applecart. And with ever-changing consumer tastes, “jewellers will have to adapt.’’
The Ever-Changing Consumer
The typical profile of a Ganjam customer is either a person on the threshold of marriage, or a well-settled middle-aged buyer who enjoys wearing jewellery. “Certain families have been our customers for generations now. But there’s a challenge in getting younger clients,” says Umesh. To counter this, the company has been introducing theme-based collections. The Song of the Sea collection inspired by the sea, Gerbera (inspired by the flower), Le Jardin (inspired by nature), have been attempts to connect with youngsters “who think we’re traditional. We want to appeal to them as makers of contemporary classic jewellery.’’
Moreover, the brand has introduced collections at attractive price points, like the recently launched Tasrika, comprising diamond-studded rings and pendants in gold priced below `1 lakh. Certainly a conscious move, considering pieces from Ganjam sell for upwards of `3 to 5 lakhs. The idea is to bring in first-time buyers and people in their 20s and 30s with a more affordable and stylish range. But the challenges don’t end there. Consumers nowadays, especially women, are quick at forking out lakhs on designer watches, luxury handbags and other high-end products. Umesh believes international luxury brands have marketed themselves “very well”, and the competition a jeweller encounters is not just from contemporaries, but from luxury fashion and watch brands, car-makers, as well as service providers such as travel companies. While some may perceive a gold bangle as an investment, others might consider investing in an experience, such as a trip to Europe, or buying the latest hatchback. This marks a paradigm shift in consumer thinking from say a decade ago when people usually preferred investing in jewellery.
Running parallel to customer preferences is the friction in the gold market, with prices hovering around `27, 000 to 28, 000 per 10 gms. Definitely lower than the `30, 000 plus mark witnessed some time ago. Furthermore, investment instruments such as gold ETFs and gold mutual funds are catching people’s fancy, perhaps announcing a threat to jewellery. Umesh differs on this. Minor fluctuations are the name of the game, he says. “Every consumer doesn’t look at it purely from an investment stand-point. There are so many who perceive gold as ornamentation as well and thus there are takers.’’ There is indeed a silver lining, as the World Gold Council predicts that despite turmoil, the demand for gold will rise in India.
Gearing Up Ganjam
To take on the challenges, the brand has two dynamic and aspirational men who are working under the guidance of family patriarch and company chairman Eswar Ganjam and the stewardship of Umesh. “My cousin Kumar (Eswar Ganjam’s son) and my son Dushyanth are crucial to the group. With his background in gemmology, Kumar handles procurement and production, while Dushyanth manages retail and marketing.” Why just the men, even the women are an integral part of the brand. “My wife, my aunts have been playing a key role in the design, procurement, customer-relationships, and human resources. We all work as a well-knit unit. And my uncle Eswar is always there to guide us. He’s phenomenal, knows the nitty-gritties and has been around in the business for over 60 years,’’ says Umesh, who formally joined the business in 1971.
It’s time to know whether store expansion is on cards. The flagship outlet in Bengaluru is a swanky showroom steeped in sleek décor, reflecting a regal aura and is outright elegant. The store is a contemporary interpretation of a temple that reflects the deep heritage of Ganjam, and the massive dimensions, the walls composed of cut stones, the carved columns all combine to create a space that is evocative of Hampi and Dravidian architecture. Says Umesh, “As we’re a luxury brand, the store was designed to emit a rich feel and it’s been successful in our positioning.’’ Ganjam has an equally stylish outlet in Mumbai, at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and yet another in New Delhi’s posh Vasant Kunj.
But there’s no plan to add more, as of now, even though expansion abroad is on the cards. “We’re looking to consolidate these three at present. Also, our plans for the next few years include strengthening ourselves as a luxury jeweller and making our brand the most preferred one for consumers.” Will we also see Ganjam at fashion shows, considering the brand has been missing ever since Milan in 2003? “We’re a luxury brand and are not into fashion jewellery. To be at fashion shows, a brand needs to introduce a collection every season. We sometimes take upto two years to launch a collection,’’ says Umesh, adding that fashion shows are not really viable for Ganjam.
The Man Himself
Just as the family is famed for its craft, it is also known for promoting music. Flights of Fantasy, the Carnatic and Hindustani music programme by Ganjam, which happens annually in Bengaluru stands testimony to this. “Both my parents were well-versed in Carnatic music. I was fortunate to have been exposed to music early on though I don’t really sing. But the family is inclined towards different genres in music.”
Umesh feels the culture scene has evolved in Bengaluru, just like the city, with theatre, art, and music thriving in different pockets. “You have Kannada plays happening somewhere, Sufi music in one locality, Carnatic music elsewhere. This is good news for Bengaluru.”
A nature lover, the man is fond of birds. Well… it is the two-headed mythical bird, the Ganda Berunda, which is the insignia for Ganjam. “It is believed the Ganda Berunda is Lord Vishnu himself. One head signifies protection of the good, while the other symbolises punishing the evil.” The resplendent designs at Ganjam are known for the fine motifs of birds like the magical peacock, swans, parrots and the birds of paradise. Who does not like birds,” asks Umesh?
The passion with which he speaks about birds and the brand is unmistakeable. As is the inherent discomfort when asked about Umesh the man outside of office. “I like to study languages. Sanskrit and Kannada.”
That’s all he is ready to reveal.