The men behind C Krishniah Chetty Jewellers , One of the oldest in Bangalore.
To every Bangalorean and any individual enamoured by diamonds, gemstones, platinum, silver and gold, the name ‘C Krishniah Chetty Jewellers’ resonates with splendour, grandeur, opulence and luxury. South India‘s oldest jewellers, whose story dates back to 1869, when Cotha Krishniah Chetty started a small business of selling coloured beads to the British in the city’s cantonment, the C Krishniah Chetty Group today personally manages six jewellery entities, including two charitable institutions. Steering the business ahead in a digital economy are Chaitanya V Cotha and Shreyas V Cotha, the sixth generation in the family, who are charting out strategies to attract more millennials and make their business a global force in the jewellery industry. RITZ caught up with the brothers at their new Malleswaram Luxury Jewellery Showroom, to know more about their plans and what it means to be Generation Next in a 145-year old business.
“What is the ratio of male:female elephants in the world,” asks Shreyas, the younger of the two brothers, and seemingly more gregarious. A question like this coming from a director of a jewellery chain, more so a gemologist and a rockhound, could leave you stunned. As you start feverishly guessing, Shreyas offers up the answer. “It is 1:122. For every male elephant, there are 122 females! That’s because the males are poached for their ivory. We aim to save the male elephant and make ethically responsible jewellery,” he explains, going on to unveil their recently launched Elfhie collection comprising pendants, earrings, rings and bracelets. This collection uses a mineral composite having 89 percent properties of natural ivory in terms of texture, colour, and composition. Each Elfhie piece is custom-carved and exquisitely framed within yellow, rose and white gold settings and glorified by diamonds, rubies, sapphires, opals and emeralds. “Thus Elfhie both satisfies the demand, and keeps the craft alive.”
As Shreyas talks passionately about Elfhie, Chaitanya points out that to infuse innovation they have started using wood in jewellery. “We have also used a type of leather that gives each piece a very distinct look. So, say you have a leather bracelet with diamonds on top. It makes it unique and attractive to customers.” Especially younger customers, a crucial segment considering the average customer age has dropped from the earlier 45-50, to those in their 20s and 30s.
“Which means we are innovating to lure in those of our generation,” says Shreyas. Another recent collection, the Orn O’Morph (ornaments that morph) is also a successful effort at wooing millennials. This collection of versatile jewellery has pieces that can transform, with say a bangle that can morph into a flexible bracelet.
“And then there’s the Proposal Ring, which we launched courtesy the urgency that Shreyas experienced when he had to propose,” reveals Chaitanya with a laugh, recalling the moment when his brother had very little time to propose to his to-be wife and thus introduced a ring with a very fine Myanmar origin heart-shaped ruby.
“My wife is wearing the first Proposal Ring. It’s basically a collection that people can purchase when they wish to propose. It’s for that moment of emotion and the act of proposing,” says Shreyas with a wink.
No matter how experimental and innovative a jeweller gets, there are challenges that continue to exist. Like the skyrocketing price of gold, which is inching its way upwards of Rs. 30,000 per 10 gms. “We are trying to make jewellery which is not so heavy, which implies that we have to invest in equipment in order to make it, which is another cost,” says Chaitanya. One of the biggest challenges the brothers foresee is keeping up with fashion, which changes day-to-day. “We do have a team that studies market trends and looks at styles, fashion, and clothing to match jewellery as a major accessory.”
Positioned as ‘affordable luxury’, the brand caters to people from all walks of life. Being a one-store wonder for the longest time, the group opened their second store only in 2008. Today, they boast of five stores in Bengaluru, including a boutique at the airport (to cater to impulse buyers). They now look to expand by establishing presence in the eastern suburbs of Bengaluru. But what about cities beyond Bengaluru? “We are working on that,” states Chaitanya without delving into the details. “But online we perceive a very big opportunity,’’ adds Shreyas.
Online is Chaitanya’s forte and the group has been going aggressive in the last few months, although they were technically present online since the early 2000s. “We are now present on Amazon and work closely with them,” says Chaitanya. Online is the route through which they would ultimately target consumers in the US, UK, Australia and other countries with their contemporary styles and designs. They are also building software to make online sales a rich and valued shopping experience.
Other than consolidating their online presence, Chaitanya’s other major contribution to the business has been starting C Krishniah Chetty Manufacturers, the wholesale division that manufactures jewellery and wholesales it through 250 jewellery stores under The 1869 Guild brand. Chaitanya started the entity in 2009 by manufacturing gold jewellery, “but today we are more focused on gemstones and diamonds since the margins in gold are low.”
For Shreyas, his most remarkable contribution has been bringing in exquisite gemstones such as the boulder opals, tsavorites and padparadschas to craft out uniquely rich pieces of jewellery. He loves gemstones more than gold and diamonds. “One of my hobbies is to travel to the gem mines and come back with beautiful gems from the source at the best price and quality. I once went to Australia, lived with the miners and came back with marvellous opals. Then I toured Sri Lanka and came back with sapphires and rare padparadscha sapphires, which have an unusual sunset, lotus colour.”
Being brothers, colleagues, jewellers and directors in the business, there is a very thin but distinct line that separates their personal and professional lives. Each derives inspiration from the other. “Shreyas can do so much that I can’t and vice versa. He is a gemmologist and has immense knowledge in the world of gems,” says the older brother. “Chaitanya is very good at getting business. He is wired differently and is also an expert at negotiations,” adds Shreyas. The two have the same set of friends, similar interests and travel to the same places. “We balance out each other as a team and we can’t do without one another,” claims Chaitanya.
The brothers attribute a lot of their achievement to their father, C Vinod Hayagriv. “I’ve learnt from dad to be honest, to work hard and pay attention to detail. Ours is a happy business. There is no one who comes unhappy to buy jewellery. So it’s great that we get to be a part of people’s anniversaries, marriages, engagements and celebrations,” says Chaitanya. Shreyas credits his father for having taught him the value of preserving relationships. Be it with craftsmen, fellow board members, employees, customers or agencies. “No business can survive without the help of others. Dad really understands the true value of people. Till date no employee has been fired. People have been given chances and have been moved to different roles. Dad is extremely patient, down-to-earth and knows how to get things done.”
Like the rest of their family, the brothers are extremely passionate about golf. Very often, they hit the golf course early in the morning for a game before heading out to work. Besides golf, Shreyas is an adventure junkie who skis, sky-dives, scuba-dives and is planning to do cage-diving. “I want to dive with a whale shark as well,” he says. Chaitanya has also gotten adventurous, having camped inside an extinct volcano in the US, at sub-zero temperature!