Arto and Saro moved to Bangkok over 20 years ago and created one of the leading high jewelry manufacturing companies. With more than 400 employees they work for international brands and they have their own line, distributed internationally. Their father was an Armenian jeweler and since their childhood they have sat at the bench and observed with passion.
How did they transform the business and become one of the best Asian jewelry manufacturing companies? What did they bring from their family business into Artinian Thailand?
“I remember sitting on the second floor of my dad’s boutique, eating my sandwich and spending hours looking at the customers and the salesman” Arto reminisces.
Souren Artinian, Saro and Arto Artinian’s late father, was a big jeweler, creating refined jewelry pieces and using the best craftsmen from Armenia, Syria and Italy, which at the time was a leading hub for jewelry. His boutique was “the most beautiful in the Middle East, an exquisite two floored showroom decorated with soft colors and precious materials, perfect to cater the discerning wealthy clientele in Damascus, so advanced he even had CCTV” Arto says.
Mr. Artinian was a very savvy entrepreneur, he knew that in order to help his children he had to make them work for other companies: they started by doing summer internship in the ateliers of Mr. Artinian’s suppliers.
Whilst Arto went to study Business Administration, Saro had been spending each day working between the workshops and learning more about gems and jewelry in Damascus. Upon terminating his studies, Arto returned and the brothers joined forces to start with gem dealing and selling jewelry to their own customers.
“One day a friend suggested to fly to Thailand to discover the market of colored gemstones” Arto recalls.
In 1993 Saro and Arto started spending time in Bangkok. Remembering their initial days, they add “we were sitting in an office and buying gemstones and jewelry. In those days Thailand was booming and it was a very interesting scene, every day there were many buyers in the Holiday Inn, Narai Hotel and all of Silom”.
From 1995, Arto started to spend more time in Bangkok, the ratio was to stay 3 months and 1 back to Europe and Middle East to sell and meet clients.
It was in those early days that Arto became friends with Omri and Fredric Zaavy (who later became a very famous Parisian artist jeweler) and it was then that the trio decided to rent a three-room office space from Mr. Fu, a Sapphire dealer.
During their travels, they were speaking with customers and industry retailers and Arto could sense a general complaint: people were bored by the jewelry offering, they were craving for alternatives to the traditional invisible set baguette style jewelry, very popular at the time, therefore Arto took to the opportunity to create bespoke jewelry and started a small workshop, which he was previously already subcontracting.
As time matured, he asked his brother Saro to join him to expand the small workshop to a fully pledged Atelier.
To better understand the process, Arto went to study wax making and recalls; “that’s where I met one of my key employees, still working with us”. Artinian company as swiftly gathered a good reputation, increasingly started to receive special bespoke orders, as the bother recalls, “we started receiving clients and inquiries and orders on a daily basis and started working on our orders day and night”.
On 17 February 1997 they registered their own company.
“From our father, we inherited a true legacy, the knowledge, the passion, the love for jewelry and art and the continuous research for beauty”.
We see how this in an Artinian common trait as we enter the door of Artinian company in the center of Bangkok: a 9-story building, tastefully decorated from the workshop to the showroom, with pastel natural colors and a clinical white dominance in the manufacturing areas. Visibly, as organized as a bank and as clean as an hospital, a truly remarkable manufacturing facility.
“We inherited the aesthetic sense, we were lucky as our father always gave us a high-end lifestyle and brought us to beautiful hotels, travelled places and that is what we like, so we tried to create our workplace according to this” Arto and Saro explain.
To my upfront question about where would they be if they did not have a family legacy, Arto and Saro insisted on appreciating the role and importance of their paternal legacy for guiding them to get where they are today. Though, they also credit their ability in overcoming daily challenges, their hard work, the ever-improving team spirit and orientation, management style, technical know-how and obviously a great support of longstanding network of contacts, savvy advice from friends and the family’s impeccable reputation.
Saro joined Arto in 1997 and “…in 3 months he was speaking fluent Thai; even better than me” Arto says, “as he had to deal with the workers and he was in the workshop and it was the only way to communicate with the employees”.
“It is also important to add that at this important point in time, we also brought-in our Factory Manager, Mr. Hratch, who had been working at my father’s atelier since he was 14, this was a great advantage to put strong foundation to the manufacturing today, bringing their old tradition and heritage of work to Thailand”.
“We did not have inventory and were mostly producing on order and according to client’s requests, this was making us different from the other manufacturers in Thailand.”
“Slowly we were growing and people were approaching us wanting to buy on the spot but we did not have stock and they were very insistent as they had cash and no patience, they wanted to buy ready-made pieces” Arto and Saro explain.
Given the needs of the clients it was obvious that a strategic change was to be made, Arto remembers saying: “Saro it is about time that we start our own collection and retain inventory”. The first line was then created in 2001 when they launched Sartoro brand “our first collection was very colorful and hence called Tramoto – we used a big multicolored sapphire lot that we bought from Karim. In the HK show people were coming to stare at it in awe, as they had never seen something like that before”.
At the beginning, Artinian Ltd was mostly producing for the wholesale business, which in those years was the base of the trade. This changed after 2007 for a series of factors. On one side the business shifted, leaving space to mono-brand and retailers, on the other side, a new type of client was approaching Artinian: brands. Hence their decision of reducing the wholesale segment of their business. “In 2003-2004 brands started to come to us and then it was a referral, more brands and more designers, so after 2007 we focused only on brands and nearly eliminated the wholesale segment”.
Artinian’s jewelry is synonymous with high level craftsmanship, their quality increased drastically over the years even though they were always producing high-end. “We have got this from our mother, she is details oriented, tidy and very proper”.
What was the biggest challenge when you were starting in Bangkok 15 years ago?
When the two brothers started to set up their facilities, they did not have the same resources of today “we were small and growing, so many functions were outsourced, which was challenging and difficult to coordinate and to achieve the quality we wanted” they admit.
Also, “there was the accident of one of our lady suppliers who was stealing our gold. The Court condemned her to pay us 1000 bath a month”.
Even though from the business perspective outsourcing key functions was a drawback, they remember the beginnings as a wonderful period “It was very fun, even though we worked hard and late hours, after work we all went home together to cook and the spirit was very energetic and familiar – very powerful, the work fatigue was not bothering us”.
Those booming years with a terrific amount of work had though created a collateral issue, one day the employees went on strike because they did not want to work so much “wax making was making the employees very busy and working a lot”. “We learn to manage all of these issues with time”.
What is the biggest challenge today?
“Besides the energy level that was more when we were younger” jokes Saro, “nowadays it is very difficult to find good artisans, skilled craftsman, fine materials and the clients has different requests”.
“Today we also changed our way of working” continues Arto “we prefer to grow with our current customers rather than finding new ones, we like to experiment, to challenge ourselves with new techniques and new products, complicated new pieces make us focus on research and development thus leading to our own personal and professional growth”.
Arto, please can you tell us more of your role and what is the key ingredient in making it successful?
“At Artinian, we are passionate about making jewelry, this is one of the key ingredients of success. In our creative processes, whether for Artinian Fine Jewelry or Sartoro new collections, or the bespoke orders of Maison Artinian, we are fully committed to creativity and innovation. Also, our teamwork philosophy, where everybody has a say, an opinion, add a brick to our success. Additionally, we are committed to excellence in product quality and very much devoted to clients. We continue to pay attention to details and we continue to innovate as well”. This is what sets Artinian apart.
Saro, please can you tell us more of your role and what is the key ingredient in making it successful?
Saro is the man behind the operations, he patiently takes care of the design and manufacturing process.
“I could not do what he does and vice versa, I have lots of patience with technical things, he has a lot of patience with people, negotiations”.
Best advice to someone starting his career in jewelry manufacturing today?
“Today things are different from before, nowadays clients are demanding and very informed, you cannot sell air and you need to be trusted. It is important to have passion, today you can make the difference by selling passion and high creativity.” Arto adds that if he could go back in time he would have studied GIA, “ I would love to gain more in depth theoretical knowledge and a more scientific approach and learn more about the composition of gemstones”.
What will your children have to do to continue the legacy?
“The real question is what do WE need to do for them to continue this”. They believe that their children– as they did at the same age – need to grow in the business, experience the daily life of their parents and watch, observe, breath and feel the business. They are adamant on the fact that their kids will need to learn (in summer or during holidays) each segment of it, “it is of extreme importance that they learn how our company works and all the functions in it, this way – even if they will not want to work here – they can always be prepared when sitting on the board of the company.
“They will have to bring innovation, be up to speed with the digital revolution and embrace it, and focus more on retail”.
A wonderful lesson of passion, hard work and innovation. The best example that family can coexist in business so long as there is trust, respect and roles are clear and follow the natural skills of each person.