NCDIA Executive Vice President Barbara Wheat interviewed Michael Neuman of Mondial Pink Diamond Atelier in Australia.
Michael was born in Sydney, Australia, the only son of Fred and Maria Neuman, European immigrants to that country in the 1950’s.
His parents started a jewellery shop and later began manufacturing jewellery and wholesaling diamonds. They opened a shop called Mondial in Singapore in the 1970’s.
Michael studied Gemmology as well as jewellery design in residence at the Santa Monica campus of the GIA in 1982.
He attained a Bachelor of Arts degree from Macquarie University in Sydney, as well as graduating from Swiss Hotel Management School “Les Roches”. He is a registered Valuer of the NCJV and Director of the Diamond Guild Australia from 2012-2016.
Around 2001, Michael entered the family diamond wholesaling business, eventually opening Sydney’s first diamonds only shop, “Mondial Neuman”, specializing in Argyle diamonds and exhibited the largest rough diamond ever found in Australia. Michael currently co-manages the flagship store “Mondial Pink Diamond Atelier”, located in the historic Queen Victoria Building, Sydney, with other members of his family, cousin Jacob and father Fred. The store has been trading for nearly 30 years and is renowned for having the largest selection of Pink and Natural Coloured diamonds in Australia. His father Fred Neuman was the first recipient of the Jewellers Association of Australia’s “Lifetime Achievement” Award, for his services to the Australian jewellery industry over more than 50 years and his sister Nadia is an award winning jewellery designer, who manages their other store, “Mondial by Nadia Neuman.” Michael does his best to live up to his family’s proud heritage.
How did you get started working in the industry? A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…my parents owned a jewellery manufacturing business called Neuman Jewellery Imports, wholesaling to companies all around Australia. They would travel the world buying diamonds and coloured stones, while at the same time looking at designs and jewellery trends which they could utilize to make innovative and high quality jewellery for the local market. At that time jewellery in Australia was, for the most part, fairly conservative and what was available was pretty much all the same. The jewellery produced by my parents had a certain quality and look about it which was a bit different and was very much appreciated by the middle-upper market. My first work in the industry – if you would call it that – was during elementary school holidays, as a “bubbler”, “bagger” and “runner”. I would sit across from my dad at his big desk, while he used his tweezers to push rubies, sapphires, diamonds and emeralds into precise little piles which he would then weigh. My job was to transfer the gems into little clear capsules, which we used to call “bubbles” and then into the job packets (“bags”), which had the weights of the gemstones as well as any instructions written on them. Then I had to run the bags all over town, distributing and collecting the jobs between our office and the various jewellers, setters and polishers who did work for us. Some of these people were real characters and as far as I can recall, they were always very nice and friendly to this young Neuman. The family business soon moved and we began selling loose diamonds as well as jewellery. As soon as I left high school, I went to study gemology at the Santa Monica campus of the G.I.A. As I recall, PacMan was very big at the time and I paid almost as much attention to my studies as I did to the amazing variety of fast food chains which were available to me almost everywhere I looked. One of the most interesting things I learnt – which was almost spookily predictive considering where I ended up – was that there was a diamond mine in Kalimantan (Indonesia) which produced the largest proportion of coloured diamonds of any diamond mine in the world. This was before the Argyle mine was in production and as one of my subjects through most of high school was Indonesian, I returned home believing that I would travel to Kalimantan, use my language and gemology skills and start a new part of the business, specializing in coloured diamonds. As It turned out, I didn’t return to the jewellery business until many years later, by which time our company was already established as a distributor for Argyle diamonds throughout Australia.
Do you have a favorite color diamond? I don’t actually have a favourite colour, because I find that as I see more and more natural coloured diamonds, I keep finding new examples and variations which I love, so what I have is a favourite diamond. And my favourite diamond will change when I see the next extraordinary stone. I guess there are 2 favourites which stand out. the first is a vivid green which was a 1 carat radiant I saw at least 10 years back at the Hong Kong show. The colour was a flourescent lime green, like a highlighting marker and I had never seen anything like it before. They were asking US $1million for the stone, which at a million per carat, simply blew me away at the time. I still have a picture of it on my phone. The second is a diamond we actually own and have for sale, which we call “Charisse”. this diamond is a 0.89ct square radiant cut from the Argyle pink diamond tender of 2006. What I love about Charisse is the combination of depth and purity of colour – a real rich purplish red – within a relatively clean stone and in this square shape. We have had her for quite some time but I won’t let her go cheaply. I take her to every tender as a benchmark and I have yet to see better, even though I’m confident she could be repolished to a straight red, that’s not our game and we wouldn’t do it.
What can you tell us about the natural color diamond market in Australia? The market here in Australia is still developing for coloured diamonds, even though the pinks have been on the scene for over 30 years. The market for diamonds from the Argyle mine – Pink, Champagne, and Cognac – was relatively strong and growing, up until the GFC saw a decline in overseas tourists who were always a significant proportion of those sales. This is mainly because Argyle and the retailers who stocked these goods, actually spent money advertising and promoting them. It must be remembered that Australia has less than 30 million inhabitants, so is not a large market by any means. However, due to the well-developed pink diamond market, many international dealers who work in the coloured diamond space have already established contact with retailers here, which means that access to coloured diamond inventory is fairly easy. This encourages retailers to try these other colours and so the more inventory which is on display to the public, the more questions are asked and the greater potential for sales. There is currently a lot of hype surrounding pink diamonds for investment, which I disapprove of, but that is undoubtedly generating sales of pinks.
We have found that sales of Natural coloured diamonds of any colour are generally about education and telling the story, as they are still not something the mainstream consumer understands or has heard too much about. There is still a great deal of misunderstanding and misinformation out there about natural coloured diamonds, so the sellers and the consumer need to gain experience, knowledge and then the market will inevitably grow.
What can a retailer do to stay engaged with clients? What has worked best for you? I have to admit that we could improve in this area but it is largely a matter of resources and having the right mix of personnel in your company. We try to engage with the clients through social media and direct email campaigns. We have promotions and once a year we have a sale in each of our stores, with a VIP evening for existing clients to get the first look and opportunity to buy and then a sale period which is advertised to the public. Apart from this, what works best for us is simply being honest and straightforward with clients and potentials, as well as being knowledgeable about what we do and trying at all times to provide a standard of service, second to none. You need to at least TRY, even if you don’t always achieve.
What type of training do you provide for your sales team? How do you keep them motivated? We have 2 smallish stores and a sales team, including directors, of around 10. Our core sales team of 3 directors and 3 senior staff have been together for more than 10 years, so there is very much a family feel within the team. When new staff come on board, we provide mainly hands-on training, having them stand nearby and watch or assist the established team during sales, until we feel they are ready to look after clients. Meanwhile, each of the directors will speak to them about coloured diamonds and the other items we sell which they may not be 100% familiar with, as well as going over our procedures for everything from cleaning and vacuuming, writing invoices, processing stock etc. Staff need to be self-motivated, we need to be careful not to DE-motivate them! If you need to constantly motivate your people, they are the wrong type of people or they’re in the wrong business. We try to make sure that our sales team can laugh and have a good time at work and we also encourage them to do further studies and support them financially in this. We also are very flexible with time off and holidays and we all work around each other to try and accommodate one another. We ask their opinions and encourage staff to have input into the operation of the business. This keeps them engaged and involved. People respond to fairness and generosity.
Any other advice you can give to retailers? It’s difficult to give other retailers advice because in my experience there are so many ways to be successful (and to fail!) in retail, some of which would be totally foreign and impossible for us. The best advice I could give is that you need to be yourself, focus on your passion and be honest and transparent with clients – they will appreciate it. If possible, find a point of difference, make your window display interesting but not too busy, so that the customer has somewhere to focus and doesn’t have to try too hard to see what you have. Be courteous and generous, it will come back to you and if you give the clients something extra they are not expecting, they will be pleasantly surprised and remember it. Know your stock well so that when someone comes and asks you for something they don’t see, you can suggest something similar or exactly the right thing which sometimes may be “hiding out the back”. Most important, you should really know what you’re talking about, be an authority so that the client has confidence.
What do you see as the future for natural color diamonds? The future should be spectacular, provided retailers selling coloured diamonds educate themselves so that they are knowledgeable enough to answer honestly and correctly, the questions which will naturally be posed by consumers. Problems will arise if there is a major issue with treated coloured diamonds not being disclosed or other publicized examples of negative experiences with coloured diamonds. As a relatively new item which is different to what consumers and retailers are familiar with, it won’t take much to taint something which is still in its infancy as far as the public are concerned. The opportunities are there for retailers to create different designs using colour, promote rarity and the story around the uniqueness of each diamond, as well as selling something new to customers who already have colourless diamonds. I strongly believe that coloured diamonds will be the next big growth area in diamond jewellery and that eventually, many people will own a ring or pendant set with a colored diamond. For the industry to maximize the potential of coloured diamonds, we should do everything possible to stop them being commodified in the same way as white diamonds. The last thing we need to happen for coloured diamonds is for something similar to a Rapaport price list to be formulated. Coloured diamonds need to be promoted as unique, individual, mysterious and that no two stones are identical. After all, beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder!
Interview conducted by Emily Duke, Finesse Diamond Corp. and NCDIA Marketing Committee Co-Chair
Eurotrade’s diamond and jewellery history is a family heirloom, passed down for 4 generations. The commitment to excellence and the pursuit of perfection is engrained into the fabric of Eurotrade’s ethos and business practices. A long time member of the diamond bourse and NCDIA, CEO, Anish Javeri was born into the diamond business, and his long-term involvement and understanding of the diamond market is the cornerstone to his vision and insight in the field of diamond trading. Anish, a HRD and GIA graduate and fancy colour diamond enthusiast, runs Eurotrade with the same integrity that forged the family heirloom he now proudly carries himself.
How did you get started working with colored diamonds? Can you tell us a bit about your company history? Being born into a third generation diamond company, I was always drawn towards the diamond business from a young age. I guess I really never knew anything else. I got my start in fancy colored diamonds by accident actually, in 2012 one of our clients was bidding on an Argyle tender with my father and I was just helping out with formalities of the bidding process. while filling out the bids on their behalf, I happened to mention to them one of their bids was too conservative and I was told to put my money where my mouth was, and so I did. Turns out not only was my bid successful but it worked out quite well for me. Since then I have been a keen student and admirer of colored diamonds (mostly pinks).
What is the industry like in Antwerp? How do natural colored diamonds play a role there? Diamonds found across the different remote corners of the world come to Antwerp to sell. These include the most exciting and rare diamonds of all colors. some of the best jewelers and collectors have buying offices or proxies in Antwerp to access these diamonds. There is a palpable buzz in the market here when an exceptional stone being auctioned and everyone has their opinion on these stones, both before and after the auction.
Have you noticed any developments affecting the color industry in Antwerp and/or globally (good or bad)? I definitely think there is a lot of interest in colored diamonds in Antwerp and around the world. There also seems to be a much greater understanding of fancy colors across the spectrum. My father in 2002 bought fancy light pink diamonds for the price of white diamonds from a part of a parcel that his client rejected because they were not white. I would be extremely surprised if I were to be presented with a similar opportunity today. These days, the world is becoming a smaller place and when a sale from Christie’s is advertised to reach new potential buyers, it also reaches the suppliers.
Is there a particular diamond color that interests you most? Why? Pink diamonds can be very fascinating. They come in a variety of tones and cutting them to bring out the best possible color is a challenge I enjoy.
Can you tell us about a special diamond you’ve encountered? Why was it important to you? Well, that’s an easy one for me. It has to be the lot 39 1.11 carat, intense pink from the 2012 Argyle Tender. As mentioned earlier that diamond is the reason I got into fancy colored diamonds so it is special for me.
What advice can you give to other international members of NCDIA? I think being passionate about colored diamonds is an imperative for us, sometimes we have to think from both our heart and head to be in the world of fancy colors. It is what drives us.