DeGem fine gemstone dealer and wholesaler Jia Chen Choong recalls spending his school holidays at the family factory, gazing at beautiful stones and watching craftsmen form the most beautiful pieces of jewellery.
“I was too naughty at home, ” jokes Choong during an interview at DeGem’s flagship store in Bangsar. “So instead of disturbing my siblings, I was brought to the factory and grew up learning about the jewellery-making process. This is where I first encountered diamonds and precious gemstones and I’ve been fascinated since by their beauty and the mystery behind why certain colours, grades and qualities can command vast differences in value.”
He went on to pursue a bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance, but upon graduating he decided to immerse himself in the world of gems.
“Once I tried it, there was no turning back, as it is truly a career like no other, ” explains Choong. “I wanted very much to help the family business, to grow our supply chain operations, to source better priced and precious gems firsthand.
“So I studied further to be a graduate gemologist in the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), and then started my own gem trading company to buy and sell gemstones in Bangkok in 2014.”
Bangkok is a central hub for gem cutters and miners to meet and trade, and Choong wanted to get as close to the action as possible.
For the past eight years, he has sourced top quality precious gems from Bangkok, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka, looking at rough stones and buying suitable pieces, to process and cut into beautiful faceted gems to sell to clients all over the world.
As it is with many family-owned companies, the time is approaching for Choong and his cousin, Jiayueh, jewellery designer and marketeer at DeGem, to take on the task of helming the over 40-year-old company.
“Coming back to DeGem to helm the company as the second generation of brand owners together with my cousin Jiayueh, is a new mission for us this year. My task now is to look into operations, as my practical knowledge provides a basis to train our sales people to better advise customers, ” explains Choong.
Having the know-how is one thing, but Choong’s edge over others in his position is possessing a genuine interest in the industry and a drive to keep his family legacy going.
After eight years in the business, he still feels the thrill of turning raw material into an attractive gem, bringing out its shining beauty, and then making it into a unique piece of jewellery.
As an expert in his field, he encourages customers to seek out proper channels to evaluate the investment quality for different stones.
“The internet is a wonderful place for research first but sometimes it can be confusing as different sites may tell you conflicting things, and often there is misinformation lurking on online forums with hidden profit-making motives, ” says Choong.
“At DeGem, we are able to ascertain your diamond and gemstone’s source to ensure quality and ethics. We are more than happy to educate customers to make an informed purchase for certified natural gemstones and diamonds, with ready stock on hand, and to source for more specific requirements you need.”
With an in-house factory directly above their flagship store, it’s easy to see why DeGem is a market leader in design and quality construction.
Earlier this year, DeGem made headlines when their very own pieces, designed and manufactured by DeGem with Forevermark diamonds, were worn by celebrities such as Reese Witherspoon, Awkwafina, Janelle Monae and Idina Menzel at the red carpet for awards season.
“Our in-house factory is like that experienced contractor that is able to take full control of our jewellery’s craftsmanship quality, with over 50 skilled goldsmiths and craftsmen.
“This is a tedious process for us that is refined over 40 years to master details of every step from making preliminary moulds with 3D imaging after concept sketches, to handcrafting pieces by skilled and highly trained craftsmen to stone setters. But the end result is that our customers enjoy superior quality crafted products that rival international brands, ” adds Choong.
DeGem regularly introduces new collections, each uniquely designed based on nature, architecture, and a wide variety of subjects that inspire the team.
Apart from these collections, they also offer jewellery customisation for customers.
“In the 1970s to the 1990s, customisation was our main business, as the market’s appetite for one-of-a-kind pieces was all the rage then, ” says Choong. “As we grew our business through the fast fashion era in 2000s, we had the capacity to create signature collections such as DeGem Pinwheels, Arch T, to today’s Wink!, Vero Amore and Rail collections.
“To date, we still provide customisation and personalisation with no hidden or extra fees, for people who want something unique.”
Education and awareness are also an important part of the business, as it is easy to get duped in this industry if you’re not familiar with gemstones.
So, how can a customer tell which jewellery pieces are quality designs and made with top-notch craftsmanship?
“Quality designs means that your purchased precious gem is set in an attractive setting that enhances its beauty. Top-notch craftsmanship can be felt by trying on the jewellery piece in person, especially earrings and rings, ” explains Choong.
“Feel if your piece is solid and hefty - this means that no gold weight was cut in order to maximise markups. Feel if the piece is comfortable to wear. For rings, we ensure that it has a comfort fit, making it smoother to wear and you won’t feel that it is cumbersome and bulky as you go about your daily routine. Comfort that you can feel is a sign of superior finishing.”
Choong seems to be set to take on the family business with his cousin, and it’s evident from his unwavering enthusiasm for his craft that his deep interest in the industry has the potential to take DeGem’s presence above and beyond.